clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Indianapolis Qualifiers recap: High energy and high pressure

We all watched intently as some big names returned to the course.

Michael Hickey/NBC

American Ninja Warrior returned to Indianapolis’ Monument Circle for the fourth installment of this season’s Qualifiers! It was the show’s second visit to the city. We love the location because the Circle allows the crowd, not just the audience with tickets to push right up to the fences. It brings an energy that can’t be denied.

There was certainly energy the night of the Qualifiers. Ninja like Jesse Labreck, Travis Rosen, Tyler Yamauchi, and the inspiring Jimmy Choi were slated to return. But the most chatter of the night centered around Isaac Caldiero. The previous winner of the $1 million prize was stepping back up to the starting line.

By the numbers

  • Course completions: 10
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, the Spin Hopper: 10
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Block Run: 6
  • Ninjas who completed the Mega Wall: 0

The course:

  • Floating Steps
  • Cannonball Drop
  • Wheel Flip
  • