Deaf Person of the Month
Known as the Deaf Ninja, Kyle Schulze is best known as the Deaf competitor who made the national finals of American Ninja Warrior.
This show features a variety of competitions that challenge competitors’ agility, upper-body strength, grip, climbing, leaping, balance, and coordination skills. Since its debut in 2009, only two competitors (both rock climbers) have successfully completed the course, achieved total victory, and taken home the prize. (It’s now a million dolars.) The Last Ninja Standing wins $100,000.
Through the years, the number of applicants has steadily increaed, from around 1,000 in the first season to 777,000 in the ninth. A hundred contestants are chosen to participate in each regional qualifier. Then comes the city-qualifier course. This includes six obstacle courses; the nationals ten. The top 15 competitors who complete the city finals course in the least amount of time move on to the nationals.
Schulze grew up atending a variety of schools, often as their only deaf student, graduating from Glebard West High Schoo in Glen Ellyn, a Chicago suburb.
Not surprisingly, he also grew up actively participating in a wide variety of sports: baseball, soccer, karate, swimming, dance, lacrosse, wrestling, track, volleyball, cross country, Ultimate Frisbee, among others. “I am a quick learner when it comes to sports, and did rock climbing for 8 years and OCR (obstacle-course races), which eventually led to Ninja; I started training in Fall 2016.s”p>
His first American Ninja Warrior competition was in Kansas City. When he put in his next stint in Indianapolis, he taught other Ninjas ASL, using Facebook and Instagram to educate viewers. “I was not prepared for the flood of messages, people reaching out, and attention that soon followed. My initial goal [in 2017] was to see how far I got on the course.” He didn’t make it to the finals that year. But in 2018, he did, becoming the first Deaf competitor to make it to the national finals.
The 2018 national finals were held in Las Vegas "It wasn't just about trying to win the show and prize money anymore. I had a role: to inspire others . . . “Being on the TV show gave me an opportunity to educate society.”
He has traveled to schools and camps, sharing his story with Deaf children and adults. “Countless times I was denied the opportunity to shine and show my potential. I grew up constantly pushed down and pushed aside, without a Deaf role model, and now, seeing how I am one, I want to make a positive change.” Schulze works at Reader Joe’s in Glen Ellyn, and coaches adults and children at the Chicago Ninja Academy in West Chicago. Schulze works at Reader Joe’s in Glen Ellyn, and coaches adults and children at the Chicago Ninja Academy in West Chicago.
He did well in the 2018 finals. Although he fell off the Candy Cane obstacle course, endig his chance of continuing for the prize, he is proud of what he’s accomplished. And he plans to return.