Four years ago, Boca Raton native Christina Gambino embarked on a mission to hit the buzzer at the end of the American Ninja Warrior course. Her journey would constantly test the 4’11” former gymnast’s physical and mental fortitude. Along the way, she created Jumptwist Ninja Academy, a place for her to train locally and Palm Beach County’s only obstacle-based gym with ninja training for kids (2-15) and adults (16-plus). Ahead of her fourth attempt at the NBC competition, Gambino shares details on her training, her new gym, and how she maintains her warrior mindset.
PBI: What went into your initial training for American Ninja Warrior?
Gambino: When I started training, I was going to the YMCA and working with a strength coach. I never touched an obstacle. I showed up in Daytona Beach in 2017 for ANW season nine in the best shape of my life and then fell on the first obstacle. I had more than 20 people in the stands who made signs and shirts to support me and stayed up for hours because we compete in the middle of the night. It was devastating. I had to go back to the drawing board.
How did you prepare for round two?
There were no gyms in Palm Beach County, so I bought an RV. I drove around the country for two years going to ninja gyms and training with people who are avid competitors. Finding the balance between obstacle, strength, and cardio training, yoga, stretching, and recovery is the biggest aspect. During those two years, my whole body broke down. I tore my hip flexor, broke a finger, tore a ligament in my finger, and my hand became paralyzed from radial nerve palsy. That’s when I really turned to my faith and was forced to slow down and listen.
What was the aftermath of two more disappointing finishes?
It’s defeating when you train a whole year for one moment and you fail every single time. It was difficult for me to consider competing again after failing three times. I was mad at myself and so negative for the first time in my life.
What changed that mindset?
The kids gave me my spark back. Before it was an ego thing—I was a gymnast and wanted to keep competing because that’s all I’ve known. Now I have a real opportunity to inspire people because I have fans here in Boca. When a child misses an obstacle over and over and runs out crying, I sit down with them and say, “Do you understand that I fall every single year? You know what I’m the best at? Falling. But you know what I’m even better at? Getting up.” Not giving up has to be ingrained in their hearts, minds, and souls. When they go out into the world, they’ve learned the lesson that if you get rejected, fall, or fail, being defeated every time is not the answer.
Are you ready for your fourth attempt?
My goal is still to hit that buzzer. I have a treadmill on top of my mezzanine, so I’m eye level with the buzzer at the gym. When I do sprints and interval training and feel like slowing down, I just look at the buzzer. I don’t stop because I’m so hungry for it. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life—my body is together, and my mind is finally back. Finally, I’ve found my rhythm and balance between training, resting, recovering, working, and enjoying life.