Born and raised outside of Boulder, Colorado, Kyle Parker (29) caught our attention via his Instagram account @The_NeuroNinja. After his second laser ablation surgery for epilepsy in August 2017, Kyle began posting about his recovery and ambition to be on American Ninja Warrior. His determination and his motto – S.L.E.D. or ‘Simply Live Each Day’ – spoke to us so much we persuaded him to be a contributor. We asked him to tell us more about his epilepsy diagnosis, his favourite sports and how his training for American Ninja Warrior is going.
What sports and activities do you do?
My favourite pastimes are snowboarding and climbing, and adventures where I can do both take the cake. Staying active reminds me that I am alive, so I try and stay as active as possible: I climb, hike, mountain bike, white water kayak, snowboard, four-wheel drive, teach survival skills and fly fish.
You’ve told us how climbing really helped with your epilepsy diagnosis. How did you get into climbing in the first place?
I’ve been climbing my entire life. When I was young, my friends and I would boulder on the Flatirons in Boulder County. Living in the mountains as an adult led to climbing bigger projects in order to reach mountain tops. But I didn’t really get serious about climbing until I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Climbing helped to make me feel normal: gravity doesn’t treat you differently just because you have epilepsy.
Where would you say is the best place for climbing?
My favourite place to climb is Boulder Canyon in Colorado, but Yosemite National Park is the Mecca of climbing. I have yet have climb in Yosemite, but plan to visit in 2018.
"Climbing helped to make me feel normal: gravity doesn't treat you differently just because you have epilepsy"
Have you ever had a seizure whilst climbing?
I’ve never had a seizure mid-climb but I have had one after hiking a fourteener [mountain higher than 14,000 feet high]. In my buddy’s car on the way down from the western ridge of Mount Quandary, I had a very large tonic-clonic seizure. Luckily we had decided to head down early that day, otherwise I may have seized on our descent.
What is your biggest adventure to date?
My biggest adventure to date was to Mount Uneva in the Gore Mountain Range of Colorado. It was the middle of January and a group of friends and I spent three days and two nights living in snow caves as we attempted to reach the summit of this 12,000 foot mountain. By using splitboards [a snowboard that ‘splits’ for walking on snow] we were able to travel deep into the backcountry and dig snow caves into drifts for shelter. In order to travel light, we opted to leave our tents behind and instead slept in snow. We stayed hydrated by melting snow for drinking water, and brought freeze dried food with us for meals. After reaching the summit of the mountain, we strapped on our snowboards and rode some incredible snow from the summit back down to our camp. Enduring sub zero temperatures and extreme physical exertion, I reached a level of adventure I never knew possible before.
"After reaching the summit of the mountain, we strapped on our snowboards and rode some incredible snow back down to our camp"
What was your latest adventure?
My most recent adventure was a short hike I took with my girlfriend to reach the north fork of the South Platte river. The day after my staples were removed from my head after brain surgery, and my doctor cleared me to walk more than a block, I set out to dunk my head in the chilly river waters above Conifer, Colorado. Dipping my head in the water made me feel alive, the frigid water dripped down my face and I finally felt free again.
Tell us a bit about American Ninja Warrior.
My ambition to take on the American Ninja Warrior obstacle course started after I was diagnosed, and it was born from the time I spent watching the show when recovering from seizures. I was moved by the inspirational stories behind the athletes, and saw a great opportunity. I decided I would begin training to compete on the show once I found seizure control, in order to raise epilepsy awareness. My goal is to inspire kids with epilepsy to never give up, to show them that this condition doesn’t have to define them and that they can still do amazing things.
"I began training to compete on the show once I found seizure control. My goal is to inspire kids with epilepsy to never give up"
How is the training going?
I’ve only been able to train since October of 2017. I had originally planned on auditioning for the 2019 season of American Ninja Warrior, but when the audition date for the 2018 season came around I decided to go for it, submit my audition tape and cross my fingers. I’m hoping to get the call to compete in 2018 any day now… but if not, I will continue to train and audition again for next year.
Can you tell us a bit about your epilepsy?
I have temporal lobe epilepsy, due to a scar in my right hippocampus. As a toddler I had febrile seizures [a seizure due to a fever]. One of these seizures left a scar in my hippocampus. After I was six years old, I stopped having seizures and I remained seizure free until I was twenty-five. But in April of 2015 I had a massive tonic-clonic where I broke my spine in four places and it left me incredibly confused. I was completely unprepared for the epilepsy diagnosis. After that seizure, there have been times in my life where I would seize once a month, and others where I would seize everyday for a week straight. I went seizure free for ten months in between December 2015 and October 2016.
"Never give up hope. Try to stay present and positive. Every brain is different and a diagnosis does not have to defeat you."
Once the seizures returned I decided to look into surgical options for seizure control. In February of 2017, I had my first laser ablation surgery to remove the scar in my brain. I was seizure free until early June of 2017. The seizures began to ramp up and I started seizing much more frequently in the end of July and early August until I had my second laser ablation surgery on 10th August 2017. They removed my entire right hippocampus and most of my right amygdala. I have not had a seizure since the day before the procedure! I do still take medication (Vimpat twice a day) but I hope to get off this medication within the next year or so.
Did you know much about epilepsy before you were diagnosed?
No, I was more or less completely uneducated. I used to work in the medical cannabis industry and had sold CBD to many patients with epilepsy and heard their stories but, that was extent of my knowledge.
What would you say to someone who has recently been diagnosed?
I talk to a lot of people who have recently been diagnosed or who have a loved one who has just been diagnosed, and I usually try to pass along the same message: “Be strong, be brave.” Epilepsy will be a challenge but you are strong enough overcome it. Believe in yourself and be active in your diagnosis: educate yourself and you will feel empowered. Never give up hope. Try to stay present and positive. Every brain is different and a diagnosis does not have to defeat you.
You can follow Kyle on Instagram and Twitter @the_neuroninja.