AUSTIN, Texas – Sandy Sanders is not afraid of a challenge.
During the workweek, Sanders supports detailed records management and privacy activities at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) C5ISR Center, located at Aberdeen Providing Ground, Maryland.
On the weekends and after work, she can often be found training for ninja warrior and skimboarding competitions, pushing the boundaries of what she is capable of achieving in either sport.
“It’s the challenge that I thrive on,” Sanders said.
As a former Navy Diving Officer, Sanders knows from experience how to apply precision and perseverance to overcome difficulties.
“I trained in a fast-paced environment,” Sanders said of her time during Navy Dive School training. “They pushed you to your brink and even past your brink.”
Dive School consisted of six months of intentionally rigorous activities.
“They have you swimming in the ocean, rolling around in sand, picking up heavy anchors, doing nonstop exercises, pull-ups, push-ups,” Sanders said. “Only the few who can handle it mentally and physically graduate.”
The experience taught her she could push past perceived limits to reach greater levels of success.
“That just gave me the mental fortitude to say okay, what’s next, what do you have to throw at me next?”
Sanders carried her enthusiasm for new challenges into her pursuit of obstacle sports, particularly ninja warrior.
Originating in Japan and made popular in the U.S. by reality shows like American Ninja Warrior, the sport sees competitors navigate through a series of advanced obstacles, completing as many maneuvers as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.
Mastering the many complex moves required to complete a ninja warrior obstacle course – from dynamic pull-ups to precarious rope climbs – can take considerable time and effort, but Sanders was eager to learn more about the sport and started taking classes at a nearby ninja warrior gym.
While she describes her first attempt at a ninja warrior competition as an “epic failure,” she persisted nonetheless, motivated by an inner drive as well as the encouragement of teammates.
“The ninja community is very supportive,” she said.
As her abilities grew, so did her strength as a competitor. She recently placed second in the Barbados Ninja Throwdown competition, qualifying for a spot at the 2023 World Ninja League Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“People knowing that you are going after a challenge and supporting you in it” is something she has also seen in the skimboarding community, a sport she recently began pursuing.
Skimboarding involves using a short or round surfboard to glide across shallow water, sometimes incorporating spins or other tricks. Sanders enjoys the activity, even though she falls down frequently.
“Yeah, I suck at it, but I’m going to just keep trying and working at it,” she said.
She has also seen how conquering impressive feats of athleticism in her forties has inspired fellow competitors and competition organizers alike, with the Skim USA board discussing a new age category for female contestants after seeing her compete. And she maintains that anyone is capable of learning a new skill.
“Just keep in mind: everybody has a first day at something. Nobody was born with these skill sets,” Sanders said. “At one time, I could never do a pull-up.”
She also believes the sense of satisfaction that comes from conquering difficult challenges is a feeling that anyone can – and should – pursue.
“Do something that scares you every day,” Sanders said. “Life is short.”