How a Parkinson’s diagnosis changed the course for American Ninja Warrior

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CHICAGO — It was in a doctor's office in 2003 when that 27-year-old Jimmy Choi's course was forever changed. Doctors told him he had Parkinson’s disease.

He was he was angry and in disbelief when he got the news. It sent him into a downward spiral.

“I call it our dark years,” Choi’s wife, Cherryl, said.

Choi lived in denial for about eight years. He said he was angry and depressed.

“It wasn't until I was using a cane and up to 240 pounds that I knew I had to do something,” he said.

After reading that even a little exercise could slow the progression of the disease, Choi took the first step — literally. He started walking. He then started jogging, and eventually started running. One mile became two. Two miles became three and within three years, Choi crossed the finish line at the Chicago Marathon.

Choi has now completed one ultra-marathon, 15 full marathons and over 100 half marathons.

After 16 years, he is almost unrecognizable.

"That's what I hope our kids take away from this,” his wife said. “It’s going to be hard but I want you to know how to handle hard."

It’s a message Choi took to the big stage to compete on “American Ninja Warrior.” He didn't beat that buzzer, but out of all the contestants Choi is the one people couldn't stop talking about.

This month, Choi is back in the gym, pushing harder than ever prepping for his third and final run on the show.

“I’m going to give it my all and leave nothing behind,” he said.

He wants to leave behind nothing but a trail of light and inspiration for every person with their own challenging obstacles. Choi and his wife have this their cause and purpose — speaking on stages across the country and raising nearly $400,000 for a cure. They hope sharing their story will motivate others so the newly diagnosed don't have to go through those years of darkness that they did.

If you want to donate, fund raise or participate with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to fight Parkinson’s disease, visit

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