By day, Gainesville resident Joyce Shahboz is a 41-year-old physical therapist and mother of two children.
When night falls, her friends, family and millions of television viewers know her as a ninja warrior.
She beat the odds this year by becoming the only woman to make back-to-back finals in the history of the American show, that features mostly male contestants 21- to 29-years-old.
“We usually have a handful of moms over 40,” said Nicole Bamber, press manager for NBC Universal. “However, Joyce has been the most successful woman — mom or not — over 40.”
In the show, which finished airing its fifth season in September, competitors get one attempt to complete a challenging obstacle course. Of the 3,500 applicants for this past season, 500 athletes ran regional qualifying courses and 85 made it to the national finals in Las Vegas. Shahboz was the only woman from the southeast region to get invited to Las Vegas this year.
“I’ve had a lot of positive feedback on my Facebook fan page from women and moms saying it’s nice to see another woman out there going for it,” Shahboz said.
Her husband, Marc Shahboz, 45, is a digital media professor at Santa Fe Community College. The two consider being physically active a family affair. As a couple, they participate in martial arts, swimming, mountain biking, rock climbing and swing dancing.
“We’ve pretty much stopped going to movies a long time ago because we’d rather go out and do something,” Shahboz said.
Marc and Joyce Shahboz said they include their 8 and 11-year-old daughters in as many activities as possible. A family friend nicknamed the family “the ninja clan” before Joyce started on the show.
Their oldest daughter, Lain, has been rock climbing since she was 5. Both Marc and Joyce Shahboz are also coaches for the girls’ swim team, High Tide Aquatics.
“They’re a pretty interesting family,” said Bryan Welter, head age group coach for the swim team. “Whether it’s Marc and Lain or Joyce and Lain or the whole family, they’re always out there finding something different and fun and athletic to do.”
The Shahboz’ watched “American Ninja Warrior” together for the last few years, often joking with their kids about trying out. Little did they know opportunity would come in the form of a new physical therapy patient.
Drew Drechsel, another local resident, made it to the finals in Japan the first year he competed in “American Ninja Warrior,” but he sustained a serious right knee injury during the first stage of obstacles. In 2011, at The Orthopaedic Institute in Gainesville, Joyce Shahboz helped the 22-year-old make a full recovery so he could continue competing.
“I’m not like the average person who just wants to walk again,” said Drechsel, who also teaches parkour and free running. “I need to jump buildings and do these obstacles, so she took me on as a special project.”
When Drechsel learned there would be a regional qualifying course in Miami for the 2012 season, he convinced Marc and Joyce Shahboz to submit an application video. From that, both were asked to try out.
During the regional qualifier, Shahboz was one of only two women to complete in an obstacle where contestants jump on a trampoline and catch themselves midair on a cargo net. The other was a professional stuntwoman from Hollywood.
Marc Shahboz failed that obstacle but Joyce didn’t.
“The producers standing next to my husband said, ‘She’s just tied Luci Steel Romberg! She’s gone the farthest,’” Joyce Shahboz said.
She was then invited to the qualifying course and chosen to return to Las Vegas as a wild card contestant.
“This year, she beat out a bunch of people, and then she went out in Vegas with some of the best of the best,” Marc Shahboz said. “I’m pretty proud of her.”