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American Ninja Warrior Kansas City Qualifiers recap: Rising against every obstacle

This batch of Ninja Warriors refused to be held back by any limitations.

Fernando Leon/NBC

The Kansas City American Ninja Warriors had to face one tough Qualifiers course. Only ten Ninjas would make it to the buzzer, the lowest number so far this season.

Crank It Up, the fourth obstacle on the course, was another that was designed by the fans! Kevin Brekke was the winner of last season’s Obstacle Design Challenge and his dastardly idea is probably haunting a lot of Ninjas right now.

But this episode was about more than just making it to the very end of the course. Kansas City brought us a group of Ninja Warriors who illustrated what it means to defy limitations and expectations.

Here’s what you missed:

Course completions: 10

Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Broken Pipes: 12

Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Crank It Up: 9

The Course:

  • Floating Steps
  • Hang Glider
  • Broken Pipes
  • Crank It Up
  • Bar Hop
  • Warped Wall

Quick Highlights:

  • Chris Lange thought his short shorts would take him to the buzzer, but, alas, he would only manage until the Broken Pipes.
  • Sarah Schoback started things off strong for the women, making it all the way to Crank It Up.
  • Rich Talavera set a new record for the oldest competitor to complete an obstacle at age 70!
  • Hunter Guerard looked like he was on his way to finishing the course. But when he made the decision to go backwards on the Bar Hop it did not work out well.
  • Brandon Mears, one half of the Towers of Power, dedicated his run to his soon-to-be-born son, and that pride fueled an awesome, complete trip to the buzzer.
  • Jimmy Choi has early onset Parkinson’s disease. Exercising and Ninja training with his daughter has helped both his mind and his body. Jimmy competes in many physical events for Team Fox, fundraising for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Michael J. Fox himself sent Jimmy a good luck message for his run. Jimmy fell at the Broken Pipes, but every second he was on the course was a success.
  • Jelani Allen drove for days with his grandfather to get to American Ninja Warrior, which meant he wasn’t going to give up easily on the course. He fell at the Broken Pipes, but clung on, miraculously saved himself and made it to the buzzer!
  • Kyle Shulze looked like he was having a blast during his run. Even falling at the Bar Hop didn’t disturb his smile! Kyle was born with a hearing impairment and his family has always supported him on the way to his goals.
  • Maggi Thorne is well-known in the Ninja community as a loving, supportive friend. That’s why she had a huge sideline of Ninja supporters cheering her on all the way to Crank It Up.
  • Ethan Swanson is used to climbing all over buildings, so scaling the Warped Wall was not an issue.
  • Lance Pekus had a very early exit last season. He plans on remedying that for season nine and started things off with a buzzer!

Heart-Pounding Moment:

Jelani Allen was a rookie who waited in the walk on line for his first chance at the American Ninja Warrior course. He actually drove from Las Vegas with his grandfather to make sure he had a chance this season!

His dedication paid off in a big way. Jelani fell on the Broken Pipes, rolling all the way under the obstacle. But he hadn’t touched the water, so he technically wasn’t disqualified yet, although no one knew how he’d get out of this situation.

It was like something out of a movie when Jelani reached behind himself and found the edge of the landing pad. How he managed to grab on and roll himself up and out of trouble is just beyond us.

What made the incredible moment all the better was when he happily charged down the course after that. Fueled by adrenaline from his brush with the water, he was unstoppable! This rookie Cinderella story had a perfect ending when Jelani reached the buzzer!

Heart-Breaking Moment:

Jimmy Choi’s story of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the young age of 27 was a hard one to hear. He shared how he slipped into a depressed period that his wife now calls the dark years.

Jimmy discovered that exercise could not only help with his physical symptoms, but his state of mind as well. He then joined Team Fox for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, fundraising through events like marathons. About a year ago, Jimmy started Ninja Warrior training with his daughter.

It’s people like Jimmy that you just WANT to see at the buzzer. You want to see them earn everything they work for and deserve. Jimmy hesitated on the Broken Pipes and the tricky balance obstacle took him out.

While we wanted so much more for him, Jimmy is one of those examples of American Ninja Warrior’s greatest lesson: Victory isn’t always at the buzzer. Jimmy’s journey and transformation are what really count. The fact he stepped on the course and shared his inspiring story with millions is a massive success on its own.

Lesson of the Night:

There’s always more to the story.

A theme of tonight was overcoming perceived limitations: Rich Talavera defying what “should” be possible at his age, Kyle Shulze ignoring the idea that a hearing impairment would ever hold him back. They were multiple reminders that there’s so much going on beyond the surface of the Ninja Warriors.

But we also wanted to talk about how there’s so much going on beyond the cameras. There were a couple really special things that were only experienced by the audiences who saw them live.

Jimmy Choi’s moment on the starting line:

On TV, we’re briefly shown that Michael J. Fox sent a message to Jimmy. Watching this take place first hand was a moment that gave us chills. Jimmy stepped up to the start. Matt Iseman’s voice suddenly came over the loud speaker, asking everyone to look to the screen used on set to allow the audience to see more than just the obstacles in front of them.

Remember, the live audience doesn’t get a briefing on the competitors the way we do on TV. All they knew was a new Ninja was about to start his run. The set went silent as Michael J. Fox came on the screen and delivered a heartfelt message to Jimmy. The audience soberly took in Jimmy’s diagnosis and how much he’s done for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Jimmy, himself, was visibly struggling with his emotions during the video.

As the screen switched back from the special message to Jimmy at the starting line, the audience erupted in cheers and applause. They didn’t let up for a second has he made it through the first couple of obstacles. On the show, when we see Jimmy fall at the Broken Pipes, he climbs out of the pool and stands to acknowledge the crowd.

That’s because they were on their feet for him. This was a run that was made by the Ninja Warrior AND the fans who celebrated every second of his success with him. It was a beautiful thing to witness.

Jelani Allen refusing to give in:

We all saw Jelani save himself on the Broken Pipes on TV. But in reality, Jelani was down there, hovering above the water, for WAY longer than it seemed!

Once he rolled under the second pipe, there was a feeling of “That’s it. It’s over for him.” But Jelani just flat out refused to give up. He made multiple grabs for the mat behind him. He struggled more than once to find a way out of the pit. When he actually made contact with the mat and started to right himself, the whole set went up in a collective gasp. Screams of “No! No! No” Turned into “GO! GO! GO!”

When he flopped on to the landing pad, the audience was laughing and cheering with relief. It felt like everyone had combined energy for a moment to help him through those last seconds.

It felt only right that he go on to complete the whole course after all that work!

Next Up:

On July 10, American Ninja Warrior will be in Cleveland! Ninjas like Joe Moravsky, Jesse Labreck, and Mike Bernardo are just a few of the fan-favorite names who’ll be taking the course in Ohio.