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American Ninja Warrior Cleveland Qualifiers recap: Ohio’s night of powerful runs

These Ninjas put their hearts on the course and dominated the night.

Duane Prokop/NBC

Okay, there’s no denying it. THAT was an emotional episode. The highlight of the night has to be the long string of strong female competitors. There was no way you could watch Ninjas like Annika Neishalla, Allyssa Beird and Jesse Labreck on the course and not swell with pride over what they were accomplishing.

But there were also a lot of introspective and deeply personal runs. Joe Moravksy lost a close family member this year. Mike Bernardo was running in front of his dad for the first time ever. Sarah Poulin’s experience on the show was part of her grief process.

Let’s break this down!

Here’s what you missed:

Course completions: 14

Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Razor’s Edge: 5

Ninjas taken out by the obstacle, Ring Jump: 12

The Course:

  • Floating Steps
  • Rolling Log
  • Razor’s Edge
  • Ring Jump
  • I-Beam Gap
  • Warped Wall

Quick Highlights:

  • Michael Nowoslawski is an American Ninja Warrior super-fan who found out he’d made the show on live TV when he was handed a “Golden Ticket.”
  • Annika Nieshalla had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in her arm just four years ago, but it did not seem like it compromised her strength, as she made it all the way to the Ring Jump.
  • Michelle Warnky, one of the first women to open a Ninja style training gym and a long time competitor, also made it to the Ring Jump.
  • Allyssa Beird was one of Philadelphia’s Fantastic Four women last season who all qualified for the City Finals. She returned with an incredible run, becoming the first woman to hit a buzzer for season nine!
  • James McGrath, who spent the off season training with his girlfriend, Allyssa, followed up her run with another buzzer for himself!
  • Najee Richardson was last season’s Philadelphia Phoenix, coming back from an injury for an awesome season. He seems like he’s even stronger this season, cruising to the finish line.
  • Sarah Poulin lost her young son to brain cancer less than one year ago. He loved American Ninja Warrior, so Sarah decided to become a Ninja for him. In an emotional run, she fell from the Rolling Log, but absolutely made her son proud.
  • Veteran Ninja Mike Bernardo had a special night. After all his years on the course, this was the first time he competed in his hometown of Cleveland, and the first time his dad was there to watch him. It’s only fitting that he also made it to the buzzer and will run again in the City Finals!
  • In an abbreviated run, we saw Jamie Rahn finish the course.
  • NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. set a record when he reached the fourth obstacle. He’s gone farther than any other NASCAR driver on the show, beating out Ben Kennedy and Ryan Blaney.
  • Michael Torres, season eight’s youngest competitor, reached the buzzer once again.
  • Joe Moravsky has had an incredibly emotional year with the loss of his uncle. He channeled his pain into a flawless run dedicated to his family.
  • While it was abbreviated, the fastest run of the night went to Anthony DeFranco.
  • Chris DiGangi was the ninth Ninja to reach the buzzer.
  • We closed the night with Jesse Labreck. She was a breakout star during her freshman season, and she’s not slowing down at all. Jesse hit her first buzzer and moved on to the City Finals!

Heart-Pounding Moment:

All the women on the show had an amazing night. The strength they all showcased was incredible. We can’t wait to see how Jesse Labreck handles the rest of her season.

Together, Jesse and Allyssa Beird made history. It was the first time two female competitors had completed a Qualifying course on the same night, another important benchmark for the show.

We did want to take this opportunity to call out Allyssa. We followed her performances in National Ninja League competitions during the off season. In fact, she’s the female champion of last season’s NNL finals. She also was just an invaluable part of Storm Team, Team Ninja Warrior’s season two champions.

Allyssa is quiet powerhouse and we really hoped she’d have a great night on American Ninja Warrior and, wow, did she deliver. The moment she nailed the transfer on the I-Beam Gap was a game changer for her. It was the moment the entire audience realized just how good she is. It’s a well-earned accolade and we’re thrilled she’s on her way to becoming a household Ninja name.

Heart-Breaking Moment:

American Ninja Warrior frequently features competitors who take on the course for deeply personal reasons. No matter how many obstacles they make it through, every moment is a triumph in their journeys.

Sarah Poulin lost her five year old son, Jacob, to brain cancer just last October. Since then she’s trained to become a Ninja Warrior in his honor. Sarah bravely put herself in front the Ninja Warrior audience and shared her family’s heartbreak with all of us.

When she fell on the Rolling Log, we were just happy to see her taking this on for Jacob. It actually broke our hearts to see Sarah’s disappointment in her run. She was devastated during her post-run interview with Kristine Leahy, wishing she could have done more of the course.

We really hope that since her run was recorded, Sarah has had the chance to reflect on her experience and understand how much it meant to her son, her family and to all of us that watched it.

Lesson of the Night:

Ninja Warrior: This is a family.

The Ninjas are a tight-knit community. It’s been brought up many times this season. It’s apparent when you see the Ninjas pack the sidelines for one of their fellow athletes. But tonight we really saw how deep these ties go.

There was Michelle Warnky and her dad Chris. Michelle is a legend in the community and her dad has earned his own reputation as an endlessly supportive advocate for every athlete at the local competitions. Seeing him on the course himself was a touching role-reversal as his daughter got to cheer him on.

Mike Bernardo has a quite the persona built up on the show. He’s usually seen in his fireman gear, wearing caution tape and competing with Ryan Stratis on who has the most epic start line/finish line scream. Tonight was a big gearshift for him as we saw him caring for his father and competing in his hometown. The chance to run in front of his dad revealed a much softer side of Bernardo and made his trip to the buzzer all the more important.

Every athlete on the course is part of the revered Ninja community. But that community extends far beyond the lights of the show. It takes a village of family, friends and loved ones to create the multi-faceted, talented Ninjas we watch every week.

Next Up:

On July 17, it’s the last of the Qualifying cities in Denver! The field will be packed with frequent National Finalists like Brian Arnold, Ian Dory and Meagan Martin. We’ll all be holding our breath to see what wacky stunt Jake Murray pulls off!