A once-overweight Gurnee woman's journey to 'American Ninja Warrior'

The ice cream shop owner eats three pounds of vegetables per day.

Yes, three pounds.

That's Christie Hovorka's life in a nutshell, full of ironies, extremes and interesting turns.

Hovorka, a Gurnee resident and owner of Christie's Dairy Delights in downtown Palatine, has lost more than 80 pounds in the last five years. She did it by eating lean to the extreme and working out to the extreme - an effort that has led her to one of the most extreme shows on television: “American Ninja Warrior.”

“I do everything to the extreme now,” the 33-year-old Hovorka said with a laugh. “Once I set my mind to something, I just go all-out with it.”

Hovorka earned a spot as a contestant on the upcoming season of NBC's “American Ninja Warrior,” scheduled to debut on June 12. She is taping her qualifying rounds on Monday and Tuesday in Kansas City with the hopes of ultimately making it to the finals in Las Vegas.

“I am so excited that I'm getting to do this,” said Hovorka, nicknamed the “Ice Cream Ninja” by a customer. “I've been working so hard for it.”

Hovorka often works out three times a day for a total of four to eight hours to prepare her body for the rigors of the show. She does cardio work, spin classes and intense weightlifting.

She also trains at two special Ninja gyms that feature obstacles similar to those on the show.

But becoming Ninja-like might have been the easiest part of the journey for Hovorka. First, she had to get healthy and fit. And five years ago, she was nowhere close.

Just 5 feet, 1 inch tall, Hovorka weighed 190 pounds and wore size 16 pants. She ate mainly fast food, sometimes for three meals a day. She couldn't do even a single pushup.

Even as a kid, Hovorka was never active. In fact, she spent three years of her childhood in the hospital, from ages 3 to 6, fighting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

“I didn't do much growing up because I was always sick. All I remember from when I was real young was being in the hospital and having surgeries. When I got older, I never got into sports, either. I would even try to ditch gym class in high school,” said Hovorka, who graduated from Grayslake High School in 2001.

Yet, she told her husband she wanted to compete on “American Ninja Warrior” and set her mind to getting there. “Something about (the show) made me want to get active and get in shape,” she said.

Right around the same time she was getting started in her fitness journey, Hovorka bought her ice cream shop in Palatine. She acknowledges the irony, but she couldn't pass it up.

  Christie Hovorka, 33 of Gurnee scoops some ice cream at her shop Christine's Dairy Delights in Palatine. Steve Lundy/

Owning an ice cream shop had been on her bucket list for years, because going out for ice cream was one of the few things she looked forward to as a kid in the hospital.

Hovorka - whose favorite flavor is carrot cake in very small doses - was confident she could own Christie's Dairy Delights and still get into shape.

She joined Real Results gym in Grayslake. The classes there feature a bootcamp-style of fitness with a mixture of cardio exercises and weight training.

“I would look at the other people in the class and I couldn't believe what they were able to do. They were flying through the workouts,” Hovorka said. “I was so tired and I just wanted to give up sometimes. I didn't know if I would ever get there.”

  When she's not scooping ice cream for people, Christie Hovorka of Gurnee trains at Windy City Ninjas in Chicago, among other places. Bob Chwedyk/

But she did. Within six months, Hovorka had dropped a noticeable amount of weight.

Her class had become a fun challenge instead of a dreaded chore.

About 18 months later, Hovorka looked like a different person: trim and lean and cut with muscles. She was down to 110 pounds, thanks in part to an extreme diet of lean meats, oat bran and a pound of green beans, a pound of Brussels sprouts or broccoli, and a pound of baked cabbage a day.

Feeling ready, Hovorka sent in a video audition to “American Ninja Warrior.”

She got a response from the producers. But then, during one of her workouts, she jumped down from a hanging bar that she was climbing and blew out her knee as she landed.

It took her four months to fully recover. Once she regained her strength, she submitted her video to the show again.

This time, she stuck.

  Christie Hovorka of Gurnee trains a few times for a total of four to eight hours a day to get in shape. Bob Chwedyk/

Hovorka knows that getting to the finals, where $1 million is at stake, will be an uphill battle as a first-year contestant.

But she's got big goals, like competing on the show until she wins.

“This is who I am now,” Hovorka said. “I know that what I do isn't for everyone. But I love it, and it works for me now and it makes me feel good.

“I'm going to keep going with it. I'm never going back.

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