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Barclay Stockett taught me a vital lesson about expectations

In just a few words, she captured years of experience and growth.

David Becker/NBC

I’ve been traveling along with American Ninja Warrior since season eight. Over the course of those years, I’ve collected some really amazing experiences that have stayed with me long after. I’ve decided it might be fun to share some of those with you. Today, I’d like to tell you a bit more about Barclay Stockett.

Cooper Neill/NBC

I first met Barclay Stockett in season nine, before she ran the course in San Antonio. While she’d taken part in the Oklahoma City Qualifiers during season eight, we hadn’t crossed paths. (For those wondering, Barclay fell on the Log Runner, and I don’t believe her run was aired.) I think it was Drew Drechsel who told me I needed to make sure I kept an eye on Barclay’s progress, especially after her win at the Titans of Texas Challenge.

So I made it a point to stop Barclay when I spotted her on set. Looking back at the first recorded interview, I can’t help but smile at how much Barclay has grown. On set that day in San Antonio, she looked slightly nervous on camera. She answered my questions with short, apprehensive responses, shifting the longboard she was clutching back and forth in her hands.

American Ninja Warrior fans know what happened next. She broke into the top 30 during the Qualifiers and moved into the City Finals. On that course, she moved past the Warped Wall and the Salmon Ladder, taking on the back half of the course. Her run ended on the Hourglass Drop, but she advanced to the National Finals and was a breakout hit with the fans.

Over the course of that season, I got to know Barclay better as we traveled to the different locations. I’ll tell you, she’s a hugger. And those arm muscles of hers aren’t just for show. She could probably snap me. A hug from her is kind of like that I imagine the first moments of boa constrictor’s grip is like, but more fun. She’s a warm person who delights in the company of others. I swear, each time I saw her, she was visibly more sure of herself.

But the pressure of a fan base that develops in a flash is almost inescapable. That’s what I really want to reflect on about Barclay. Back for season 10, she carried the weight of having thousands of people expecting her to impress them. As she stepped on to the Dallas Qualifying course, everyone, fans, Ninjas, even the crew, were hoping to see her at the buzzer.

Watching her go down on the Tuning Forks pulled a gasp from the crowd. As a fan myself, it was a hard moment to watch, but glancing down at my notes tracking the night’s runners, I was fairly confident she’d still make the City Finals. Looking back up at the pool where she’d fallen, my heart sank. Barclay slowly lowered herself down to the pavement where the cameras waited with a look in her eye of utter disappointment. There was no flash of frustration or anger at the obstacle, like I’ve seen from so many competitors in that short, private moment before the director yells, “Tell me what happened!”

Barclay was crushed.

Of course, her support system of Ninjas, friends, and family flocked to her side, and she did advance to the City Finals. We spoke quickly before that run. I would describe her demeanor as level. She was calm, but cautious. Open about the fact that she saw the run as having let the fans down, and that hurt her. I tried to lamely say the things we all knew. That she didn’t let the fans down. She’d still done great, and she was going to do great that night. She gave an obligatory smile and one more hug before moving on to get ready to run.

That night, she tumbled and played as she moved down the course. She passed the Tuning Forks and Crank It Up. She moved into the back half once again and left the crowd clapping after her fall from the Nail Clipper. Once more, she’d made her way to the National Finals.

Fast forward a few months and we’re on the ground in Las Vegas, prepping for the filming of Stage One. After Barclay lifted me off the floor in a greeting hug, we set up for a short interview. I asked her to take a look back at her season and those nights in Dallas. Her answer was the perfect culmination of the journey that I’m sure she’s still on. She took a long pause, straightened herself up, and gave her response slowly, like she was studying each word as she prepared to say it.

“I would remind myself that expectations are just another form of support. I felt like I had a lot of expectations on myself. Which means I believe I can do great things. I felt a lot of expectations from other people, which also means they just support me and also believe I can do great things and I can hit buzzers.

Instead of adopting negative feelings from expectations, I wish I would have grabbed them like, ‘Oh, you believe in me too! Awesome!’ Use that to lift me up instead of scare me.”

Cooper Neill/NBC

That moment has stuck with me. I’ve had (and am still having) the privilege of watching this Ninja grow. I think back to those nervous first moments in San Antonio, to then watching the burst of joy at her success. Seeing her heart break in Dallas, and how she picked herself up and began healing before the National Finals. There’s an essential relatable lesson in those words she shared. I think of them in times when I’m feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of a new challenge in work or life.

I hope you find value in Barclay’s journey as well. Because it’s far from over and I think she still has more to teach us with her growth.