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Ninjas Making a Difference: Najee Richardson

This series will highlight a Ninja each week who is making a difference in their community.

American Ninja Warrior Junior - Season 1 Photo by: Tyler Golden/Universal Kids/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Many American Ninja Warrior fans know the story of what happened to Najee Richardson in Season 10. Richardson was concerned about the Water Walls from the moment he saw them. He knew it could be difficult to hold his breath after running through the rest of the course because of his asthma. Richardson ended up running out of time on that exact obstacle and it broke our hearts. He later opened up on the American Ninja Warrior podcast, talking about why he needed to take a break and give himself the emotional and mental space to reflect on what to do next.

But just as one would expect, the Flying Phoenix came back. He was chosen as a member of Team USA for USA vs The World and took careful precautions to control his breathing and heart rate and beat the Water Walls. Unfortunately, Season 11 didn’t go as well as Richardson (and all of us) would have hoped and he went out unexpectedly in Stage One on the Tire Run.

Fans love Najee—and not just because he’s a fierce competitor, but because of what he does off the course. Hearing Richardson speak about his health struggles has inspired countless others. Born prematurely with health complications and breathing problems, he was diagnosed with asthma as a baby. Richardson told the American Lung Association that “they didn’t expect me to make it through the night. I grew up as kind of a frail kid, trying to keep up with my friends. I didn’t really understand asthma, I knew I had to carry an inhaler and use it when I was out of breath, but I didn’t really grasp what asthma was. I had to work a little harder to keep up with my friends, but I didn’t use it as an excuse and I never felt sorry for myself having it.”

The 27-year-old joined the American Lung Association as a 2019 National Fight For Air Climb Ambassador as a way to “bring more support to people dealing with lung disease, engage younger people, with or without asthma, and introduce it to a new audience.” The Climb involved ascending 56 flights of stairs (that’s 1,058 steps!) in his home city, Philadelphia, to raise money for the American Lung Association. (He also appeared at Fight for Air Climbs in a few other cities around the country.)

We’re climbing 56 flights of stairs, that’s 1058 steps ALL for an amazing cause that is very near and dear to my heart. Follow along as I climb (and get interviewed!). Want to support this incredible cause? Link https://action.lung.org/site/TR/Climb/ALAMA_Mid-Atlantic?px=7456693&pg=personal&fr_id=17683

Posted by Najee Richardson on Saturday, March 30, 2019

Richardson’s main message to those with lung diseases and asthma is that “I want kids to see they can do whatever they put their minds to, whether they have asthma or some other illness, it doesn’t have to hold you back. Just go after it, be dedicated. The only thing stopping you is lack of effort, not your illness. I want to inspire them to think, “Hey, if Najee can do it and he’s got asthma, I can do it, too.”

Besides being a National Fight For Air Climb Ambassador, Richardson has also been a mentor for junior Ninjas on American Ninja Warrior Junior. His role is to help them mentally prepare for the course, but to also “help them handle interviews, show them what to do if you fall off the course and teach them how to be better athletes.”

In turn, being a part of American Ninja Warrior has inspired the Flying Phoenix to do more. “Having success on American Ninja Warrior helped motivate me to go after other things I want to accomplish in life,” he said. “I believe that whatever I put my mind to, I can achieve.”

We believe in you, too, Najee!