American Ninja Warrior is the American version of a popular Japanese show "Sasuke" where participants, known as Ninjas, compete on a ridiculous looking obstacle course filled with steep climbs, jumps and things that require feats of strength. It's a perfect summer TV schedule show — and is entertaining, a bit addictive but nothing that is consistently enthralling.
At least until this week.
This week, a 100-pound former Towson University gymnast, Kacy Catanzaro, became the first woman to complete the finals obstacle course. It was a performance that captured the attention and amazement of the more than six million people who watched it on the broadcast or later on YouTube and the internet.
"I knew a lot of women would be excited and inspired by it," Catanzaro told For The Win. "But I had no idea so many people would care so much about it."
Catanzaro was a big fan of the Japanese version of the show when she was competing as a gymnast in college. When she graduated, she needed something else to pour her competitive energy into and decided to try out to become a Ninja. She contacted her now-boyfriend Brent Steffensen, who also competes on the show, for help with training and went to the qualifying round in Venice, California in 2013.
She didn't finish the course, but did get a wildcard to go to the competition in Las Vegas. That's where she overshot an obstacle with a mini-trampoline and was out of the competition — though just temporarily.
"I didn't let it keep me down so I came back this year and they let me back on, so I knew this had to be the year," she said.
To train, Catanzaro and Steffensen did strength training between four and six times a week. They also worked out on obstacle courses, which Catanzaro said is her favorite.
"You make little runs, you time yourself and we'd have little competitions," she said.
She also made sure to eat a diet heavy in seafood and protein — the trick, she said, is to be strong but as light and lean as possible.
The training paid off: Throughout the obstacle course final in Dallas, the announcers and the crowd seemed to be impressed with every move that she made. Steffensen could be seen on the sidelines high-fiving other spectators and nervously pacing. Catanzaro, who said she channeled a lot of what she learned from years as a gymnast, seemed calm the whole time.
"I do talk to myself a lot and say 'you can do this, you can do this' and I give myself certain tips if it's an obstacle I'm familiar with," she said.
When she got to the end of the course, she said she hit the red buzzer four or five times "just to make sure it was real."
"There's really no ways to explain that feeling when you have this goal and you work so hard to get there and that moment of conquering it was just so amazing," she said. "I was just so happy to have done that for myself and all the other women that don't think it's possible to compete against [men] …"
So what's next? Catanzaro said she hasn't been approached with anything other than a few offers to try products. Which for now, is just fine with her.
"Obstacles are definitely my passion right now," she said. "So I'll be a Ninja Warrior for as long as they'll have me."