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Joe Moravsky on season nine: ‘This year, my reason why felt stronger than ever before’

Joe was the last Ninja standing in season nine. Here he reflects on what went into creating his strongest season yet.

Ryan Tuttle/NBC

Since season five of American Ninja Warrior, Joe Moravsky has been racking up a legion of fans. By day, he’s a charismatic meteorologist, earning him the nickname of the Weatherman Ninja. By night, he’s a highly skilled Ninja Warrior competitor who is no stranger to the National Finals. Season nine marked his fifth season on the show and his fourth trip back to Stage Three.

Beyond that, fans connect with Joe because they feel like they know him. Through his seasons on Ninja Warrior, he’s not only dominated on the course, but he’s grown as a person. He’s shared his engagement and his wedding to wife, Stephanie, and the birth of their first child, Emily.

Season nine has been emotionally wrought for the Ninja. He had two uncles pass away. Stephanie, his constant sideline supporter, couldn’t be with him during his Cleveland rounds since she was heavily pregnant with their second child. Swimming in turbulent waters, Joe managed to turn in one of his best seasons to date.

In fact, no one had a better season nine than Joe. When he fell on the Time Bomb obstacle of Stage Three, he became the “last Ninja standing” and made it farther than he ever had before.

Now, season nine is behind Joe. He’s home with his family after the safe and healthy arrival of his son Jacob on September first. (The first day of meteorological fall, Joe proudly informed us.) We spent some time combing through Joe’s thoughts on just how he created all those incredible runs and what it means to have advanced this deep into the competition.

Eddy Chen/NBC

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Season nine was so emotional for you. You lost two of your uncles. Stephanie wasn't on the sidelines (in Cleveland). You were just weeks away from expecting Jacob. Looking back at Cleveland, were those heavy emotions a motivation or an additional obstacle?

JM: I think initially they were an obstacle. Because, I posted back when I was at the Rockford Ninja Warrior event, about my anxiety and about how I do harbor a lot of anxiety. That's generally when I go away, so that's more of a separation anxiety type of thing. It was bad as a kid. There's no real reason for it. As I got older it did get better. I was traveling a little more, further away for longer periods. But there's something about having kids now that just brings it all back again. I don't want to be away from home, I don't want to be away from family. It's more just a mentality. I try to figure out what's wrong. Why can't I control this and what I can I do to prevent this.

I really try to focus on the thoughts that are going into my head. The thoughts when I'm away are, "Oh my gosh. I'm going to be away for this long. Oh my gosh I'm going to be away from home for this long." And I just keep saying it over and over. And it's like why do I do this to myself? Why can't I just be in the moment? So I really try to remember that. And it helps. Initially when I got to Cleveland, I had my buddy Jesse come, which was a lot of fun and I was able to focus better because I didn't feel alone.

He didn't take (Stephanie's) place, but he helped ease my mind and all the silly thoughts that pop into my mind. And so I got over that obstacle pretty quickly, knowing he was going to be there.

When I got to Cleveland, yeah, it was initially an obstacle. Having Stephanie not there, having Uncle Ray and Uncle Rob not there... Uncle Ray had never been to a Ninja competition. He'd always been too old and too frail to be there. But I've had Uncle Rob there.

You know it's not an obstacle not having them there. It really is motivation. I say it a lot to people, you have to find your reason why you do things. And this year my reason why just felt stronger than ever before. You can see it on the course. I was a different animal on it this year.

I put the training in differently. I really got on more obstacles. Less rock climbing. Because I have the rock climbing strength but I didn't really have the obstacle endurance. Most people are like "Yeah, you have great endurance," but to beat the whole thing, to beat Stage Three and Stage Four, you really need this next level of obstacle endurance.

It's one thing when you're hanging from a rock climbing hold, trying to recover, to hanging from a bar trying to recover. That's a different grip. Or you're hanging from something oddly shaped that doesn't really compare to rock climbing. I figured out that was my problem. My problem was I'm used to one hand position and trying to recover from that position. But as we know on Ninja, every obstacle is different.

This season had a record low number of City Finals Finisher. Only you and Jamie Rahn were able to beat the Cleveland Finals. Do you think the City Finals were harder than other seasons this year?

JM: No. I don't think so at all. I think it was easier than last year. Maybe just because I'm stronger than last year. Actually I know that's a fact, I was definitely stronger than last year. But having Rolling Thunder (on the season eight Philadelphia City Finals) changes everyone's course. If you have Rolling Thunder, you're screwed. Just because it zaps your energy. It's not even really a hard obstacle. It's just that you're pretty much doing pull up motions over and over and over again.

