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Miami Qualifiers recap: Heroes rise on the Ninja course

This episode ran the gamut of emotions from elation to heart-ache.

This article was published prior to Drew Drechsel’s arrest. NBC and American Ninja Warrior have since cut ties with him.

American Ninja Warrior stopped off in Miami this week, and the Ninjas turned things up a few degrees. The show was last in the city during season six and it made a triumphant return. Veteran stars like Drew Drechsel, Jessie Graff, and Ryan Stratis returned. A true hero would step on the course, and there was an unforeseen fall in the near future.

Let’s get into this!

By the numbers

  • Course completions: 11
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, the Slippery Summit: 10
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, the Fly Wheels: 6
  • Ninjas who completed the Mega Wall: 1

The course:

  • Floating Steps
  • Fly Wheels
  • Razor’s Edge
  • Ring Turn
  • Slippery Summit
  • Warped Wall

Slippery Summit, a new obstacle on this course, was designed by 12-year-old fan Ciaran Gault. He submitted the idea through our Obstacle Design Challenge.

Quick Highlights:

  • The night began with the return of the charismatic Bootie Cothran. At 49-years-old and 106 pounds, his physique doesn’t scream muscle mass, but he’s got the Bootie Bandwagon to prove that assumption wrong. (That’s what his legion of fans are called.)

Bootie has been trying to pass the fifth obstacle for the past few seasons and he was locked in on the Miami course. He slipped through the air on the course. He showed us the new Ring Turn. He showed us the new Slippery Summit. He showed us our first course completion. It was the first time we can think of that the show opened with a buzzer.

  • B.J. Robinson had his 103 year-old grandma on FaceTime for his run. He made a great save on Razor’s Edge, but things ended at the Ring Turn.
  • Andy Johnson fell on the balance trap, Razor’s Edge.
  • Halei Jo Fuller struggled and fell on the Ring Turn. This wasn’t a simple new challenge.
  • Jessica Clayton is a Marine Corp veteran and single mom to three kids. Things have not been easy for them. They’ve had to move a lot for Jessica to find work. They stayed in hotels, gyms, and even their car. Jessica struggled with feeling like a failure, and considered giving up Ninja training. Her kids wouldn’t let her. They’re in a better place now, as Jessica has found a good job and they’re staying with friends. This run was to celebrate that progress.

Jessica fought to stay alive on Razor’s Edge. On Ring Turn, she used her legs to save energy. She made it all the way to the Slippery Summit. It took her a moment to find the rhythm, but then she climbed with some strong leaps. She controlled the descent as well. It wasn’t until the leap to the bottom that the jolt knocked her off.

  • Michael Johnson utilized an interesting method on the Ring Turn. He took off his shirt and tied it around his leg, hoping it would help him slide along smoothly. We’re not sure it helped him much, but he did survive the obstacle. He went out on the Slippery Summit just as he dismounted.
  • Dan Courtenay has an active, determined little daughter named Lucia who has Down Syndrome. She never lets anything hold her back. Which is why Dan didn’t give up on Ninja Warrior after four years of applying. He finally made it on the show.

With Lucia and his family looking on, Dan fell while transitioning to the third wheel of the Fly Wheels.

  • Jesse Johnson, also known as Ninjatron, went out on the Fly Wheels as well.
  • Bree Widener had a stellar debut in season nine. This season, her run ended on the Ring Turn. But talk about determination. She was on the obstacle for over two minutes trying to find a way through it.
  • Nick Patel took down the course and tried the Mega Wall. He missed the grab, but had no issues finishing the 14’6” wall.
  • Morgan “Moose” Wright is a PE teacher and dad of 2. He’s best known as the Ninja who (ahem) took the Broken Pipes to the “twinkleberries” in season nine. That, and his trademark moose hat. Morgan had a nasty fall coming off the Fly Wheels, but he was still good! His berries were safe this year on the balance obstacle. Morgan had a great technique on the Ring Turn. He opted to go reverse on the Slippery Summit. He lost his hat on the descent, but he landed the backwards dismount. He headed straight to the Warped Wall and snagged the buzzer. Matt and Akbar each donned moose hats in celebration.
  • Donell Henry, Ashley Harel, and T.J. Sigler all had creative splashes on the Fly Wheels.
  • Elie Cohen was the mandolin playing Ninja who fell on the Ring Turn.
  • Eddy Stewart is a firefighter known for his “left, right, double, double” pec flex. We got to see it one more time at the top of the Warped Wall, after a Mega Wall attempt.
  • Megan Dillard is a sixth grade math teacher from Alabama. Zeus is her shepherd mix who lost his back left leg at four months old. During the recovery process, Megan and Zeus became a therapy team. Zeus keeps Megan’s student calm during tests.

That the kind of support Megan needed on the course as well! After a trip through the Fly Wheels, she was out on Razor’s Edge.

  • Gabe Stewart’s run was the stuff that makes Ninja Warrior so special to fans. He’s a true hero for Parkland, FL. As a football and track coach and teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he was there the day of the tragic shooting. Gabe kept his students safe while risking his own life. He’s not a long-time Ninja, he just wanted to do this to show the strength of his school and lift his student’s spirits.

When JJ Woods heard that, he jumped in and started training Gabe. Gabe admitted to being nervous on the course, but the audience was flooded with his supporters. He cautiously moved his way through the Floating Steps. JJ Woods ran close along the sidelines to yell advice on the Fly Wheels. Gabe broke into a smile as he landed the transfer to the third wheel. He fell on the Razor’s Edge and yanked himself over the edge to stay on the course. The audience was exploding with excitement for him. He climbed up the first ring of Ring Turn and used his legs to help him. The fall came as he tried to transfer to the next ring, but that run was the stuff of magic. JJ pulled Gabe from the pool to share the moment with him.

