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Gainesville’s Ninja Warrior Erica Cook

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Erica Cook, owner of No Limits Personal Training and recent contestant on “American Ninja Warrior,” is no stranger to athletic achievement. The Gainesvillenative not only played multiple sports at Gainesville High School (volleyball and power lifting) she won a state championship as well.

She continued power lifting through her late teens and early 20s and by her junior year at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, she was chosen as an originating member of the college’s first-ever track team. The fact that she’d never formally run track before didn’t hold her back for a moment.

One wouldn’t guess all that power is packed into Cook’s 5-foot frame and shy demeanor. She prefers it that way. “That’s how my brother and I were brought up. Be respectful and humble and if you do good things, you celebrate them. My dad’s from the South, it’s part of [being from] the South, respect and humility.”

It took those foundations and a whole lot of courage in her early 20s to make the decision that would lead her down the Ninja Warrior path. Cook was making progress toward her Masters in Psychology while working at a gym and keeping athletics as a hobby, when she started questioning her path. “I realized I wasn’t looking forward to going to class and I really enjoyed going to work. It wasn’t easy because you’re like ‘I just spent five years studying this and now I could possibly never use it.’”

So, at 22, with the full support of her friends and family, she decided to move back to Gainesville, exploring what a full-time career in fitness might look like. “Being 22, I didn’t realize this could be a form of work.” It wasn’t just community support that brought her back to town though – it was Gainesville’s community of fitness.

“There are so many different ways in Gainesville to be active. You go to the stadium on a Sunday morning and there are a hundred people. You go down 8th Ave… all those neighborhoods with the hills, there are people. Drive by anywhere you want and you’ll see someone out. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10pm at night or 3pm in the afternoon.”

It was the community, family and athletic challenges Gainesville offered that set the stage for this American Ninja Warrior.

Her family began watching the show, which Cook describes as “a big adult obstacle course that is constantly getting more challenging,” on their annual beach vacation a couple years ago. The show, in which a variety of exceptionally athletic contestants tackle a series of almost impossible physical challenges and obstacles, originated in Japan and has found much success on American TV.

At first, Cook was faced with a rare athletic challenge she didn’t believe she could tackle. “There weren’t very many women that were succeeding [on the show]. And I kind of thought, ‘That’s impossible. There’s gotta be a reason none of the girls can do this.’ Despite her moment of uncertainty, it was her community, once again, that inspired and encouraged her to bite the bullet and try the “American Ninja Warrior” course. “I must’ve had 100 people call or message me and encourage me to enter.” And so, she did, “I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

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