I don't even want to say this for fear of producers hearing it, but the obstacle Psycho Chainsaw, at the beginning of Stage Three, two years ago, was the hardest beginning obstacle we've ever had. And everyone who saw it went "Aw, crap. We're done." There's just no way. It just zaps your energy. You're doing pull ups in the beginning of your run. That's essentially what you're doing. And you don't want to do pull ups in the beginning of your run. You want to conserve. Make a pull up or two here or there when you have to.

But the Rolling Thunder obstacle. That was very difficult. Denver, this season, had the Ninjago Roll, up the hill and down. That looked insane too. That looked pretty hard. And that's coming from me. If I say it's pretty hard, it's pretty hard.

It's not just, muscle through it and you're going to be alright. It really is muscle through it, but you need body control. You need to be able to control your legs, your abs, your core. Because if you're not controlling your core, at least from what I've seen, it's going to slide back down on you. You need to be gentle with it.

You have to be strong, but you have to be gentle. I thought it was a really cool idea. It's very, very sensitive, so I'm sure the people designing it. ATS and everybody probably had a difficult time figuring out how much is too much. How little is too little grip. But it was a really cool obstacle. I really hope I don't see it in Qualifiers one day, but if I do, I think I can handle it.

So you didn't find Cleveland's Nail Clipper to be that much trouble?

JM: I really think it was just psyching people out. Yeah, it was hard. Of course it was hard. I think it was difficult because of where it was on the course. Right after the Salmon Ladder. A bunch of other upper body obstacles right before it. But the technique wasn't hard to do. People just weren't thinking, I think.

This is how I am on Stage Three. When I get to Stage Three, I have this mentality of, "I've made it this far. Let's see what happens." I've noticed I do that sometimes. I realized I put a lot less focus on Stage Three compared to Stage Two, Stage One, Regional Finals, Regional Qualifiers. With all the other stages, I sit and focus on every single obstacle until I'm sure I have a plan, and a back up plan, and, if I can, a back up plan for the back up plan. Which very rarely gets used actually.

Then with Stage Three, I don't have time to sit and think and look. And I don't have time to watch people play on it. It's the hardest part. It's so hard that there are rarely any people who finish the whole thing.

I think that's what's happening in regional finals. People are realizing it's so hard, or they're letting it get into their head that it's so hard, even though it's not as bad as they make it. Because I guarantee that if somebody beat it, and then had to go back to the beginning and do it all again the next day, they would have a different mentality about it because they would be more confident.

That's kind of how I am. I go into these courses thinking, "Well I'm going to beat it again. So let's focus on every obstacle. Let's not just get past the Salmon Ladder. Hopefully make it to Vegas by touching the Nail Clipper, and we'll see what happens.” I think that's kind of what's been going on. I don't think like that, at least in the Finals, because I know I should beat it, move on and hit the buzzer.

On the Nail Clipper, it came down to technique. You had to think about swinging, doing a 180 degree grab real quick, kind of dropping your arm over to the other side, reaching up, under and around. You just get into a groove. At the end I kind of messed up the sequence a little because I was doing the same technique and I realized, “Oh wait, I'm not going to do a 180 dismount.” So I hard to turn around and face the other way.

But it was really grippy and you just had to trust it. I sat and looked at that obstacle for so long. And I realized that if you reach under and around and grab the other side of the one you're on, it's going to lock in place. So don't sit there and mess with it and think, "Uh oh. Am I high enough? Uh oh." You have to study it. A lot of people were not studying it.

You cleared Cleveland and moved on to the National Finals. Stage one, a historic 41 Ninjas hit the buzzer. Were you surprised by that? How did you think the course flowed?

JM: The Double Dipper was hard. When you came down the track, the bar would kind of stick to one side. At least for that first five to ten feet. With most people's run, you'll see people coming down and you'll see, I think, the left side will just trail for most people. It threw you off a little bit.

I actually messed up. My lache was good, but my body was a little bit to the right because of how crooked I got with the bar going left. That was something I thought I was going to be able to control. But I just couldn't. So instead of trying to control it, I just let it flow. Because if I try to control something and I fight the motion sometimes it can come back and bite you. I knew gravity was going to be pulling me down that hill anyway. So I just let it happen. It started crooked, but by the time I got to the bottom it did straighten. But the problem was my body was kind of going from left to right. So I actually reached my hands out to the left just a little bit and I caught the next bar. It was kind of terrifying. I made it work.

Other than that obstacle... The Jumping Spider. That's easy. I flow right through that every year. It's really just that you have to focus. Stand up straight, jump into it, stick it with all four limbs. That's an obstacle no veteran should fall on unless you're five feet tall. Because there's always a what-if at that height.

