Forty-two-year-old Sandy Zimmerman (previously Gere) made history in the Tacoma Dome in her home state of Washington in June when she completed the "American Ninja Warrior" qualifier course. Zimmerman, a Gonzaga University grad (’99) and women’s basketball alumna, not only completed the notorious "American Ninja Warrior" course but became the oldest person and first mom to hit the buzzer.
Zimmerman’s name is now known nationally, but her Spokane roots are strong and the local support encouraged her throughout the journey.
This story began in Spokane, where Zimmerman now lives with her family. She remembers her childhood being tough, but her sense of perseverance brought her to where she is now.
“We had it rough growing up, we were really poor, you know, we grew up on welfare,” Zimmerman said. “But I think I just have that old-fashioned brute in me that the only way out of your situation is good, old-fashioned, hard work.”
Her successes stem from a strong work ethic, which kept her going throughout life. She received a degree in education from GU, with a focus on health and nutrition.
“To earn a full-ride basketball scholarship to Gonzaga was my ticket out of poverty and a rough childhood,” Zimmerman said. “And I got myself a really good education.”
Her hard work and grit paid off. Zimmerman now works for the Medical Lake School District as a physical education teacher.
Zimmerman found out about "American Ninja Warrior" while channel-surfing and decided she would pursue this dream, although it was a challenge.
“I’m not the typical ninja mold, you know,” Zimmerman said. “I didn’t fit that mold at all.”
She knew she wasn’t the stereotypical contestant, but Zimmerman remained determined to succeed.
“I was on season eight, nine, too, and went out on the second obstacle and it was terrible and was an early exit which was really disappointing,” Zimmerman said. “But I used it as fuel to fire the work I was going to put in.”
Zimmerman’s colleague and fellow Ninja Bobby Tabb has known her since their families ended up on the same flights to Los Angeles to compete on season nine. They quickly became family friends and trained together.
“Sandy is driven. Her work ethic is contagious. She dreams big. I find it impossible to spend time training with her and not want to get better,” Tabb said. “But it is her ability to work toward her big dreams by making thousands of small gains that sets her apart.”
Tabb watched Zimmerman become a beacon of hope for "American Ninja Warrior" fans as well as other mothers but said she handles her fame with humility.
“She was the same [person] before the title of ‘First Mom To Hit a Buzzer,’” Tabb said. “She just has a big platform now to speak that hope and success into people's lives.”
That same hope and success is the reason Zimmerman made it so far.
Her third and most memorable run was made all the more impactful with her family in the stands and is symbolic of her response to hitting the buzzer: “The first mom!”
Zimmerman’s family was a crucial part of her experience and she never wanted to do it without them.
“I get to play, I get to stay in shape, I get to have fun, I get to have this incredible adventure, but I also get to do it with my kids, and that’s what I think has been so amazing about this,” Zimmerman said. “We get to do it side by side.”
Her family wasn’t the only source of support. She said the Spokane and GU communities rallied behind Zimmerman unconditionally, before she became famous for her achievements.
Zimmerman’s family, as well as encouragement from her fellow ninjas, were motivators for her successes. Her family extends beyond the walls of her home.
“Hitting a buzzer and being the first mom, the oldest one to ever do that, was incredible, but what I think has been so amazing [is] only in Spokane would this ever happen,” Zimmerman said. “That people were behind me before any of that even happened.”