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Allyssa Beird on her stunning Stage One run: ‘That’s what I came here to do’

For this Ninja, the National Finals were about family, community and turning goals into reality.

As Allyssa Beird plowed through Stage One of American Ninja Warrior’s National Finals, she looked almost serene. Whether it was carefully hopping from step to step on Parkour Run, or floating across the Domino Pipes, she seemed totally unaware of the momentous achievement that she was quickly closing in on.

While most of us would grimace while just looking at the obstacles, Allyssa remained composed and thoughtful. While, as fans and viewers, we were all screaming with joy and terror on her final climb up the cargo net, Allyssa held her poker face until the buzzer was pressed.

Breaking into a huge smile, Allyssa finally gave in to the emotion of the moment. She was now only the second woman to complete Stage One, joining Jessie Graff, who accomplished it in season eight.

That balanced aplomb seems to be part of Allyssa’s Ninja Warrior strategy. She’s got a job to do, and when that’s done, she’s already looking for the next one.

“I guess it kind of felt a little surreal,” she said. “I expected to feel more emotional. I almost expected to cry out of excitement. I remember as I was hitting it, I was remembering what Jessie Graff did when she hit it last year. My mind was all over the place. I didn't feel super overwhelmed and emotional.

I remember saying to the cameras as I was walking down, ‘Well that's what I came here to do.’ So I think part of me was like I did expect to hit it. So I was like “Goal met. On to Stage Two. I haven't looked at it yet, but here we go.’ Accomplished, I guess, is the best emotion.”

Allyssa, a fifth grade teacher by day, has created quite the superhero Ninja persona by night. In her first season on the show, she qualified for the Philadelphia City Finals. In the time between seasons, she became the 2017 National Ninja League women’s champion. On Team Ninja Warrior, she took home the championship with Josh Levin and Joe Moravsky.

She was the first woman to hit a buzzer in season nine, during the Cleveland Qualifiers. Her City Finals run was a little bumpy, but it still sent her to Las Vegas. Her dedication to Ninja Warrior training and competition has turned her from a newbie to a seasoned professional in just two years.

Before Allyssa’s Stage One run aired, we spoke with her on the phone to learn more about what’s gone into her two breakout seasons on the show and how Ninja Warrior has become a very special family affair.

Responses are lightly edited for clarity and length.

What got you into training for American Ninja Warrior?

AB: My sister and I were bored and looked up gyms and went to one, just kind of on a whim. I loved it from day one and I started going every week, and then I found another gym to also go to weekly. It all snowballed from there.

How long did it take you to go from beginning to train to getting on the show?

AB: A couple months. I started training right at the end of July of 2015. I think I ended up putting together my application video in the last three or four weeks before it was due because I wasn't ever intending on applying necessarily. I just enjoyed going to the Ninja gym and hanging out doing stuff with other Ninjas. And then somebody was like oh you should definitely apply. I was like okay I guess. It was probably three or four months of training before I decided to apply.

Were you expecting your first season to go as well as it did?
(In her rookie season, Allyssa was one of the four women to make it to the Philadelphia City Finals, and was given a wildcard to the National Finals.)

AB: I don't think so. I felt pretty good about the local National Ninja League competitions that I'd been at. And I was already good friends with Jesse Labreck by the time we went to Philly for season eight. I had a little bit of confidence, you know. I didn't feel like I was going to go down on the second obstacle or the first obstacle. I guess I had some vague goals of doing well but I was just kind of excited to be there.

Eddy Chen/NBC

What were the reactions like from you friends, family and students after those first few runs in season eight?

AB: That was actually pretty cool. I remember getting bombarded with messages on my phone. I went to a viewing party for the Philly Qualifiers and I wanted to crawl out of my skin when they showed my run. It was so weird because everyone looks at you.

And then kind of that same feeling actually when I went back to work in the fall. Like second grade classes would walk by me in the hall and I'd hear like something about Ms. Beird, or Ninja. They'd be whispering to each other. And I'd be like, "Oh god I don't know what to do with my hands. Ummm. Heyyyyy."

So there's a lot of support and just a lot of positive feedback. I think I wasn't really ready for that. I didn't know how to deal with that initially. I'm more comfortable with now I think. But it was definitely different.

Were you confident you were going to be able to complete the Qualifying course in Cleveland?

AB: I don't remember exactly. I think that's definitely what I wanted. I'm sure Labreck and I probably talked about that too. We did. Back in April we were texting about it. How we were both going to hit buzzers and we were going to Vegas together. That's what we decided. So yeah, I guess I was confident.

In the Cleveland Finals, you fell on the Nail Clipper. Looking back is there anything you would have changed about your strategy on that obstacle or on that course?

AB: Yes. Well, first off I would have actually made sure that my foot hit that fifth step, so I didn't waste energy climbing back up on that. I think continuing that momentum would have helped a little bit.