And every obstacle after that, it was pretty straight forward. Parkour Run was really cool. I liked it. Warped Wall was the same.

David Becker/NBC

The Domino Pipes. I always told people that I hate Domino Hill. I practiced that back in season five. I don't think it's been back since season six. Domino Hill, I never liked it. Domino Pipes, not much different. I didn't really like it too much just because I let things get in my head and that's one of those obstacles that kind of got in my head.

After that, the Flying Squirrel was fun. I love that obstacle. I just got more efficient on it this past year.

This year I was like, “What I'm I trying to strategize for? Let's be aggressive. Because you are the best when you're aggressive with the course. You are not the best when you're careful with the course.” And that's the mentality I went into this year with.

I'm going to be aggressive. I fall every single year on the course. What am I so scared of? Let's go. And that's what I did. And that's why I was so successful out there. At least one of the reasons.

On Stage Two, things were drastically harder. What do you think made Wingnut Alley such a roadblock for the Ninjas?

JM: It was a mentality thing. A mentality issue again. I think people let it get in their head. Now, granted, the Wingnuts in (Daytona) regionals were a lot closer together. That does change a lot. But it really wasn't hard. The only thing that was hard about it was the distance between Wingnuts and how efficient you had to be. I was timing it. People were up there between about 40 seconds and a minute. The guys that really wouldn't make it were taking a minute or longer. So when I got up on it, I really just had to focus on being efficient. That's what I do best.

It wasn't as bad as I thought. Flying through the air was so much fun. I love the obstacle. I loved it so much. But when I got to that last Wingnut, and it pivoted on me, and I had one more move to the platform, that's when I actually started to feel it. I didn't feel it anywhere else in Stage Two except for that one moment right there. My forearms started to get tired. I could feel my grip wanting to relax, but I couldn't, I'm hanging on a Wingnut trying to dismount. So in that moment I was like, "Uh oh. Now it's time to go." So I got some big swings and landed on the platform barely. But that's all you need. I calculate this stuff out. I've never really landed on a platform and fallen back into the water. So I know what it takes with my body to get where I need to get to even if it's not pretty.

But I made it through. I was super pumped.

I was not prepared for this 25% harder Stage Three course. I've been saying all along that I'm 25% stronger, but the course got 25% harder! I just missed it. I really think I could have done it, I just had bad technique on the Peg Clouds.

How hard is it to just keep your body moving forward between Stages Two and Three? You have to take on Stage Three right after Stage Two. It's very hot in Vegas. How do you push forward?

JM: This is the best question you could have asked because this year was different from any other year for me. And let me explain why. Every other year I've finished Stage Two, I've gotten Stage Three still pretty tired.

This year I finished Stage Two, and about ten minutes after that run, my body was ready to go. And I was like "Oh my gosh. This is amazing." The training I put in this year was explicitly for that moment right there. Finish Stage Two, recover, be ready for Stage Three. It worked. My training was perfect. I finished Two. Ten minutes go by and I was ready to go. When I got to Stage Three, I was warmed up. I was considering Stage Two a warm up. It was perfect, I can't say it any other way. The training I put in really changed everything for me. So I was not tired. Going into Stage Three I was ready, it was perfect. I was in perfect condition. No excuses on Three as to why I fell. I just wasn't strong enough this time around.

Sean Bryan and Najee Richardson also moved on to Stage Three. Did you give them any advice or encouragement before you started the stage?

JM: Yeah. They both had never been to Stage Three, so immediately, I felt like I was going to beat them. I hate thinking about it like that because it's not about you and the other guy, it's about you and the course, but at the end of the day, it is. Geoff Britten and Isaac Caldiero, trying to beat the course. They both beat it. But guess what? Geoff lost.

I have to think about it like that. If it's a motivator for me, then I'm going to do it. So when I got to Stage Three with them, I'm sharing everything with them. And that's what I would do normally, even it was Drew Drechsel with me there, we would still probably talk about it.

But this Stage Three was different. Two guys who'd never been there before were there, so I was like, “Let's help them out. I want to see them get far into this thing.” I don't think they're going to beat it. I think they're strong enough, but they lack the experience on Stage Three. It's so hard to beat it the first time through.

Well, actually, with Geoff and Isaac it was their first time on the stage and they beat it. Isaac is a professional rock climber. So it's not really fair to compare him to anyone else. Geoff is pretty much on his level with climbing. Ridiculous climbs. He climbs like three grades harder than me, which is ridiculous. So having climbers get to Stage Three, then yes, it can be beaten, because it does very much favor climbers.

I know Najee's not a pro climber. I know Sean was a very good gymnast, but that's very different from climbing. So I didn't feel threatened giving them every single piece of advice I could, because I still thought I could beat it and I still thought I was going to go further. And I did.

