If there’s anything American Ninja Warrior reminds us of, it’s that the greatest obstacles aren’t on the course and they’re not always visible. Season 10 was stacked with talented rookies. Many of them were the 19-year-old wunderkinds who got their shot with the new lower age limit. Four of those young athletes would advance to the National Finals, including Zach Day. (Matthew Day, Mathis Owhadi, and Lucas Reale are the other three.)
Zach is technically the youngest competitor ever to make it to Las Vegas. Zach’s appearance in the National Finals was a testament to his training as well as his spirit. In the Philadelphia Qualifiers, Zach made it to the Lightning Bolts. In the City Finals, he beat that obstacle to advance to the Captain’s Wheel. His first buzzer came when it mattered most, on Stage One in Las Vegas. After his fall on Wingnut Alley in Stage Two, Zach could count this as an excellent debut season.
But it was also incredibly bittersweet. In April of 2018, Zach lost his father, Brian Day, to a heart attack. His father had been a huge supporter of Zach’s Ninja ambitions, taking him to competitions and helping him build obstacles. The Ninja Warrior community surrounded Zach during this difficult time and stood behind him as he took on American Ninja Warrior for the first time.
When all was said and done, Zach reflected back on his rookie season.
What it took to get to this point
“My rookie season probably went better than planned. It was definitely a dream come true, I can say that for sure.
I’ve been preparing for this for over four years now. Season one or two, my mom showed me the show. I thought the Ninjas were super incredible, but I didn’t think it was possible for me to do it. I kept watching it and I really loved the show and I started training.”
The Philadelphia Qualifiers
“I was nervous but I wasn’t more nervous than a regular competition. When I got out there, it was definitely a new experience that I’d never felt before. I kind of blacked out in a sense.
For the Lightning Bolts, I probably should have planned it better. There’s a controversial thing with using switch grip or regular grip. I’m more of a regular grip kind of guy. I really don’t use switch grip too much. A lot of other competitiors were doing switch grip, so I decided to do switch grip in Qualifying. When I made the transfer, it kind of just pulled the bar from me.”
The City Finals
“The Captain’s Wheel is right up my alley. I think the adrenaline got to me. I was over-gripping. I was coming down from the Lightning Bolts. I felt pretty good, my hands were kind of cold. I think if I had a second shot, I could do the whole course.
I didn’t know I was the youngest rookie ever. I found out in Vegas. I was pretty surprised. Making it to Vegas was surreal. Too good to be true. It took awhile to sink in, but it was really incredible.”
The National Finals
“Stage One is probably my biggest weakness, I would say. I’m really good at upper body stuff so it definitely scared me in a sense. Then I saw a bunch of the competitors, like Joe Moravsky and Brian Arnold, going out on the Double Dipper and stuff. So I was definitely really nervous going into that.
But I knew I had the ability to complete the course. I gave it my best shot and I got through. I was super tired when I got to the Warped Wall from all the adrenaline, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it or not. I was tired and there were still obstacles ahead. I knew I didn’t have too much time on the clock, so right after I got done with the balance obstacle, I tried to do the Twist and Fly as fast as I could. I got low on the cargo net but I still finished up.
My favorite memory was hitting the buzzer and pointing to the back of my shirt with ‘4BD.”
“Stage Two, I was even more confident. That’s where I rise above because my upper body strength is really good. My strength to weight ratio is right on point. I was feeling really confident for Stage Two.
Deja Vu is crazy. You have to drop off like five feet and swing up to the other rung. It was crazy. I can’t say I was super confident going into that. But I definitely knew I had what it took.
On the Wingnuts, I think I head people say, ‘You gotta go, you gotta go.’ I think I could have waited and rested a little bit more before the Wingnuts. I went out on the third Wingnut, I only had one more to go. I was pretty confident on the Wingnuts. I’ve done them before in local competitions. I just pumped out on them.”
What’s to come
“I think the 19-year-olds killed it. It was the year of the 19-year-olds, and the rookies, really. I love new talent and I hope they do well. I will say this, I’ll be really hard to beat next year. I hope they do really well though.”
Experiencing Ninja Warrior during such a hard time
“It’s taken a lot of twists and turns over the past couple of months, good and bad. I think the American Ninja Warrior show and the community have really helped me and my family. We’re still going through tough times, but we’ll get through it.”