Six years ago, Amber and Craig Holbrook started a family. Like every young couple, they longed for normal and healthy children. But God had other plans.
The couple’s first child, Cailyn, was born with severe autism. Doctors diagnosed her when she was just 18 months old and they didn’t offer much hope for her social or mental development. “We took it extremely hard,” says Amber. “That first year after (the diagnosis) was the worst time in my life.”
Over the last five years, the Holbrooks have been on a journey. They’ve traveled from anger to peace and from sadness to joy. They’ve grown closer as a family and been strengthened in their faith. The biggest blessings along the way have been Cailyn’s amazing progress and the addition of their son, Dalton, now four years old. And the biggest surprise? Amber’s incredible transformation from an out-of-shape mom to an American Ninja Warrior.
Transforming to Ninja Warrior
Every day, Amber watched Cailyn struggle in therapy and at school to master simple skills. One day, it struck her that “we were asking a lot of Cailyn, but not a lot of ourselves.”
When Amber saw a promotion for a 5K run to benefit autism research, she knew she had to participate. Physical fitness wasn’t her thing. In fact, she never exercised and didn’t even have the stamina to run for two minutes straight. Yet she welcomed the chance to push herself. She couldn’t remove Cailyn’s struggles, but she could journey alongside her by taking on her own challenges. “I kept Cailyn in mind the whole time,” she says. “It became a way I could fight for her and with her.”
After successfully completing the 5K, Amber was on the lookout for a new challenge. One night, while watching American Ninja Warrior with her husband, she found it. “I told Craig that I thought I could be on this show,” she says. “He laughed and said ‘you’re kidding me, right?’”
Amber wasn’t kidding. She began training two to three days a week with Jim Steffen at XT Fitness in Findlay. “It was a total lifestyle change for me,” she says. “I changed my diet and took steps to get my body ready.”
Picked to compete
Thousands of people apply to be a contestant on the show, but few are accepted. Amber couldn’t believe her luck when she received a phone call from the show’s producers saying she made it. “I started jumping up and down and screaming,” she says.
Amber appeared on the show this past August. She completed part of the obstacle course, regaining her balance on the tricky snake crossing, but ultimately she slid off the wind chimes. “It was an amazing experience,” she says. “I hung on as long as I could for Cailyn.”
Since her appearance on American Ninja Warrior, Amber has connected with many moms who have a child with autism. She is happy to offer support, and most importantly, hope. “Doctors told us that Cailyn would never talk, but today she is talking and expressing her emotions. Everyone is amazed by her progress,” says Amber. “I will keep going on American Ninja Warrior as often as they ask me in order to share Cailyn’s story. Right now, I am her voice. But someday she will be able to share her own story.”