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Jesse Labreck on that history-making Ninja vs Ninja relay

Team work and guts made Ninja vs Ninja history.

Jesse Labreck is unquestionably both an accomplished and rising American Ninja Warrior. We know this. In her first season (season 8), she became the first female rookie to qualify for the National Finals. She kept her momentum rolling in season nine by qualifying for the Vegas finals yet again.

On Ninja vs Ninja, she led her team, Labreckfast Club, to a flawless sweep into the playoffs. As her team entered the round against Team Wolfpack, we saw her work shine not just as an athlete, but as a captain.

In a testament to her strength, she pulled off the first extended course completion by a female athlete. (Another fierce Ninja, Jeri D’Aurelio was just one obstacle behind her.) Then after four trying rounds, she rallied her team together for a stunning knock-out relay. She trusted her teammates' strengths, and she trusted herself enough to take on the final leg, another first for the show.

Read a full recap of the episode here.

Shortly after the episode was recorded, we got a chance to talk to Jesse about that night in the playoffs and how those unforgettable moments came together.

How did you decide on Chris DiGangi and Jon Alexis Jr. for your team this year?

JL: Jon was my teammate last year (on Team Ninja Warrior) and he is the reason essentially that I started American Ninja Warrior. He asked me to come help him with his submission video, convinced me to start mine. Right away he asked me to go to an event in Maryland with him and I’d never done anything like that before. So I was like, “Sure, I’ll go with you.” That’s kind of how my whole journey started. That adventure and him convincing me to start my application video.

We’ve kind of been together since the beginning and he did awesome last year and I wanted to keep as similar a team as I could.

Then, obviously, Chris is my boyfriend. He is awesome. I train with him the most. I feel like we both know each other’s skills really well, each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I just knew it would be a good fit with the fact that we’re so close. Why wouldn’t I want him on my team, you know?

What did you think of all the changes Ninja vs Ninja made this season?

JL: I loved the new rules. It definitely helped the team. Overall, you had to have a really well-rounded team. Every single run mattered. If it came down to a tie, it went to a relay. Which meant that your whole team had to defeat the other team for the relay and not just your captain. I really liked it a lot better. I thought it worked so much better and it was even and it was fair.

So you swept team Tarzan and Dark Horse in the qualifying round. Were you confident in all those heats?

JL: If you ask Jon, yes. Jon was always confident. Chris and I were trying to be realistic. With how last year went for me, I was never going into anything overly confident. I was just trying to take it one race at a time. Every time we would win, I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe that just happened.” I don’t think Chris and I were as confident as Jon was. Jon helped us through that. My short answer is no, I wasn’t confident.

We just didn’t know what to expect. It was our first couple of races. We were just trying to see how it was going to go.

You faced Frostbite first in the playoffs round. What were your thoughts on that team?

JL: We LOVE Nick, Zhanique, and Jackson. They are super fun. Nick is the sweetest guy. Chris and Nick are super close. We were actually super excited to go up against them. Other than the fact that whoever was out didn’t get to come back. That was the crappy part. We were really excited to go up against them since we’re so close and they’re so fun. We knew it was going to be a fun race.

Then you had to take on a serious battle with Team Wolfpack. In your race with Jeri, she pushed you all the way down the course. Did you realize you were going to be the first woman to complete the extended course?

JL: I was hoping! We had a pact that we were going push each other to the end and get blue buzzers. So that’s what I was planning on doing. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. But I was rooting for Jeri as much as I wanted to get to that blue buzzer.

Tell us about making the decision to have you take the last leg of the tie-breaker relay. That was also a first for the competition.

JL: So for the third obstacle and the fifth obstacle, we had decided that Chris was the best at the fifth obstacle. The fact that Jon is so long, we decided that he could get through those Pipes really fast. So we figured maybe that could get us a lead. Maybe Jon and Chris could get me a lead and I could hold it off. We really weren’t sure how it was going to work. I hadn’t had to do the back half for real speed yet.

It was kind of our last-ditch hope of, “We either win this and we’re moving on. Or we lose this and we’re out.”

I was standing there with the guys. I was like “You sure you’re not going to be mad at me if I don’t make this?” They were both like, “Jesse, you can do this. Just try. We’re here to support you no matter what.”

Then Nick Hanson was actually standing behind them saying, “Just DO IT! Just DO IT!” So I was like, “Okay, this is our last hope. And I think this is the best situation for us lining up on the course. So we’ll see what happens.”

What were your thoughts when you realized that placed you against Ian Dory?

JL: I knew that’s what I was signing up for when I said yes to this. I was kind of like “Okay... well. Let’s see what happens!” I was joking around with Ian at the top of the Warped Wall. I was like “This is for fun, right? This is fun? Doing this kind of stuff is fun?” He was like, “Yes! It’s fun! It’s fun!”

I definitely use humor or silliness to settle my nerves. But I was joking around with Ian saying how this wasn’t fun anymore. It was definitely very scary being up against Ian.

How did it feel when you realized that you beat him?

JL: I think I was so excited that our team got to move on to Finals that I wasn’t necessarily thinking about how I beat Ian. I was looking forward to what we’d have to do the next day. How our team was moving on and how the guys did such an awesome job giving me a lead and making it so I was able to finish and win for the team.

Jesse, Chris, and Jon will return to the Ninja vs Ninja course in just a couple of weeks as they’re now through to the finals!