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Jessie Graff shares why she almost didn’t get to compete in Miami

Her dream job means she needs to take extra care of herself.

John Parra/NBC

We feel like it’s a bit redundant at this point to intro a Jessie Graff interview, but juuuust in case you’re new here, let’s do it. (Deep breath.)

Jessie Graff is an American Ninja Warrior competitor with a stack of accomplishments to her name. She was the first woman to qualify for the City Finals (season five). She placed second overall at the season eight Los Angeles Qualifiers. At the National Finals that same year, she was the first woman to beat Stage One. She also beat Stage Two in USA vs the World. In season nine, she came in fourth overall at the Daytona City Finals and returned to the National Finals once again.

Yeah. She’s done a lot.

She made her season 10 debut in Miami. The course only had 11 clears in total and one of them was Jessie. She’s now the first woman of the season to hit the buzzer. What makes that even more impressive is that this isn’t Jessie’s day job.

She’s a professional stunt woman who has career goals. She’s spent the past year traveling like mad on a film so top secret she can’t drop any hints. We walked to her just hours before her Miami Qualifying run to touch base on how things have changed for her and how she almost wasn’t able to compete.

John Parra/NBC

Responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.

Have you made any changes to your training since last season?

JG: Yes! Everything is different. I’m now doing martial arts and stunt fight training eight hours a day and then trying to squeeze in as much Ninja stuff as I can. It would be really unprofessional if I showed up for work the next day exhausted from extra training. So I’m trying to find that balance. But work has to be the priority right now.

We’ll see if it’s enough!

What are your thoughts on the new Mega Wall?

JG: Well it makes the wall that I’m going to do look a lot smaller. Personally, it’s not great for me. But I love that they’re testing limits for other people. There are people who can do that. I think it’s important for the world to see that we all thought this 14’6” wall was pretty big, and it‘s like, no, people can do 18 feet. People can do 19 feet. Seeing how you keep raising the bar.

So you‘re not going to try for the 18 footer?

JG: I am not. I have sworn to be as careful as possible. I got clearance to compete this morning. I was really anxious last night, getting all the obstacles approved by my boss. I will be taking absolute minimal risks. If an obstacle looked dangerous to me, I would have not been able to compete. So I‘m playing everything safe. As boring as that sounds, it‘s still pretty exciting to me!

This is your second season competing in Florida alongside your mom! What‘s that mean to you?

In season nine, Jessie and her mom, Ginny, competed in Daytona. Ginny had an early exit on the first obstacle.

JG: She has so much pressure on her. It‘s all self imposed. Everyone here is so supportive. We just want to see everyone have fun and grow stronger, but when you‘re up there, it feels like the pressure is so high. She feels that immensely, especially after last year. I‘ve really enjoyed our Facebook messaging back and forth about exact measurements and angles and diagrams. There have been at least seven diagrams. And then constructions and then videos. Then corrections and revisions. Another video. It‘s kind of hilarious. She‘s been practicing jumping distances on the hotel bed in the room all morning.

I think she is way more prepared than last year. I think she‘s way stronger. It‘s all about the mental preparation. If she can stay calm. I am so ridiculously proud of her and just the strength she’s gained regardless of how anything goes. But I want success for her so badly because she wants it so badly.

What are your expectations for yourself this season?

JG: It’s so hard to say. I’ve been having trouble with my pull-ups. Because, again, I can only get to my upper body workouts after nine hour work days of very high physical exertion where I can barely move at the end. I just figured out that the reason I’ve been totally pumping out on like half the number of pull-ups I can usually do, is partially because the fight choreography has me getting smashed in the forearm all day. It’s like, “Oh, so it’s not just that I’m weak, it’s that my muscles are extremely bruised.“ So I‘m hoping that having had a couple days off from fight choreography, that I might be a little stronger. I‘m not feeling confident about my strength. But I‘m hoping I can make up for it in technique, so I‘ll be studying really hard. I may surprise myself.

Can you tell us about an experience with a fan that inspired you?

JG: All of them? (Laughs) I feel bad choosing! I feel bad letting any of the amazing stories feel like they’re not the most amazing. Today, I had someone tell me that they were in a huge depression and that I saved their life. You can’t beat that. They said they were going through a really hard time with depression and couldn’t get out of bed and that through watching Ninja Warrior and watching my runs, got started in parkour and Ninja training and is testing the course now. I can’t believe that I have that kind of impact on someone. I’m so lucky to be here.

This little girl sent me a message on Instagram and said, “I love doing gymnastics and swimming, but my friends told me it wasn’t cool to have muscles, so I stopped doing those things. But now that I’ve watched you, I think muscles are cool and I’m doing everything again.” That’s the most heart warming thing ever. To know that a kid was on the verge of losing their confidence and feeling like they couldn’t do what they love because of how it made them look and now she has that freedom and confidence to do what she loves doing.

John Parra/NBC