But at the Nail Clipper, when I reached around I had a good grasp. So I had one hand on either side. I tried shifting my hand so my other hand could fit next to it instead of just reaching and crossing over. And when I shifted, my hand slid down, the whole thing spun and I slipped down to a hold beneath it and that was kind of the point of no return. So instead of trying to fix it, I would have went with it. Plan B, basically, which I didn't do.

Were you disappointed, or were you just excited that you'd reached that point?

AB: It was a little mixture of both. I was aware that it was a race to the Salmon Ladder for females. So part of me was like, I hope that was good enough. I think it might have been. I'm excited to have gotten to the back half of the course. That was really cool. Part of me was kicking myself for having just shifted a little bit, enough that I couldn't get my grip back. I was just really excited to have come off the night before and been able to play on the course again.

Eddy Chen/NBC

How did it feel to be standing there, back at the National Finals again?

AB: It felt really different from the first year. I think just having one year of experience helps take away the uncertainty of everything. You know how everything is going to be run so you can more focus on getting your head in the right space.

I've been trying to visualize my runs a lot more before I go this year which has been helpful. So I think taking out a lot of the things I was just super excited about last year. I'm in Las Vegas! And this is the set! I was a little calmer. It was exciting still. More focused excitement.

Was there an obstacle on Stage One that you were worried about more than the others?

AB: Not specifically this year. I think that goes for Cleveland too. There wasn't anything that I was stressing about, or kept going back to in my head before I ran. Jesse and I were talking about how we definitely don't want to miss a step and go down on the first obstacle. It happened to Travis and Geoff and a bunch of people last year. So okay, that's not going to happen. And then rest of it, there wasn't anything that jumped out as too nerve-wracking.

Were there any obstacle you were excited about?

AB: The Double Dipper! Anything with laches and swinging. It was like a rollercoaster lache. I was just really excited about it. And the Flying Squirrel. I wanted to get to those two. Again, laches and swinging.

At what point on the course did you realize you were going to hit the buzzer?

AB: I think coming down from the Warped Wall. I looked up and was like, "Okay, it's just the balance and the Flying Squirrel.”

I remember looking at the countdown screen behind the Flying Squirrel and it hadn't started counting down yet. I was like, "Oh my god, is it broken? The time is still going, right?" I remember thinking this could be it. Don't mess up. Keep focused on the balance obstacle because it would really stink to misstep now.

Then it was that last sigh of relief getting through the balance because I wasn't concerned about the Flying Squirrel at all. But I think that's when I started to see my time count down. I guess I was fairly confident at that point that this was happening.

Have you inspired any of your students to start training?

AB: At recess some of the kids will ask me to watch them on the monkey bars. There's definitely some inspiration I've passed on to them. Which is awesome.

Do you have any special memories of interacting with your fans?

AB: I got a message from a seven year old boy on Facebook from his mom's account. And he asked if he could get a signed autograph. I said absolutely. Then the next message I got said, "My mom said this is the last time I can contact you. But here's a photo of me holding some heavy weights." It was a photo of him holding some of the dumbbells you can buy at Target. Just looking really intense. It was the cutest thing ever!

So your mom just did a Ninja competition with you! How was that?

AB: I feel like I experienced what it must be like for parents to watch their children compete. My heart rate was up. I was like shaking a little bit when she was going. I don't get nervous for myself to compete, but I imagine that's what parents feel when their kids compete. They just get really nervous and they want them to do well. So those are all the things I was feeling for her. But it was so exciting.

We know from his online presence that your dad is very supportive of your Ninja career. Is that important to your motivation? To have your family be a part of it?

AB: Yes. And it was very special this year.

Right after Cleveland my dad went in to get a catheter in his heart and they found some pretty bad blockages. So between Cleveland and Vegas he actually had a double bypass open heart surgery. Since then he's lost like 45 pounds. He will be here through the end of the year now, when they pretty much told him if he didn't get this (surgery) he wouldn't have been. So it was pretty cool. The fact that every around this time had a nice positive spin with it.

He's so supportive. And he's been like that since my gymnastics days. My parents have always been to every competition. Always on the sidelines cheering. Definitely my rocks. It means a lot.

What is it about Ninja Warrior that makes it uniquely special to you?

AB: I think it actually comes down to less about what makes the sport special to me and more about the people involved. I didn't start Ninja because a friend told me to come with them to a gym. I didn't start Ninja because I was an avid watcher for years and was waiting for a gym to open near me. I just stumbled into it and was immediately accepted into this world that I just kind of didn't even know existed the day before I walked into the gym.

Now, the whole Ninja community is just my second family and I don't know how I did things without having them there. Like James (McGrath). Like Jesse (Labreck). I can't even name all the Ninjas that I consider really close friends. I tend to have smaller groups of really close friends, but that was changed with Ninja. I now have a ton of really close friends. That's been the best.

We’ll see Allyssa on the American Ninja Warrior course next when she takes on Stage Two on September 18!