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How a flight with Selena Laniel calmed my flying nerves

Looking back on special memories from traveling with the show.

Tyler Golden/NBC

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest perks of being the editor of American Ninja Warrior Nation is traveling with the show each season. From exploring new locations, working alongside an incredible crew, and watching those jaw-dropping runs in person, it’s always a memory-making experience.

Since we’re all slogging through the “off-season” together, I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite Ninja Warrior travel memories that aren’t related to the shows. Times that I’ve had a conversation or experience with a Ninja Warrior that showed me something about them, but had nothing to do with the course obstacles.

I’m starting off by telling you that everyone should take a flight with Selena Laniel.

There is ONE downside to the travel season for me, personally. Planes. I hate them. I hate everything about them. Yes, I am aware of aviation safety standards. Doesn’t matter. Whenever I’m about to get on a flight, I’m not a happy camper. If I’m on a flight, I’m REALLY not a happy camper.

Some of you might be aware of this, but just to clarify, American Ninja Warrior tapes from sun down to sun up to create the City Qualifiers and City Finals. In an effort to get home, and to cut down the amount of time I’m anxiously dreading my flight, I try to book the earliest flight after the City Finals wrap. Which means, if we leave set at 5 am, I’m probably on the 7:30 am flight.

These airport mornings are always... weird. I haven’t slept. Probably haven’t eaten much. I’m in an unfamiliar place with zero brain power. It’s not the best look. I’m generally on the floor, slumped against a wall until it’s time to board.

Indianapolis during season 10 was no different. There I was, bleary-eyed and barely coherent when I was spotted. Ninja Warrior competitor Selena Laniel (looking far more awake than I was) plopped down next to me. Obviously, through my role for this site, I’ve spoken with Selena a few times before. Always strictly about Ninja related topics.

I tried to force myself back into Ninja Warrior professional interviewer mode and sit up straight. Make coherent statements. Selena quickly waved away my air of discomfort. She’d run the course in Los Angeles that season, where she’d advanced to the City Finals, but hadn’t made the National Finals. With her season done, she was in Indianapolis to support her friends like Dan Polizzi and Karen Sabo. She was relaxed. She was on a trip. She wasn’t going to abide any boring standard conversations.

Within minutes, Selena had pulled me out of my anxiety and exhaustion. We were laughing and discussing her life in San Diego. Turns out, she grew up in Montreal, about two hours north of where I was raised. She has a long history as an equestrian. I’m a rider myself.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a crew member took a seat next to us. He’d just run to the airport from set and recognized us. Instantly, he was absorbed into our conversation. We talked about the show, each of us having our own unique perspectives from our different roles. We talked about our lives.

As you know from the show, Selina is a firefighter in San Diego. The crew member also had a background as a first-responder medic. Selena talked to us about what fighting an active wildfire is like in heart-pounding detail. The crew member reflected on rappelling down cliffs to get to patients. I was dumbstruck by those two. There were times I was actually biting my nails in fear as they shared stories.

And then we landed in Las Vegas.

During that captivating conversation, we’d moved as a unit on to the plane, occupied our own row and talked non-stop for over three hours. (At one point, the crew member fell asleep for a quick minute, woke back, and started talking like he hadn’t missed a thing.)

I mentioned to Selena and the crew member that I hated flying. Selena simply waved her hand, saying, “Nah. Nothing to worry about.” The crew member chimed in that if the window (I was sitting next to) happened to break, he’d be more than happy to pull me back in. With that laugh and the dismissal, it was like being given permission to relax.

I hadn’t noticed the take off. I really can’t tell you if the flight was bumpy or not. I didn’t have to practice breathing exercises while landing. It was, hands down, the best flight I’ve ever had.

In summary, Selena Laniel is a hero as well as an American Ninja Warrior. (Somebody make a movie about this woman.) She is also excellent at assuaging fears and makes a great emotional support flyer.