"What makes Gymja Warrior so special is the dedication of the coaches and the students. We all work so hard together and push each other. It's amazing to be a part of."
Defying the odds is nothing new for Scott Marraffa.
The 23-year-old Gymja Warrior coach has been an underdog his entire life, starting when he was born with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breath.
Because of his illness, Marraffa only has use of approximately 60% of his lung capacity, so he's not supposed to be working at a gym, or sticking to a rigorous training schedule. Going from 115 pounds to 150 pounds in less than a year is a rarity for those affected by the disease. It's most certainly not the norm for someone with CF to be selected to participate in a national qualifier for American Ninja Warrior, the popular reality TV show that serves as the inspiration for the obstacles and classes offered at the two Gymja Warrior locations.
Undaunted, Marraffa has spit in the face of his disease and accomplished all of the above, even though the median predicted survival age for people with CF was in the teens at the time of his birth, increasing to 40 years old today.
And he's not done. Not by a long shot.
After competing in the Season 9 qualifier for American Ninja Warrior in Cleveland last year, but not actually getting any TV air time or advancing to the next stage, Marraffa is at it again. He's putting together another video and has gone through the laborious application process, hoping to once again get picked from the thousands and thousands of other hopefuls across the country and invited to the qualifier.
"I'm really proud of what I accomplished last year," he says. "It was very disappointing and heartbreaking not to be on the show, but I'm just using that as motivation this year. That's what we're constantly drilling into our students' heads at Gymja Warrior. It's OK to fail. Everybody fails, even us coaches. But sometimes the only way to succeed is to fail at first."
Marraffa, who was born in Beverly, made it his goal to be on American Ninja Warrior in December 2013 after becoming a fan of the show. He started to work out four times a week and to make up for the deficiencies of having CF, he had to increase his daily intake of calories by 8,000. By the end of 2014, he had gained 35 pounds and was feeling as strong as he ever had in his life.
"I could barely do three pull ups and I was always getting sick, ending up in the hospital," remembers Marraffa, who drinks eight Ensure Shakes a day, and regularly eats a plentiful amount of chicken, rice, beans and other high protein, high calorie foods. "But once I put on that weight and got in shape the change in my health was dramatic."
After finding out about Gymja Warrior online, he started taking classes with Master Sensei Vince Klapper, who just so happened to be a two-time competitor on American Ninja Warrior. Last summer, Marraffa become such a regular a Gymja Warrior he was hired as a coach.
"I couldn't have written a script any better myself," beams Marraffa, who will help Gymja Warrior in Danvers host the first Ninja Warrior Competition for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on August 12 (stay tuned to the Gymja Warrior website for more details). "Gymja Warrior has done so much for me. I don't take it for granted. I am so grateful for everything.
“What makes Gymja Warrior so special is the dedication of the coaches and the students. We all work so hard together and push each other. It's amazing to be a part of."
As he continues his dedication toward another shot at his ultimate goal, Marraffa has endured a challenging few months recently. He got hit with pneumonia in December, which derailed his training for a few weeks, and that came a few weeks after he had surgery to remove a catheter in his chest that he's had since he was 10 years old.
Nonetheless, he feels as though his regimen is back on track and he's feeling as optimistic as ever about his chances to get that call again from American Ninja Warrior in May.
Does he feel as though he serves as an inspiration to Gymja Warrior students?
"I hope so," he says. "That's why I do what I do. I try to teach by example. And if my story can be inspiring to them, that makes my job and my work even more rewarding.”