Jude's Story - Overcoming Obstacles

Main photo of Jude

If you met Jude today, you’d be impressed by a 17-year-old teen enthusiastically involved in his interests. Like many people with Autism, Jude has the tendency to hyperfocus on special interests. What exactly captures Jude’s attention these days? The Garyville, LA native loves sports. He competes in the Special Olympics, participates in track and field, and plays softball and basketball. He’s an avid football fan who carefully tracks NFL stats and helps as a trainer for his high school’s football team. And then, above all else, there’s Jude’s ultimate passion–NBC’s hit TV show, American Ninja Warrior. 

jude training

Jude very well might be the show’s number one fan. He considers himself an ANW “factologist” and can tell you facts and figures from all 14 seasons in great detail. His fascination with American Ninja Warrior started when Jude first tuned in a few years ago. Jude was captivated by ANW because it showed people overcoming mental, physical, and, of course, literal obstacles. This resonated with him.

Jude faces many hurdles in his own life. He once believed that because of his physical challenges such as hand tremors and epilepsy he couldn’t participate in athletics. Jude experiences bullying at school, which takes a toll on his self-confidence. He’s still processing grief after losing his grandma in 2017. And, like so many of us, his anxiety and depression were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Jude works through these challenges with the love and support of his family, help from his Easterseals Support Coordinator, Loretta Boudreaux, inspiration from American Ninja Warrior, and encouragement from his own ninja mentor, Ernesto “Flybird” Perez.

Jude met Ernesto years back at a sports camp and had the chance to reconnect when Jude’s mom, Summer,  saw Ernesto training for ANW on Facebook. She felt compelled to reach out and was glad she did - Ernesto invited Jude along to the ninja gym to train with him. 

Working out alongside Ernesto allowed Jude to practice some of his own ninja moves and discover new confidence in himself. You can only imagine Jude’s excitement when the Flybird invited Jude to join him on set as he competed on the ANW course in San Antonio. Summer recounts, “Jude always wanted to be on the show. When I told Jude that we were going in person to see Ernesto compete, he was super excited.”

On the way to film, Jude’s anticipation was building, and his dream was coming true. He couldn’t stop asking if he could meet hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila.

Once on set, Jude didn’t think this experience could get any better, but there was one last surprise in store for him - he was going to join Matt and Akbar in the host tower to be on the show!


He captured the hearts of the audience in San Antonio and back home as he served as a guest analyst for Flybrid’s run!  Summer was so proud saying, “It’s amazing when he gets in front of the camera that he is in his realm, he just speaks so naturally.” The hosts even joked, “Jude, don’t steal our jobs!”

Jude told his mom afterward, “My dream came true…this is the best day ever.’”

Needless to say, this was a transformative experience for Jude. He overcame his anxiety of crowds to get in front of the camera and live his dream. 

Back at home, after this incredible experience, Jude is still working through his life’s obstacles, but with a growing sense of self-assurance. 

Summer sees a change in him, “His self-confidence has changed and he believes in himself and now believes that he can achieve great things!”

Jude has been an Easterseals Participant for three years and is a junior at East St. John High School.  His mom Summer is a Support Coordination Supervisor at Easterseals Louisiana with 16 years of service.  They reside in Garyville, Louisiana with Jude’s brother, Logan, and his stepdad, Shawn.

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