From pain to power: How Dr. Desiree Walker transformed herself into "The Ninja Dentist"

Dr. Walker remembers vividly being in pain, sitting in the middle of an exam during her dental school days. Her shoulders hurt. Her back hurt. She could think of little other than counting the minutes until she could be done and lying flat on her back in her room.


Looking at the athletic woman who tackles all kinds of obstacles on American Ninja Warrior, it’s hard to imagine that Dr. Desiree Walker was once in so much pain that she almost gave up her hopes of becoming a dentist.

Dr. Walker remembers vividly being in pain, sitting in the middle of an exam during her dental school days. Her shoulders hurt. Her back hurt. She could think of little other than counting the minutes until she could be done and lying flat on her back in her room. She was to the point where she was wearing a back brace, even to sleep.

“I remember I had tears in my eyes and I was just completely fed up,” Dr. Walker recalled. “I was hurting so bad, I wasn’t enjoying anything about my future career. I decided I needed to get enjoyment out of something.”

That “something” became a return to her roots as a gymnast. After just riding a stationary bike for exercise during those painful dental school years, Dr. Walker began to transform back into an active person, stretching her body and easing her pain.

“I told myself that if I was going to be debilitated, I was going to go out with a bang,” Dr. Walker laughed. “I began swinging on bars like I did when I was doing gymnastics quite often and doing a lot of stretching. The key was to get my back and shoulders moving.”

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Now with a successful business in Lumberton, N.C., Dr. Walker has made her practice better for her body. While some dental professionals might think that betterment would only include the operatory, Dr. Walker has extended her ergonomic regimen to all corners of her office.

“I told the contractor I wanted to hang gymnastic rings in the ceiling and he looked at me like I was crazy,” Dr. Walker chuckled. “They put extra plywood on the ceiling to allow me to do that and now I am able to hang from them and really stretch out my body. I also joke to my team and patients that if dentistry fails me, I can get a job in the circus.”

Dr. Walker has learned a lot about ergonomics and how she can not only be pain-free, but also enjoy her career more and lengthen the amount of time she can work in the practice.

Dr. Walker’s active lifestyle and ergonomic workouts have not only boosted her physical and mental states, but they’ve also helped her land the title of “The Ninja Dentist.” She has competed for two consecutive years in the incredibly popular American Ninja Warrior competition. In preparation for the show, she has put herself through a grueling workout that you can get a taste of by watching her tryout video below.

“I love it,” Dr. Walker said about her Ninja Dentist moniker. “I talk about it a lot with my patients. It’s a chance for us to communicate about something outside of dentistry. I also am able to show kids some of the gymnastic rings, wall bars, and things I have in my office that help keep me limber during the day. If a parent comes back for a checkup, a lot of times the kids will want to come back to just to see the office.”

Dr. Walker believes that American Ninja Warrior has not only helped her gain confidence, but has helped thousands of people around the world envision a better life for themselves.

“I think American Ninja Warrior has done a fantastic thing by profiling regular people doing extraordinary things,” she continued. “People watching the show see someone tackle the course and may think, ‘I am a stay-at-home mom, but I can do that.’ There are great stories of people overcoming things and gaining confidence in themselves.”

While she once again put a lot of training into this year’s competition, Dr. Walker just fell short of the end goal, being eliminated on the downhill rolling log obstacle during the Orlando qualifying competition at Universal Studios.

“I came off of it (the log) just as I came to the end and was near the mat,” Dr. Walker remembered. “It was a horrible feeling. I was angry. There were a lot of people who were rooting for me and I felt like I let them down. When you know you have the ability but go out on the second obstacle, it’s frustrating. I was walking around Universal Studios and I was soaking wet. People asked if I was going to ride rides, but all I wanted to do was get a beer and go home.

“The next day, I started training for the next year’s competition. For some people, American Ninja Warrior is their entire focus and life. For me, I have a lot going on with my dental practice. It’s just the icing on the cake for me.”

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Dr. Walker believes there are similarities between American Ninja Warrior and her day in the dental practice.

“Both require a lot of focus, planning, and consistency,” she explained. “In either case, you have to have a goal in mind. On American Ninja Warrior, you know at the end you have to get over that warped wall. You think to yourself, ‘How can I train to get over that?’ and you simulate that situation so you’re ready when the time comes. In the dental practice, the final hurdle is presenting the treatment plan to a patient. You’re also thinking, “How can I train to get over that?’ When you mentally train on either task, the results are much better.”

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