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American Ninja Warrior Daytona Qualifiers recap: The city where dreams came true

Rookies realized goals they’d worked so hard for. Drew Drechsel and Jessie Graff returned with their eyes on the prize.

Myron Luzniak/NBC

This week, the American Ninja Warrior course was on the doorstep of the Daytona International Speedway. While racing puns were aplenty, we really thought the theme of the night pertained more to hopes and dreams than speed and gusto.

A new obstacle, the Wingnuts, brought a super-fan to the course in more than one way. Fans had their dreams pinned on the return of Ninjas Jessie Graff and Drew Drechsel.

Here’s what you missed:

Course completions: 18

Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, the Wingnuts: 10

Ninjas taken out by returning obstacle, Rolling Thunder: 5

The Course:

  • Floating Steps
  • Rolling Pin
  • Wingnuts
  • Broken Bridge
  • Rolling Thunder
  • Warped Wall

Quick Highlights:

  • Casey Suchocki returned this season with his adorable grandpa, which made it a family affair when he proposed to his girlfriend after falling on the Wingnuts.
  • Breanna Widener claimed the title of “scary strong” when the haunted house makeup artist made it to the Rolling Thunder.
  • Royall Eason was SO close to moving on to the Warped Wall, but a bad dismount from Rolling Thunder sent him into the water.
  • NASCAR driver Ben Kennedy had big goals for the course, but he went out at the second obstacle, the Rolling Pin.
  • Tyler Gillett has been dedicated to training for American Ninja Warrior for seven years. As soon as he was old enough, he applied AND got the call. He wasn’t going to let the opportunity go to waste and completed the course.
  • Eddy Stewart flexed his way to the finish line.
  • John Loobey returned to become the oldest competitor to finish an obstacle at age 65. In fact, he finished TWO of them, falling at the Wingnuts.
  • Kevin Carbone not only made it on the show from the Walk On Line, but when he got on the course, he found the obstacle HE designed waiting for him!
  • In an abbreviated run, we saw long time Ninja Warrior Ryan Stratis hit the buzzer.
  • JJ Woods came back from an early exit last season to completely trounce the course.
  • Ninja Warrior sensation Jessie Graff looked strong and smooth on the course. But Rolling Thunder had no room for forgiveness. It sapped her strength and ended her run there, but she did make 26th overall, meaning she’s in the City Finals.
  • Travis Rosen, another Ninja Warrior veteran breezed through the course and snagged the fastest time to that point with a finish at 1:47.
  • Then Drew Drechsel attacked the course. It basically looked like a hop, skip and jump for him. The Ninja who’d gone the farthest in season eight returned to defeat the course with a blazing time of just over a minute!

Heart-Pounding Moment:

If you didn’t get a little pumped up watching Drew Drechsel’s run, well, then we’re not sure what show you actually had on.

Drew is a very consistent Ninja. You can generally count on him for a solid, exciting performance. But, this is American Ninja Warrior. ANYTHING can happen. After Drew fell from the Hang Climb during Stage Three of the National Finals in season eight, we all saw how emotional he was. Drew wanted that buzzer on a deep level.

With his run in Daytona, he declared he was back with a vengeance. Confidence is one thing, but Drew’s approach to the course was downright tenaciously single-minded on success. He cleared the course over 30 seconds faster than the next closest competitor, Travis Rosen.

With that run, Drew has firmly established a foundation for a season (hopefully) seeped in victory.

Heart-Breaking Moment:

Let’s clarify something first, the run we’re about to talk about was not heart-breaking. In fact, this whole episode was pretty darn satisfying. There was a lot of joy and triumph jammed into those two hours.

However, this run DID give us pause for a brief moment and sent a valuable reminder. Jessie Graff returned to season nine after her strongest season ever. The image of her hitting the Stage One buzzer at the National Finals is burned into the minds of many fans.

At the Daytona Qualifiers, there wasn’t a buzzer for Jessie. She fell from Rolling Thunder after a valiant battle with it. Her distance and time still placed her 26th overall, meaning she will be back for the City Finals.

Since the end of season eight, we’re guilty of building Jessie up into this idea of an infallible superhero. Her run here demonstrated that she’s human. And that, while being a mere mortal like the rest of us, she’s accomplished what seems impossible. She’s an incredibly hard working, talented athlete, who approaches obstacles with a keen strategy. That is even more inspiring than superpowers.

Lesson of the Night:

Dreams that become goals become reality.

Continuing on with what we just said about Jessie Graff, one of the most inspiring things about her is that she is very real. She has set a goal for herself on American Ninja Warrior and she’s dedicated herself to getting there. And holy heck, look how far she’s come.

This episode had some really great examples of that idea. Tyler Gillett had been an American Ninja Warrior fans for years. He and his friend constructed their own, slightly scary looking, backyard course where they’ve trained (and broken bones) for the past seven years. When Tyler finally got his long-awaited casting call, it was emotional for him and his family who’ve watched him work towards this goal.

Which made it all the more special when he not only got to run the course, but he got to defeat it and move to the next round.

Kevin Carbone was another super-fan who had a dream of competing on the show. His fandom went so far as coming up with his own obstacles to construct and train on. Dreams became goals when he not only submitted his application to the show, but his design to the Obstacle Challenge.

He thought both were rejected, but didn’t give up, waiting in the Walk On Line for his chance.

Imagine his surprise when he first laid eyes on the iconic course, and saw his own design, the Wingnuts, waiting for him.

After he realized he wasn’t dreaming, Kevin defeated his obstacle to move on to the City Finals!

Myron Luzniak/NBC

Next Up:

Kansas City is the next stop on the season nine tour! This will be the second time American Ninja Warrior has visited Union Station. On July 3rd, a new batch of Ninja Warriors will look to punch their tickets to the City Finals.