Even Ninjas Cry Sometimes

Houston Covid Nurse Talks Competing on American Ninja Warrior

Pauline Avila, an ICU nurse at Houston Methodist, and her husband competed in season 12 of the NBC sports entertainment show, which premiered Sept 7.

By Raven Wuebker September 21, 2020

For many, the pandemic has not only put a pause on day-to-day life, but it’s also kept many of us from the activities we enjoy. However, that hasn’t been the case for Pauline Avila, an ICU nurse at Houston Methodist.

Earlier this summer, Avila, who has worked in the medical field for 11 years, competed on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, all while still working on the frontlines against Covid-19 (Methodist began treating Covid patients in March, and is still treating them today). Her run during the St Louis Qualifier Round 1, which appeared in the season premiere on Sept 7, was her second time competing on the show, although it's the first time she’s made it into an episode. Avila made it through the "Shrinking Steps," the first obstacle, but then fell during the second obstacle, the "Weight For It." Back in 2018, during her first time competing on the show, she also made it to the second obstacle. Her husband, five-season Ninja competitor Jody ‘Big Dig” Avila, also competed during the St Louis Qualifying Round this year, managing to make it through the whole course and hit the buzzer. 

Avila says it took a lot of hard work to get to that point of competing on the show. The nurse started ninja training four years ago after her husband got her into the sport. What started out as a fun way to exercise quickly turned into a family activity with Avila’s two kids training alongside their parents on the family’s backyard ninja course. “Ninja has definitely brought us a lot closer together,” Avila tells us. “We all ninja together as a family, and that’s my biggest thing.”

Avila chatted with us about working the Covid wing and competing during these unusual times.

What has it been like on the frontlines of the pandemic? 

Being on the frontline has been hard; there are a lot of stressful days. I’m not going to lie, in the beginning it was very scary not knowing what you’re getting yourself into. It was very new at the time, and it still is new—worrying about not only you getting it, but also possibly spreading it to your family, which was my biggest fear. In the beginning, I was socially distancing myself from them and wearing a mask and sleeping in a separate bedroom. As time went on—since it’s been six months now—and I’ve been tested numerous times and I’ve been negative, I know I have been doing something right, so I’m not as worried as before.  

How has being a ICU nurse during the pandemic affected your mental health? 

Being a nurse is not only physically demanding, it affects my mental and emotional health. It’s been tough seeing patients with no families, since Covid patients are not allowed any family members. We’re there most of the time with them, and their families visit them through an iPad. It breaks you down. After a shift, I broke down and cried coming home from work. Honestly, we all have. It’s been an emotional time for all of us, and I think it affects my mental health a great deal. It’s getting better now, seeing our patients get better.

What made you want to run the ANW course this year with everything going on? 

It was actually unexpected. I received a phone call from one of the producers telling me they wanted me to compete on the show. It was a really hard decision at first, just because it was back in July and we were really busy at work. That was when Texas was at the epicenter of the virus at the time. So, I didn’t know if I would be able to actually take some time off work and travel, and I hadn't Ninja-trained in a long time. But I just decided that I’m going out there and will do my best. I wanted to represent the frontline workers. 

How did running the course this year feel?

This time around I did feel different. I was very emotional and cried a lot seeing my family there on the screen. I was happy to have my husband there on the sideline watching. I wasn’t as nervous, and I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself. I told myself no matter what happens I was going to have fun and I was going to give it my all and that was it. Even if I fell on the first obstacle, I wouldn't have been upset. It was a great experience and I’m happy about how everything went. 

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