And for only training for a few weeks, we think Gabe might just be a Ninja natural!

  • Ryan Stratis is one of only four Ninjas who’ve competed on all 10 seasons. He’s seen his life change with the progression of the show. On the course, he was looking like the pro he is. He did a belly slid across the Razor’s edge. He knew exactly how to approach the Ring Turn. Facing the Slippery Summit, he was slow but sure. He handled the descent and the dismount calmly. Ryan headed right to the Mega Wall.

He barely paused before he charged the ramp and he GOT IT. He kicked off his tenth season with $10,000!

  • Kevin Carbone, a rookie star in season nine, and the creator of the Wingnuts, fell while navigating the Slippery Summit.
  • Reko Rivera brought the fire to his seventh season on the show. His run ended on the Slippery Summit.
  • Charity LaBlanc became a mom at 23 years old and wanted to do something to find herself again. So she became a mermaid! The social media star has even done a Salmon Ladder in a mermaid tail. She looked powerful on the Fly Wheels, and was safe across the Razor’s Edge. When she jumped to the first ring of the Ring Turn, her second hand didn’t latch on, and she fell there.
  • Emily Durham also went out on the Ring Turn.
  • Jonathan Sharp Brown ran with his phone in his pocket! The show of confidence didn’t pay off though. Even though he was safe on the Razor’s Edge, surviving a stumble caused he phone to drop into the water. He also hit the water a bit later on the Slippery Summit.
  • Brett Sims, another long time Ninja Warrior had a bet going with Ryan Stratis. Whoever failed to complete the course had to shave their epic beard. Both saved their looks when Brett hit the buzzer.
  • Lindsay Eskildsen looked to be a little off kilter on the Razor’s Edge. She had to survive the Ring Turn to make it into the top five female competitors who would move to the City Finals. That wasn’t an issue for her. On the Slippery Summit, she was having a little trouble with the ascent. She took a big swing to try to leap forward, but the momentum actually pulled her back and off the obstacle.
  • JJ Woods had Zoey Pavon on the sidelines for the first time. The young girl has stage four cancer and JJ dedicated his runs in season nine to her as well. In a shocking moment, JJ went out on the Razor’s Edge. But the love he got from Zoey had to be the best prize of the night.
  • Nico Long and Eli Bell both competed this season due to the lower age limit. Both made it all the way to the Slippery Summit.
  • Kenny Niemitalo found a kidney donor for his young daughter through Ninja Warrior. This season, he wants to help other children find donors. He nailed the fastest course completion of the night to that point.
  • Rachael Goldstein charged to the Slippery Summit, earning the women’s fastest time to that point so far.
  • Devin Harrelson and his snazzy kicks went out on Slippery Summit.
  • Neil Craver was back after an injury that kept him out of season nine. He tried the Mega Wall, but ended up with the 14’6” buzzer.
  • Drew Drechsel, the real life Ninja, was back! He put on the headphones and focused on the task at hand. As he cruised through the course, he was well on his way to his goal of the fastest time. The Ring Turn was nothing for him. On the Slippery Summit, he opted to go backwards and made small, smart movies.

At the Mega Wall, the general feeling was if anyone could do this, Drew could. He ran up the 18 foot wall and latched his hand over the edge. But the crowd was in for a shock when he tumbled back down. He didn’t have time to mourn that thought. He flew up the Warped Wall to lock in the fastest time of the night.

  • The night closed with the return of Ninja superstar Jessie Graff. She’s spent the time between seasons working on a super top secret project that she calls her dream job. Jessie zipped through the Floating Steps. She was in perfect control on the Fly Wheels and the panels of the Razor’s Edge didn’t even move as she crossed over. The Ring Turn looked like she designed it. Again on the Slippery Summit, Jessie looked like a master. She became the first woman to beat the obstacle. Then she became the first woman of the season to hit a buzzer!
  • There were 11 finishers overall that night.

Read a full list of everyone moving on to the City Finals here.

Heart-pounding moment:

Ouf, this is a tough decision. Jessie? Drew? Ryan? So many great runs! You know what? We’re going with Bootie. In a field of legends and stars, Bootie came to remind us heart is the most important muscle. He’s never backed down from his Ninja goals. That night in Miami, we watched Bootie step up to the start line and honestly did not know what to expect. As he battled his way through each obstacle, the audience’s enthusiasm rose. When we saw that Bootie was about to make his dream come true, the joy was contagious.

Heart-breaking moment:

We’re going to say JJ Woods on this one, but then also point out that he didn’t seem too heart-broken. JJ fell early in season eight as well, and returned to the National Finals in season nine. Going down on the Razor’s Edge will prevent him from moving on this season. But, come on, that hug from Zoey? Who wasn’t moved by their loving relationship? JJ is going to be just fine with Zoey to inspire him.

Shout out of the night:

We’ve got to go back to Gabe Stewart. When we spoke with him in Miami before his run, he was very open about the fact that he was nervous. He knew he hadn’t trained as much as the other competitors. He didn’t want to let anyone down.

Let’s put this into perspective. The Miami Qualifiers taped on April 13. That’s just two months after that awful day in Parkland. The pain the MSD community was feeling was still brand new.

Gabe could have fallen on the first Floating Step and he still would have moved us all, but what happened instead was like something out of a movie. He did GREAT. He didn’t let his nerves become an additional burden and he took each obstacle individually. With his friends and students absolutely bursting with pride on the sidelines, Gabe made it to the fourth obstacle. He showed us all what a real hero looks like.

Next week:

American Ninja Warrior moves to Mondays next week with a new time! The Indianapolis Qualifiers will air on June 18 at 9/8c. After two seasons away from the show, the American Ninja Warrior champion, Isaac Caldiero, makes his return. Can he keep up with the new generation of Ninjas?