‘Vision Ninja’ uses athleticism to spread optometry’s message

‘Vision Ninja’ uses athleticism to spread optometry’s message

"This might be a good way to raise awareness that vision therapy exists. We're really changing children's lives."

There's a certain comic-book character likeness to John Murray Adams, O.D.

Standing 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 157 pounds, his unassuming look and jovial personality are that of a superhero in disguise. A doctor of optometry with a penchant for vision therapy by day, but by night? Queue lights, roll camera, and action is what you get.

Kapow! Blam! Zap! Enter—the "Vision Ninja."

Dr. Adams, a native of Owensboro, Kentucky, is a competitor on the current season of NBC's action-packed series, "American Ninja Warrior." Renowned for its often ludicrously designed, four-stage obstacle course, "American Ninja Warrior" puts contenders' fleet-of-foot-and-mind skills to the test for a chance at a $1 million grand prize.

Competing in the Indianapolis qualifier several weeks back, Dr. Adams is moving on to the city final and one step closer to the final stage, called Mt. Midoriyama. Most importantly, the national spotlight offers Dr. Adams an exceptional opportunity to share optometry's expertise and the benefits of vision therapy.

How did you get involved with "American Ninja Warrior?"

I have been watching the show since the very first time it came on NBC, maybe five years ago. I just stumbled upon it, and I was instantly hooked. As I watched each season, I started thinking to myself: This looks easy, why don't I start training and see if I can actually do it? I had already been lifting weights, so I started working out at lunchtime, and then, when I dedicated myself to "American Ninja Warrior," I started going to the gym five to eight times a week.

I submitted my entry about two years ago, and I assumed they would put me on because they like featuring professionals with a story and not just the people who own Ninja Warrior gyms (facilities that specially train athletes to compete for an "American Ninja Warrior" course). I represent my vision therapy patients; it's a message that definitely needs to get out, because a lot of people have never heard about it. Everybody's heard of occupational therapy and physical therapy, but they've never heard of vision therapy. I thought this might be a good way to raise awareness that this exists. We're really changing children's lives: They're reading better, getting better scores in school and gaining confidence. This is a really good, heartfelt message that this country should see, and that "American Ninja Warrior" would love.

When I first applied last year and didn't make the cut, I called the casting directors and asked what I needed to do to get on the show. They said you really need to sell it, and it sounds like I'm joking when I say this, but they said, 'I need you to drink 15 coffees before your next video.' I needed over-the-top energy, and that's what became my entry video.

Even though you fell on the swinging spikes, your fast time put you through to the Indianapolis city finals. How did you feel about that first performance?

Overall I was very, very happy. I had several goals, and the only goal that I didn't meet was getting up the warped wall that first night. I really wanted to press that buzzer. I also wanted to make it to the city finals because I definitely wanted another shot at getting my vision therapy message out there. I achieved that, and because I did, I felt really good about it.

The hanging spikes that I fell on—I didn't get a chance to see other people testing out that part of the course. That's where you need to pay attention: What did they do to fail or succeed? There are definitely tricks and strategies to every obstacle. Had I seen someone try it, I would've been more prepared for the swinging motion required.

That night I was scheduled to run around 11 or 11:30, but because it was raining so much, we had a three-hour delay and didn't get to run until about 3:30 in the morning. I'm 38 years old, by no means an 18-year-old, so I didn't necessarily feel tired, but I guess my body felt tired. I figured once I got to the hanging spikes it would be easy, but I guess I just didn't have the energy.

What do your patients and colleagues think of you competing?

My patients are very excited about me participating. A couple of them have purchased T-shirts, some of the younger ones want autographs and the older ones like to chat about it because they're really big fans of the show. It's been very positive from a patient standpoint. It's a neat little fact that we can talk about, and it doesn't consume too much of the exam, by any means.

My practice is comprised of my father-in-law (H. Andrew Ward, O.D.) and my wife (Patricia Ward Adams, O.D.). With two other associates (Hank Pardon, O.D., and Roger Jones, O.D.) there are five of us, all AOA members. They're very supportive and all want to know how I've done, what I'm up to, and they tease me a bit about going to work out at lunch. I don't hit the gym too hard, but about 45 minutes every day, so they'll see me running through the office in shorts and a cut-off shirt.

How do you find the time to exercise and train?

I'm at the gym every single day to do pullups and upper-body workouts. I use my lunch break for that. After work, I'll go and do rope climbing at the gym, or before work I'll drop the kids off at school and then go to the gym before my 8 a.m. patient.

I try to talk to my patients about fitness—"American Ninja Warrior" is a great way to bring it up. This country definitely needs a catalyst like American Ninja Warrior, something in peoples' lives that motivates them to become healthy. I encourage my patients to join Tough Mudders or Spartan races, some of these running competitions that give them something to work toward. American Ninja Warrior is what motivated me, but for someone else, that's not their cup of tea, so maybe they're into cycling, and I encourage them to get out and do it. I try to have a chat with my patients and segue into fitness.

See more

  • Click here to watch the full episode at NBC.com.
  • Click here to watch Dr. Adams' American Ninja Warrior entry video.

June 22, 2016

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