Traveling to all the American Ninja Warrior cities is definitely one of the greatest perks of this already awesome job. After three months of experiencing all those incredible runs in person, we get to re-live them again when the shows debut.
But there are also some pretty special moments that don’t make it to your television, or there’s just a little bit of the behind-the-scenes magic lost. We wanted to share with you some of our favorite season nine moments that could only be experienced by standing on the sideline.
Jimmy Choi made us all cry
Fans saw Jimmy’s emotional run on the show in Kansas City. Regardless of his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Jimmy has dedicated himself to raising awareness and funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation through their Team Fox. We saw that Michael J. Fox himself left Jimmy a message of encouragement. But experiencing that moment in person was deeply special.
When the show is recorded live, there are only a few moments the audience can clearly hear Matt and Akbar. You know that whenever they put the hosts on the loud speaker, something is about to happen. As Jimmy stepped to the start line, Matt directed the audience to look at large screen used to show the runs as they happen. The American Ninja Warrior logo fell away to Michael J. Fox’s recorded message.
The audience knows nothing about the competitors unless they recognize them. No one knew who Jimmy was. No one understood what he was trying to accomplish. As the video finished, the audience was broke into an emotional roar. It didn’t matter what happened next. As we wiped away tears, we were ALL huge Jimmy fans.
Jessie Graff’s mom ran the course in Daytona
Jessie Graff is the Ninja who needs no introduction, and her incredible accomplishments have inspired her mom, Ginny, on her own Ninja journey. They were together in Daytona when Ginny actually took on the course herself.
If you’ve ever seen Jessie at a competition, you’ll notice her incredible focus before a run. The night of the Daytona Qualifiers she was incredibly focused on her mom’s success. She carefully talked her through every obstacle, telling her how she’d accomplished something similar in training and offering her confidence.
Ginny fell on the Floating Steps and the run was cut from the episode, but the experience was a special one for mom and daughter. Jessie has spoken about what her mom’s strength and accomplishments mean to her and the two will go on inspiring each other for a long time.
Jelani Allen reduced us anxiety-fueled screams
This is another moment that WAS on the episode, but the live scene itself was so much more. Jelani Allen was a rookie from Las Vegas that drove with his grandfather to Kansas City. He was a walk-on. There was no guarantee he’d make the course.
As the night drew to a close during the Qualifiers, the crew made the decision to run a few more walk-ons down the course. It was very late, racing daylight. In addition, the crew had literal minutes remaining before a rain storm was expected to blow in and they had to have the cameras shut down by then.
Jelani Allen was the last to step on the course. When he fell on the third obstacle, the Broken Pipes, people stood up and started packing. Time to go home.
Hang on. Where was the splash? Why wasn’t the course red? Because Jelani Allen had something to show us. He CLUNG to the underside of the pipe with ferocity. He squirmed, inched and swayed on the pipe. As the long moments ticked by, the audience switched from accepting an inevitable fall to screaming for a comeback.
It felt like he was down there for over a minute. As Jelani reached behind him and found purchase on the mat, the crew’s jaws hit the floor and the audience erupted. When he pulled himself to safety everyone was just baffled by the accomplishment.
And just to prove to us to NEVER count a Ninja out, Jelani went on to complete the entire Qualifying course.
The heart of the Denver walk on line
We couldn’t find a photo to represent this moment, but it’s worth telling any way. The walk on line is always filled with passionate Ninjas. They didn’t get the casting call, so they opt to wait for sometimes weeks in line to get on the course. Even then, there is no guarantee how many walk ons will get that chance. These Ninjas show a lot of dedication and a lot of heart, as the bond together during the experience.
During the Denver Qualifiers, this heart was on full display. Again, at the very end of the night, one more walk on was given a chance to earn their spot in the City Finals. Matt Iseman came over the loud speaker and announced that the spot belonged to one Damon Marcucci.
However, Damon had already proven he was a Ninja Warrior. He had given up this potentially life changing opportunity and was giving the final slot of the night to fellow walk on, Meagan Johnson. Damon had waited 25 days in the walk on line just to hear those words that it was his turn, and he had decided to give them to someone else.
Maegan was the only woman from the walk on line who had a shot at running that night, but production would close before she got her chance. So Damon gave her his chance. Maegan went out on the Ring Swing and Damon’s gift wasn’t mentioned on the show, but it was a powerful reminder of just how much the Ninja Warriors value one another.
Have you seen American Ninja Warrior live and have a behind-the-scenes story to share? Tell us in the comments!