Kathie Henschen: America’s Ninja Groomer
This month we are proud to feature on our cover Boone County’s own Kathie Henschen, “Ninja Groomer,” along with her husband of 23 years, Brent, known as “B.C.” The couple shared their remarkable experience of Kathie’s competing on Season 12 of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” this summer and the journey they took for Kathie to get there. The Henschens are also the owners of Platinum Paws in Carmel, Indiana, and are dedicated supporters of humane societies and animal rescues, such as the Humane Society for Boone County.
Meet Kathie—An American Ninja Warrior and Award-Winning Groomer
Kathie and B.C. live on a micro farm in Boone County along with their beloved dogs and other animals. Kathie is known to many as the “ninja groomer.” She loves to groom dogs and loves to “ninja.”
“I am built not just to have fun; I am built to compete,” Kathie shared. “‘American Ninja Warrior’ has been a dream of mine since the very first time I saw it years ago. Just like when I was a little girl at 4 years old, watching gymnastics for the first time on TV, I remember that memory so vividly and knew at that moment it was something I was meant to do.”
The road to success was an arduous one for Kathie, who has had to overcome many heart-wrenching emotional and physically painful obstacles over the decades.
“I’ve had to overcome many obstacles and have blown my left knee out a total of seven times,” Kathie shared. “Each time required surgery. At the age of 13, I had to have ACL reconstruction [surgery], but I continued to train as best as I could, and I ended up being a national champion on the balance beam, vaults and all-around. I also competed internationally in Germany. My hopes and dreams were about competing in the Olympics, but it didn’t happen because of all my injuries.”
The end of Kathie’s Olympic aspirations took a huge toll on her emotionally.
“Gymnastics was who I was. It defined me,” Kathie expressed. “I left early in high school after half a day to train in the gym six hours a day, five days a week. It was who I was. I reset my goals towards getting a college scholarship, but unfortunately, I was considered a poor business investment because of my injuries. Being told that as an 18-year-old girl whose entire life had been gymnastics was devastating to me. I went to college as a walk-on at Ball State University for gymnastics but was also struggling with some demons I had developed at that time. I went down the road of drugs and alcohol and ended up dropping out of college.”
Persevering Through Every Obstacle
Kathie’s life may not have turned out the way she originally envisioned it would be, but fate definitely had a plan for her.
Kathie openly stated, “I had become really lost and broken, and I had to make a decision on if this was the end or was I going to write another chapter. Obviously, I chose to keep writing.”
Kathie met B.C., and the two married. She spoke about how B.C. helped her out of the darkness she had been existing in, and the two began to build a life together. B.C. had a dream of owning a kennel/family business, and Kathie would be the groomer. She had always loved animals but had no experience or training as a groomer. So, Kathie went to trade school for grooming in the evenings after her day job, while B.C. would train dogs at PetSmart after working his corporate day job.
As Kathie was getting ready to graduate from trade school, fate would intervene again and present the couple the opportunity to buy Platinum Paws nearly 15 years ago. But it wasn’t long after finding hope and happiness that the couple would face a new challenge together. B.C. was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
“I was really struggling with accepting everything about it,” Kathie shared. “It’s so painful to watch someone you love go through that, and it’s frustrating for him to lose the ability to do the things he used to do and rely on me. It’s been hard. There are a lot of chores living on a farm. I get up at 4 a.m. everyday and train, do the chores, go to work for 12 hours, come home and do more chores, and it gets a little overwhelming.”
A Natural-Born Competitor
A lifelong competitor, Kathie enjoys the process of challenging herself to be the best at whatever she puts her mind, heart and soul into. Whether it’s a physical challenge or more mental in nature, Kathie rises to that challenge.
“She’s a competitor at heart,” B.C. said. “She started competing in grooming competitions five or six years ago, and that led us to getting a competition-quality standard poodle, which is one of our favorite pets. Kathie has taken trophies with our poodle, and she also competes in the Rescue Rodeo, where 30 dogs and 30 competitors compete in the show that works with area humane societies. The humane societies select dogs from their adoption floor to be groomed with the hopes that they will be more adoptable afterwards.”
B.C. continued, “The groomers have three to four hours to bathe, cut and groom these dogs from start to finish and are judged on what they did to make the dog more adoptable as well as their handling skills. It takes a special handler, one that is compassionate and knows how to care for the dog its grooming. Kathie has earned compassion awards at the Rescue Rodeo as well.”
A Dream Fought For and Realized
It must be noted that B.C. has been an unwavering supporter of his wife’s endeavors, and having interviewed them both, I can attest they are each other’s rocks and biggest fans. So, knowing her passion for “American Ninja Warrior” and for competing, B.C. located a local American Ninja gym for Kathie to begin obstacle-course training.
“As soon as I walked into the gym, I knew I was home and where I was supposed to be,” Kathie enthused. “Your dreams are yours, and they’re given to you for a reason, and that reason is a purpose that is way bigger than you. You can run from your dreams, but they always find you, and that’s what happened with Ninja.”
Before applying to be on “American Ninja Warrior,” Kathie trained and competed in the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association’s area qualifiers, regional qualifiers and placed in the top 10 in the 40-and-over class at the World Series Championship Finals in 2019.
Two knee injuries and subsequent surgeries later, both in 2019, Kathie applied to be a contestant on the NBC hit series on her 45th birthday on Nov. 14, 2019.
While her knee healed, she continued to train areas of her body to keep up her strength and mental conditioning. More than 60,000 people applied to be on this season’s show, and Kathie was more than cautiously optimistic about being selected. Then the pandemic hit. Filming for the show had come to an abrupt halt, and no one knew if or when the show would resume filming this year.
And then one day in June, while grooming at her salon, she got that fateful call with an 818 area code.
“My heart just stopped,” Kathie recalled. “I answered the call, and it was ‘American Ninja Warrior’ telling me they wanted me to come to St. Louis for the show. I was ecstatic and remember just sobbing out in the lobby. It was a dream come true.”
The episode featuring Kathie on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” recently aired, and Kathie considers the experience and the journey to get there a huge personal victory.
“The experience was just incredible,” Kathie exclaimed. “The fact that I was on the show and that I did the work and got it done, that is my win. To come back from two knee surgeries last year, and all the demons in my head, and balance work and the chores at home, I’m really proud of that. There were 150 [contestants] chosen to be on the show, and I was one of them. I feel so blessed and grateful.”
Kathie concluded, “Someone out there needs to know that no matter how far down you’ve gone and how many times you’ve fallen, you can come back from that. Believe in yourself and you can be whatever you want to be.”