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Kacy Catanzaro talks finding fun on the course again after seasons of drowning in pressure

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Part one of a two part interview with American Ninja Warrior Kacy Catanzaro

Felicia Graham/NBC

There’s a certain moment in American Ninja Warrior history that most fans have ingrained in their minds. It was that night in the 2014 Dallas Qualifiers when Kacy Catanzaro became the first woman to complete the Warped Wall in competition.

A few weeks later, fans watched her make history again by becoming the first woman to hit the buzzer on a City Finals course.

To say her star rose would be a huge understatement. Kacy skyrocketed into a household name. She became a beacon for little girls dreaming of a future in athletics and she inspired so many competitors, women and men, to try to follow in her footsteps.

Since 2014, Kacy has experienced a lull in her performances. There’s been some early exits and runs that did not end as the fans hoped they would. But, in true American Ninja Warrior fashion, Kacy as been resilient, applying again and again season after season to get back on the course.

For season nine, American Ninja Warrior taped in Kacy’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas. After all the action of the City Qualifiers and City Finals was said and done, we sat down with Kacy to reflect on the experience and her years on the show.

This is a two-part interview. Part one pertains to her City Qualifiers experience. In part two, we’ll review what happened during City Finals.

Responses are lightly edited for clarity and length.

How is your mom doing? (It was revealed during the San Antonio Qualifiers episode that Kacy’s mom had recently suffered a heart attack.)

KC: She's doing really well in her recovery! She's back to work, she's doing physical therapy. She's working out. She's doing really well.

It was crazy scary. She had to have triple bypass surgery. Heart surgery is huge. It's one of those things were you're like, this doesn't happen to you in real life. It's something you don't think about. It was really scary. But luckily we have a really close family so they were all there.

I try to get my toughness from (my mom). She was like, "Don't worry about me! I'm fine." She's great. I'm really happy she's doing well.

How did it feel to have Ninja Warrior in your backyard this year?

KC: It was so cool having Ninja Warrior in San Antonio. We've traveled a lot. We've had a lot in Texas. We did Dallas. We did Houston. But to be there in San Antonio was really cool, just because you have the home field advantage.

You're more at home. You get to sleep in your own bed. More of your friends and family can come because they don't have to travel. I definitely had a lot of friends and family out there, so that was really cool. To be able to talk to them. They kind of keep you calm and collected and I could hear them cheering for me out on the course.

How you were feeling the night of Qualifiers?

KC: I get really nervous. Growing up doing gymnastics competitions and I competed in college, I thought I had done a good job of controlling my nerves and really focusing when it was time.

It was so amazing on one end because everyone was so excited and they were all supporting me. And that's so amazing. I'm so lucky. But on the other hand, I was like, "Oh no. Now that's millions of people I could let down if I don't do as well this season."

On the show, it's very quick, but to us, that's the whole year. We train for that. Years of our lives go into training for this one moment. I'm like, "Now it's not just for me. It's all these people. I don't want them to think that I'm not good any more. I don't want to let them down. I want to do my best."

I need to practice what I preach. I tell people all the time when they ask for inspiration. You need to follow your dreams and you need to be happy. You need to be happy and having fun and doing things you're enjoying.

My friends would be like, "I was watching you on the course and you looked terrified. You weren't having fun at all." That's so the opposite of me. Anyone who knows me, I'm always the loudest, laughing, yelling. I'm so the opposite. So this season I was definitely ready to have fun again. I want to do my best. And enjoying myself is going to only bring that out more.

I was a little bit nervous, but excited. I knew that I was capable of hopefully completing the course. Even though that didn't happen, it was definitely really great.

What were your thoughts when you first saw the Sky Hooks?

KC: When I first saw the Sky Hooks I was a little bit nervous. Anything where you’re completely coming off of one thing and landing on another, as many times as you do it, one out of how ever many times, you're going to go down. No matter what. The Salmon Ladder, the Flying Bar, things like that. Where you're taking it and replacing it, there's so many little things that can go wrong. Even though it seems so simple.

There's a lot that can go wrong. I was a little nervous. I wanted to make sure I got a big enough swing and placed it right. But I wasn't overly terrified. I knew that I was capable of doing it.

When I got up there I wanted to take it one thing at a time. In Qualifier I got there and I was super excited getting to that obstacle. That's the furthest I've gotten in a couple years. So I was like, "Nice! I'm here! Let's keep going! This is awesome!" I got a little bit excited and the crowd was awesome so that was cool.

I made the first jump and it felt good. And then on the second one, it's hard because you have to do so many things. You have to swing and lift it up and go over and land.

I didn't quite lift up enough so my ring got caught on the hook. I didn't notice that it did. If I had noticed and looked up and been able to hop back, I think I might have been able to reset. But I didn't notice and it was kind of teetering and then just fell.

I didn't even know that until I got off and my friends were like, "OH MY GOSH! It was hanging off of it!" One moment I was like, "Cool, I'm swinging," and then was I was in the water. I didn't even know what happened. I was like, "Wait! I didn't get tired. I didn't let go. What just happened?" I think it was just a fluke.

I was bummed. I really wanted to make it to the Wall. I really wanted to finish the course. So I was bummed that I went out like that.

On the show, it’s mentioned that the pendulum on the Tick Tock weighs more than you. What do you think when you hear stats like that?

KC: I didn't know that but I would say it's safe to assume it did! It's definitely a little bit intimidating. I think I'm kind of used to it. Hearing this is going to be heavier. This is going to be bigger for you, it's going to be further. It's going to be harder.

I'm used to being told that all the time. I try not to let it get to me too much. I just know that I have to go about things a little differently.

For that one, I remember thinking to myself, "You need to throw yourself as hard as you can into that Tick Tock, or else it's not going to move. It's so heavy. You need to get a good swing and you need to drive into that Tick Tock to get it to move.”

I definitely did because I got off the Tick Tock and was like, "What just happened?" I felt like I got punched in the stomach. I was leaning over thinking, "Why does my chest hurt?" And I realized I knocked the wind out of myself throwing my body into the Tick Tock. But it worked so it was worth it!

How did it feel realizing you'd get another shot at the course in City Finals?

KC: It was really awesome when I found out I made it to City Finals. I was bummed I went down early. I wanted to finish the course. Since it was kind of a silly mistake on the Sky Hooks, it wasn't that I wasn't strong enough, or I wasn't capable of it. It was a little slip up.

Part two of our interview with Kacy will be released after the San Antonio City Finals airs in a few weeks!