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Pauline Avila provided a powerful picture of the struggles of frontline heroes

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There is no doubt she’s a warrior, regardless of the obstacles on the course.

Elizabeth Morris/NBC

When American Ninja Warrior set out to film a new season in the middle of pandemic, everyone knew there was no point in pretending like things were normal. Besides the new format and safety precautions that made the show even possible, NBC and the producers went a step further by looking for Ninjas who exemplify the community and the unprecedented times we’re living in.

That’s how Pauline Avila found herself standing at the start line. Pauline is a Ninja. She competed back in season 10. She’s also a mom of two young boys with big Ninja talent and the wife of Jody Avila, the Big Dog Ninja. But right now, her life is consumed by her career as an ICU nurse who faces Covid-19 head on every single day. Her run wasn’t the longest (she fell while attempting the second obstacle), but her testimony of life on the frontline reminded us what heroes look like.

“I did not expect this at all. I got the call about a month ago and here I am,” Pauline laughed as we sat down to catch up before her run. While many Ninjas spend those last few hours before showtime rife with nerves, Pauline was enjoy a rare break from the stress of her usual days.

“For me, it’s nice to get away from it all. Just being in an environment where everything is uncertain. I still don’t know what’s going on, honestly. Everything is so fluid. I’m excited. We’ll see how it goes.”

The laughing came to a halt there. When asked about why she decided to take part in the show this year, Pauline took a long pause before answering, with grief in her eyes.

Elizabeth Morris/NBC

“It’s been a really tough year. It’s been tough. The emotional and mental aspect of it, it’s been really tough on me. I’ve been taking care of Covid positive patients since March when my unit became the first ICU Covid unit in my hospital. We didn’t know what to expect. I distanced myself from my family as much as I could for at least a month. Very little interaction. I would wear a mask at home. To this day, I sleep in a separate bedroom. It’s been almost four months now.

It’s been so hard because we’re a very close-knit family. We do everything together. It’s hard. My youngest son, Christian, who’s four, comes up to me and says, ‘Mommy, I can’t hug you. I can’t kiss you.’ It’s heartbreaking. That’s one aspect of it.

I’m not scared of getting the virus myself, but of getting it and giving it to my kids, or to Jody. That’s my biggest fear.

With everything at work... Seeing how sick patients are. Seeing them alone with no family. It really just breaks you down. It tears you apart. It’s very hard. Every time I think about it... I’m very emotional right now.”

“(American Ninja Warrior) is a way for me advocate how important it is for us to do our part. Covid isn’t going away. We all each have a part to do following the guidelines, wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands. I really believe that it’s important that each one of us do our part to slow down the spread. A big part of me being a nurse is to educate the public on the importance of it.

Family is the most important thing to me. It’s hard even right now, not being with the kids. With everything going on right now, be supportive of each other. Know that you don’t know what one person is going through. Just be kind to one another.”

When it comes to the logistics of the course, Pauline smiles. The literal obstacles are the fun part.

“The last season I competed on, which was two years ago, my goal was to get past the first obstacle. I would still like to do that. But honestly, it’s to go have fun out there. Do my best. See where it takes me. I’m 4’10” which is a disadvantage. If I get past the first obstacle I’ll be happy about it.”

And in a delightful turn of events, Pauline made that wish come true. She made it past the Shrinking Steps... and was out on obstacle two. But her authentic testimony of what she’s facing right now painted a clear picture: She’s a Ninja Warrior for sure.