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American Ninja Warrior Daytona City Finals recap: The Ninjas gave fans everything they were craving

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The Daytona City Finals was a bright spot in an already distinguished season.

Myron Luzniak/NBC

The American Ninja Warrior Daytona City Finals was everything fans look for in an episode. The course was tough, but the Ninjas were tougher. Our hearts broke for some of the competitors, only to have their runs lift our spirits back up. There were moments where we thought some Ninajs were surely done, then they found a burst of energy that carried them through.

The atmosphere just seemed vibrant with a triumphant energy. The legends were on fire. It was a good night to be a Ninja Warrior fanatic.

Here’s what you missed:

Course completions: 1 (Not that surprising after San Antonio)

Ninjas taken out by Rolling Thunder: 4

Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Giant Cubes: 10

The Course:

  • Floating Steps
  • Rolling Pin
  • Wingnuts
  • Broken Bridge
  • Rolling Thunder
  • Warped Wall
  • Salmon Ladder
  • Giant Cubes
  • Circuit Board
  • Elevator Climb

Quick highlights:

  • Eddy Stewart cut his lip on the Rolling Pin but held it together to make it all the way to the Giant Cubes.
  • Bree Widener had a repeat of her Qualifying run, falling at the Rolling Thunder.
  • Josh Butler shared the heart-wrenching story of how losing his infant son led to the adoption of another child in need. He made it all the way to the Salmon Ladder.
  • Emily Durham went out on the Wingnuts in Qualifying. She overcame that to make it to the Rolling Thunder.
  • Rigel Henry was the first to land the tricky transition between the Giant Cubes.
  • Rookie Kevin Carbone demonstrated a new strategy on the Giant Cubes that conserved his strength. He was the first to defeat the new obstacle and move on to the Circuit Board.
  • Ryan Stratis used his years of experience to make it to the Giant Cubes with a fast enough time to move on to Vegas.
  • Tyler Gillett, another rookie sensation, raced to the Circuit Board to clear his path to the National Finals.
  • JJ Woods was the first to dominate the Circuit Board, moving on to the final obstacle. The Elevator Climb sapped the last of his strength, preventing a finish, but JJ was firmly in the top finalists!
  • Lindsay Eskildsen went out on Rolling Thunder, but her time to the obstacle locked in her trip to the National Finals.
  • Sean Darling-Hammond was the second competitor to attempt the Elevator Climb. No finish, but another National Finalist!
  • Jessie Graff defeated Rolling Thunder, which had taken her out in Qualifying, and then went on to beat four more obstacles! It was only the Elevator Climb that ended her run, leaving her in the fourth position overall for the night.
  • Travis Rosen fell from the Circuit Board, meaning he would also advance to the National Finals.
  • In the last run of the night, Drew Drechsel became the only finisher, continuing his red-hot run for Mount Midoriyama.

Heart-Pounding Moment:

Well we obviously can’t have just one heart-pounding moment tonight.

First, let’s recall the moment Jessie Graff stuck out her leg behind her and facilitated one of the most thrilling transfers on the Giant Cubes ever. It was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating to watch. When she steadied herself and twisted her whole body over to the next Cube, it gave us one of those signature American Ninja Warrior moments where we’re left knowing that ANYTHING is possible.

That was followed by Drew Drechsel defeating the entire course. After nine draining obstacles, the Ninjas who’d gone before him hadn’t had the strength to finish the Elevator Climb. But Drew looked like he was playing an entirely different game. With his long pulls, he looked like he was casually swimming up the obstacle. It gave viewers the pay off they wanted for the Ninja.

This only adds further fuel to the fire around the idea that Drew has the potential to take it all the way this season.

Heart-Breaking Moment:

When Josh Butler wasn’t able to complete the Salmon Ladder, he ended his bid for the National Finals. It was painful because Josh is one of those competitors you deeply want the absolute best for.

Not only is he an accomplished competitor for making it as far as he did, but he’s a dedicated father. He shared the story of how his infant son passed away just a few months after birth. But there was another little boy in the same hospital who needed a home. So Josh and his wife made him part of their family.

His ability to stay strong through such unimaginable struggles speaks to his qualification to be a Ninja Warrior. While we’re bummed we won’t see Josh and his family in Las Vegas, he’s got the determination to make it back to the course again if that’s what he wants!

Lesson of the night:

There’s meaning in the strength of others.

JJ Woods powered through the course for the little girl who inspires him. He called the eight year old the strongest person he knows. Michael Johnson draws strength from three very important women in his life, including his mother, who passed away when he was young.

And don’t forget the power of having legions of fans looking up to the Ninjas.

Many competitors have discussed this before. As they train and work so hard, gaining notoriety, it becomes the people around them who help drive them forward. The fans who share a special connection to them. The children who start training because Jessie or Drew showed them superheroes are real. Or the adults who change their lives for just the same reason.

There’s a power that comes from the support of others. It’s a strength that feeds into the importance and drive of every Ninjas’ performance.

Next up:

The Cleveland City Finals will air on August 14. This is another stacked city. Joe Moravsky, Jamie Rahn, Allyssa Beird and Jesse Labreck all return to the course looking for their trip to Las Vegas.