I wanted to see both of them go further, but unfortunately they both fell on the Ultimate Cliffhanger. Cliffhanger is hard. You have to use every little bit of energy on it.

I shared everything with them. I wanted to help them as much as I could. I wanted to see them be successful. I didn't want it to come down to Sean and I or Najee and I climbing the rope, but, if it was meant to be, it was meant to be.

We all fell where we fell, and that was it.

At the end of your Stage Three run, you took a pretty long break on the Peg Clouds. You fell shortly after on the Time Bomb. What was going through your mind in those last seconds?

JM: Hanging from the Peg Cloud was probably the worst thing I've felt in my life. Hanging on one leg. The back of my knee was getting all cut up from the peg. It was really very uncomfortable. I've never rested like that. That's one thing I've never done before, resting on one leg and shaking out one arm at a time. It's very awkward, not a lot of room to work with. Not a lot of resting going on. I was trying to rest, trying to relax.

I was breathing and I felt great, but switching between hands, yeah, I was recovering, but I was also still hanging. So if I had been able to take both hands off, it might have been possible to get a big enough rest and beat the Time Bomb, but because I was still engaged, doing this active recovery, it was just a little too much after Stage Two, after all of Stage Three pretty much, it does catch up to you eventually. And it did catch up to me there.

I realized right before I got off the Peg Climb that I needed to just go. I had enough in the tank. Even when I fell, I had enough grip strength, I could have beat it. The problem was I reached up for that hold I missed, and because I missed, barely missed, I came down on that one arm, and my one arm lock off strength wasn't strong enough to slow me down. So when my arm straightened, I couldn't get my other hand on to help. So my arm straightened too fast and it ripped my grip right off the ball.

If I had saved it in that moment I would have been like, "Aw crap, now I can panic." It would have been panic mode at that point from how tired I was getting. But I certainly could have held on if I'd just gotten my second hand on it. At least given it another shot, but it didn't happen.

How do you feel about your season nine performances summed up in a sentence or two?

JM: I'm very happy with my performance in season nine. I'm the only competitor to be last man standing twice. I feel like Geoff Britten and Isaac Caldiero are the best two Ninjas out there. I feel like I'm now third. I'm pretty much the only guy who makes it the furthest and always fails. (laughs)

Did this "last man standing" status feel different than the first time in season six?

JM: It felt different. I remember how awesome it felt to go the farthest, and, for lack of a better word, beat everybody. It felt great season six, but it felt better this year because I made it farther than I ever have before in competition. I was so close to the end.

Eddy Chen/NBC

Are you planning on coming back for season 10?

JM: Yeah. Definitely. I feel like when I left Vegas this year, I was so much more motivated. When you fall, you feel down, you don't really want to train again. It takes a little bit to get back into it sometimes. Or, on the flip side, you fall and you're so motivated and ready to go. I think it depends on how long you've been doing this. If you fall six or seven years in a row, you're not going to feel as motivated. If you're on your first or second year now and fell, like I fell in season five, season six came back and made it farther than anyone else.

This year is kind of the same for me. I fell, but I made it the farthest and I fell later than ever before. I have that motivated mindset, so I'm sticking with that.

I think it's really important to have great Ninjas like Drew right next door to me. We are just so competitive, me and him, that I don't think about the course getting harder. I think about Drew getting stronger. Drew works at a gym. Drew has an upper hand on all of us now. I need to keep up with him and be better than him.

He's my biggest motivation now to be stronger. Because I don't like losing and he doesn't like losing either. I beat him this year. He was happy for me, but not happy. When he beat me in season eight, I was happy for him but I was not happy.

And now we have this young gun Adam Rayl coming in and destroying everybody. He's beating Drew and I. Drew has kind of forgotten about me. I've kind of forgotten about Drew. Drew and I have almost teamed up and we're focusing on Adam now. Which is really funny because Drew and I have been doing this longer than Adam. Adam came in last year and all of a sudden he's so incredibly efficient and fast and powerful.

It's good. These are all things that we need. We need it for the growth of the sport. For the growth of ourselves. It's very important for us to not be the best all of the time.

What do you think, as a competitor, you can expect from season 10?

JM: I don't think they're going to change much. I think the producers love Stage Three. I think they loved Stage Two. I hope they keep Stage Two. That was fun. It was hard. It was the hardest Stage Two I've been on. But it was fun.

I think it's going to be bigger than ever before because it's season 10. It's the 10 year anniversary. It's gotta be huge. I'm excited. I have no idea. They surprise me every year with stuff.

Congratulations on an epic season nine, Joe! Now go enjoy your family and start prepping for next season!