Since season seven of American Ninja Warrior, Kristine Leahy has walked the sidelines of the course. Her role is to watch every single run, assessing it from her perspective as a long time sports commentator, and follow up with interviews during some very emotional moments.
Kristine celebrates with the Ninjas immediately after their dreams have come true. She is also responsible for helping them reflect on a potentially heartbreaking moment while the pain is still raw. It’s not an easy task.
Kristine lives in the electric atmosphere that culminates between the course, the Ninjas, and the audience. She brings an understanding to each season that’s unique only to her. With that in mind, we asked Kristine to reflect on some standout moments of season nine, as well as her overall experience with American Ninja Warrior.
Most emotional interview:
Sarah Poulin ran in Cleveland. I remember she had lost her 5 year old son Jacob to pediatric brain cancer just 6 months before her run. He loved ANW and when he died, Sarah decided to run in his honor since Jacob would never have the chance. She was emotional throughout our interview, but I could see how proud she was just to have come out and tried the course.
Sarah fell on the Rolling Log, but it didn't matter because we were just there to celebrate her accomplishment of making it out on the course. Her strength in the face of everything she's been through blew me, and the viewers away.
Ninja I wish I had more time to speak with:
Probably everyone! What you don't see is that I interview about 75% of the hundred Ninjas we run in the qualifying rounds. Things fly by, and sometimes I only get a minute or so with each person. I'm also trying to keep an eye on the runner currently on the course, so it's quite a whirlwind when they get off the course.
But I've also gotten to know some of the Ninjas well over the years and make sure to catch up with them during the downtime of the night. JJ Woods, Meagan Martin and Joe Moravsky are some of the Ninjas I make sure to talk to.
Interview that surprised me the most:
All the proposals that happen throughout the night. It's always surprising to me that people choose a public proposal for such an intimate moment, but it's really cool to be a part of their engagement story and witness their love up close. A lot of times ANW brought them together so it's fitting they get engaged during a competition night. The proposals don't always make the show, but they happen in almost every city.
The run I couldn't wait to talk about:
Both Jessie and Jesse! Jessie Graff's run in the Daytona Beach finals was amazing. She made it to the Elevator Climb, but couldn't get up. Everyone was watching and cheering her on. Jessie's mom and her friend Maggi Thorne were going crazy because it looked like she was going to finish. Of course that's what we all wanted, but her run alone was amazing.
Jesse Labreck has also always been one of my favorites. She's such a sweet and sincere woman. Jesse made it to the Cleveland finals and fell on the Nail Clipper.
Biggest/loudest friend and family group:
Karsten William's mom Linda is probably my favorite Ninja mom. She is so intense on the sidelines that I think her adrenaline might be pumping more than Karsten's. Linda laughs, cries, gets nervous, prays, and screams. She's so sweet and I actually watch her during the run instead of Karsten!
Ninja who made me laugh the most:
Jackson Meyer (Boy Scout Ninja) is always a favorite to interview. He always has to correct my Scouts’ salute, and he usually has a joke for me during the interview.
Returning Ninja I always remember interviewing season after season:
Jamie Rahn because of his dog Doogie!! He always dresses up to match Jamie and even dyes a little patch of his hair green! I love dogs so I look forward to seeing him every season and getting to cuddle that Yorkie.
Season nine rookie whose interview stuck out to me:
Bree Widener was a rookie from Daytona Beach who fell on the Rolling Thunder. She is a scare actor for haunted houses and she does her own makeup. For the competition, she made up two of her friends on the sideline as scary clowns. They were nice, but TERRIFYING! Her interview was a standout because I was talking to her, but couldn't stop inching away because her friends looked so scary.
Biggest adjustment coming from traditional sports to Ninja Warrior:
On any given night in a city, there are 100-130 athletes to interview. That is a daunting number. And there are always breakout people from the walk-on line... so seeing an athlete for the first time and getting to know them through their run is totally different than traditional sports that I cover.
Moment from the show I'll never forget:
Jessie Graff completing Stage One in Las Vegas in season eight, and Jessie Graff completing Stage Two on USA Vs the World this year. Watching her dominate Las Vegas stages- something that so many male competitors can’t do- gives me goosebumps. She is unstoppable and an inspiration. Love her and her sweet pig Sammo.