It was a morning before sunrise in October 2018 when Keita Kashiwagi was scraped off the sidewalk near his home in Rancho Cucamonga after being hit by a car while riding his bike to work.

After suffering severe brain trauma and a recovery that stunned his doctors, the 46-year-old husband, father, and science teacher had relearned how to think, talk, walk, and eat, and returned to the classroom at Jehue Middle School Rialto Unified School District in less than five months.

As amazing as it sounds, just wait – there’s more.

Keita Kashiwagi, 46, is training in the garage of his home in Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday, May 13, 2021. Kashiwagi, recovering from a serious brain injury after a bicycle accident, returned in incredible physical shape and took on “American Ninja Warriors.” (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin / SCNG)

Compete for top ninja

He found his motivational muse after looking in the mirror and seeing an intestine, sagging muscles, and a dislocated body. He started running, then running, and began a daily exercise regimen aimed at returning to the NBC reality television show “America Ninja Warrior,” which he appeared on in May 2014.

Almost six years after his first appearance, Kashiwagi qualified not just once but twice to return to the show.

He qualified in March 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled his run through the obstacle course and the show ended. So he got even stronger and recorded another application video showing off his back flips, six packs, and skills on the hanging ropes and four level obstacles. His doctor and physical therapist shared one of the fastest recoveries ever seen from such a serious injury.

The result? Kashiwagi said he couldn’t give too much away, but his December 2020 audition tape earned him another invitation, this time to participate in the show’s upcoming 13th season. He recently took the class in Tacoma, Washington, and will find out if his story includes the first episode on May 31 at 8 p.m.

Although each course is different, the challenging obstacles challenge athletes younger than Kashiwagi. Courses require moving over hanging, horizontal bars or grabbing a series of high ropes to get to the other side without falling into the water. There is usually a 14-foot, 6-inch “warped wall” that can only be conquered with a single jump.

Based on the Japanese TV show “Sasuke”, the producers launched an American version in December 2009 with a series of regional competitions in the USA, which culminated in a final in Las Vegas. The winner will receive $ 1 million.

Kashiwagi, 5-foot-4, with a compact, muscular body and a ponytail, was reduced to 140 pounds by doing pull-ups at Day Creek Park in Rancho Cucamonga, lifting and running weights in his garage, and yes, biking for six days during the week.

He recovered 90% from his injury in 2018, with minor memory impairments still being a problem.

“When I was on deck, I had this surreal feeling,” he recalled in a recent interview. “I couldn’t believe I almost died two and a half years ago. And now I’m going to destroy this thing. “

His performance on the ANW course signaled the beginning of his life after the accident, he said. One that is dedicated to his family, namely his wife Kristine Kernc, his son Kaisei (8) and his daughter Kaya (7). His children often play with him in the park on the jungle gym and go surfing with him.

“He enjoys family activities a lot,” said Kernc. “Like I’m with the kids and taking them to the park. And they really enjoy it. They climb trees and do the most difficult things in the playground. “

Keita Kashiwagi, 46, is training in the garage of his home in Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday, May 13, 2021. Kashiwagi, recovering from a serious brain injury after a bicycle accident, returned in incredible physical shape and took on “American Ninja Warriors.” (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin / SCNG)

Road to recovery

Kashiwagi called himself “arrogant” for cycling to work without wearing a helmet. He had done it without incident for 11 years, but now he always wears a helmet to protect his head after the accident.

“My doctor told me that if you had been wearing a helmet you might have walked away from this accident,” he said. “Instead, I almost died.”

On October 9, 2018, a car he had not seen hit him on the corner of Victoria Park Lane and Kenyon Way while riding his bike at 22 mph. Fortunately, the driver stopped and called an ambulance. He spent three days at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton and six days in the intensive care unit at Kaiser Hospital in Fontana. When the bleeding in his brain stopped, he was taken to Casa Colina Hospital and Health Centers in Pomona for a three-week rehabilitation stay, he said.

“That’s how I got out of the trauma center; They said you are alright. You won’t die, ”he said.

His first memory of what had happened came nine days after the accident when he saw his wife being taken to Casa Colina. He remembers a nurse who used a spoon to feed him food. “She would put a spoon in my mouth. She would then say, “You are using it.” I stared at her and that was it. “

The first time he realized something had happened to him was when he was in the bathroom and noticed a companion watching to make sure he didn’t fall. I said to him: ‘Why are you here?’ He said, “I watch everything you do.” Kashiwagi asked him to move behind the shower curtain.

When he slowly recovered, his memory was still shaky. “My mother asked me how I make curry. I couldn’t remember the words for carrots. I said it was those long orange things that you cut up, ”he said. Playing card games with his two children increased his memory skills. He even memorized 200 digits pi.

After just three weeks in rehab, he could walk and function independently, he said. Kernc said her husband’s recovery was a combination of the “good care” he received, his tenacious determination to get well, and the timely support of both parents who would get him to doctor’s appointments while they were at work.

“Really the greatest blessing is that he’s still here with us,” she said.

“The Science Ninja”

Kashiwagi went back to work after 4½ months, although doctors said it would take six to nine months. He said students played a role in his recovery in his science classes and on the wrestling team he coached. They often saw him sneaking away between classes to do pushups or pull ups.

“I love teaching,” he said. “I love to see the students’ faces and hear their expressions when teaching something new or showing them something cool.”

He admits that it wasn’t the same teaching about computer connections during the pandemic. But even with distance learning in the midst of the pandemic, his students will be looking for Mr. Kashiwagi, who works on the alter ego “The Science Ninja”.

“Yes, my students love it,” he said. “They love that I’m a ninja warrior and try again.”