We distinctly remember the first time we knew Jesse Labreck was going to rock the American Ninja Warrior world.
On a very late night in Philadelphia while filming season eight, this rookie stepped on to the City Finals course. As she doggedly attacked the Rolling Thunder, the crew members on the camera side of the course started glancing over their shoulders at each other, exchanging, “Are you seeing this?” looks.
Jesse hit the landing pad (becoming the first woman to defeat Rolling Thunder), collected herself and sprinted up the Warped Wall. As the crew quickly shifted themselves to capture her work on the back half of the course, one crew member loudly said, “Here we go.” The words were capturing the fact that Jesse Labreck’s ride to the top had officially kicked off.
And it really hasn’t slowed down. Season eight saw her become the first rookie woman to qualify for the National Finals. She returned in season nine to complete the Cleveland Qualifiers course, and rank in the top 15 at the City Finals, again returning to Las Vegas.
Her time on Stage One was the definition of a nail biter. She stumbled a bit on Parkour Run, but ultimately was incredibly close to completing the course. She missed the transfer to the cargo net on the Flying Squirrel, the very last obstacle.
While of course fans wanted to see her hit the buzzer, the run was still an example of Jesse’s growing abilities. And that bump didn’t slow her momentum. We caught up with her by phone to talk about the end of season nine and how her life has changed since then.
Responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
Reflecting back, what do you think happened in those final moments of your run on Stage One?
JL: I think what happened was just the fact that on Parkour Run, I got hung up on that rope for so long and I got really tense because I could feel the time just slipping away from me as I was dangling on that rope. So I was really tense and my muscles were working harder than they needed to just hang on to a rope and it took a long time to get over to the platform so I got really tired. By the time I got to the cargo net, I just lost my grip and couldn’t hang on.
I think I grabbed on with straight arms, so it literally gave my hands no hope to hang on to that cargo net. I think it was the fact that I got hung up a little bit earlier and didn’t have the stamina at the end to hang on.
It looked like you got really emotional when Allyssa Beird finished Stage One. What was going on for you in that moment?
JL: Allyssa is one of my super close friends. When we both started training, we started training together and competing together. We’ve always kind of had this pact when we go to comps that we’re going to come first and second and it doesn’t really matter which one. We’re obviously both trying to both get first but we’re happy for each other.
Just the fact that I know how hard she works. And by how badly I wanted Stage One, I knew how badly she wanted it as well. And seeing someone that I’m so close with accomplish a goal like that, to be really happy for her, and happy that she got to have that feeling. Even though I didn’t get to, at least I got to see someone that I care so much about reach that goal.
✨ ALLYSSA ✨ So incredibly happy for my dear friend @allyssabeird! You were so smooth through that course and showed the world what you're capable of. Only the second woman to ever beat Stage 1 I love you to pieces sorry my happy cry looks painful . . . . . . #americanninjawarrior #allyssabeird #bestfriend #goals #strongwomen #motivational #inspiration #ninja #obstacles #girlswhoworkout #speed #power #rockclimbing #buzzer
Both those moments took place months before the audience saw them on the show in September. What was it like watching those highs and lows back after having a few months to process it?
JL: It’s definitely a little bit easier because you know what’s going to happen. You’ve already pretty much re-lived it over and over in your mind up until it airs. It’s pretty much nothing new once it comes out. You replay it just so many times. So by the time I saw it I was just like, “Okay, so that’s what it actually looked like.”
I was really proud of getting past the Jumping Spider and getting to where I did get to. I feel like I was ready, I just made a mistake. I feel like that’s a lot better than not being ready and then trying to compete on Stage One.
There were a lot of really good aspects on that Stage One, so I just tried to focus on that more than me falling. I was really close to my goal, but last year I wasn’t even close to my goal. It’s a big difference and that’s what I try to focus on.
What have you been up to since the end of the season?
JL: I moved from Pennsylvania to Illinois with Chris (DiGangi, also an American Ninja Warrior athlete). I took a new job at Ultimate Ninjas. I know they played that in my story, but I hadn’t actually quite moved yet. That’s where I am now. I’m here and I am the new manager at the Naperville gym and we’re just opening up.
Chris and I have our own apartment together and we got a kitten. So we have our dog and our kitten like a little happy family. We decorate for holidays now and do like actual family, couple-y stuff. I feel like I’m an adult now! Everything is really great. I think it’s probably the happiest I’ve ever been.
So tell us more about the gym you’re opening this month.
JL: The new gym is in Naperville. It’s 13,000 square feet. We do classes, open gym and birthday parties, adult fitness, corporate events and special events. I specifically manage the classes. I have a staff that teaches the classes and I walk around. I design the courses and I design the obstacles that we’re doing that day and the program of what we’re doing. Then I’m kind of like a floater. I get to walk around and work with the kids and help someone that’s struggling or someone that’s excelling.
We have so many obstacles. From the Shelf Grab, Salmon Ladder, everything! Everything that you’ve seen on TV, I feel like it’s in our gym now. It’s crazy.
Do you have a lot of kids signed up for lessons already?
JL: We haven’t opened up registration for classes just yet. But we have birthday parties we’ve opened up registration for and we are jam packed our first weekend. We don’t have one single birthday party available. And then it kind of continues through every weekend. We have more and more signing up every day.
What would you say to a child who wanted to start Ninja training, but was feeling a little intimidated?
JL: Just to come try it out. Maybe come to an open gym and just be able to touch the obstacles and hang out a little bit and I guarantee that they’ll fall in love because it’s so fun and it’s so safe. It’s not as scary or as intimidating as it looks on TV because we’ve designed the obstacles for kids.
The Naperville, IL location of Ultimate Ninjas will be opening this month, November 2017. You can learn more about the facility here.