Husband and Wife Heal from Mental Illness, Go on to Compete in American Ninja Warrior / by Zina Daniel

Amy and Eric

Amy and Eric

None of this would have been possible without the encouragement of [the people] at the Hendricks Regional Health YMCA.
— Amy Sheppard

Amy Sheppard always liked non-traditional sports like obstacle course racing, climbing, and gymnastics. She liked how these sports allowed her to fall, fail, and mentally push through things that she previously never thought possible.

She met her husband, Eric, in 2007 when they were rock climbing instructors at a YMCA in Minot, ND. She was a full-time dietician at the time, and Eric was an active military member. They got married two years after having their first son in 2009 and had their second son in 2014.

A Life Obstacle

Outside the obstacles Amy dodged recreationally in sports, there was actually a real obstacle in her life: a debilitating anxiety disorder. In 2014, Amy started having panic attacks six to seven times a day.

“I had to quit my place of employment because my anxiety was so bad that the job I was being asked to do was becoming too hard,” she said.

Eventually the anxiety made her afraid to leave the house, making the care of her two boys a challenge.

On top of the anxiety, there were financial struggles as well. Because Amy was no longer able to work, Eric became the household’s sole provider, and he was limited in his ability to work because he had to take care of Amy. He had his own struggles as well: He suffered from post-traumatic stress daily, brought on by being stationed in Iraq, and that, coupled with Amy’s anxiety, forced the family’s normal lives to come to a standstill. Eric started suffering from depression.

New Hope at the Y

Amy, Eric, and their kids

Amy, Eric, and their kids

In 2017, however, the family’s lives started changing for the better. Amy went through multiple medication changes, therapy sessions, and received unconditional love from her family and friends. Eric also became better as she did.

The entire family rejoined the YMCA, working with the Y’s wellness, sports, and physical therapy programs. They particularly benefited from the Y’s sliding-scale scholarship, which is funded through donations to the YMCA's annual campaign and allows families to pay for membership fees based on total household income. “None of this would have been possible without the encouragement of [the people] at the Hendricks Regional Health YMCA,” Amy said.

Amy and Eric began rock climbing again, and also began preparing for American Ninja Warrior, a popular competition series on TV. They ended up being one of the first couples to appear on the show, competing separately. Amy dedicated her run on the program to those suffering from anxiety.

Her goal for this year is to regain employment as a dietician, establish herself in the Ninja Warrior community, and continue to serve those who struggle or need help, so maybe they, too, can become their own heroes.

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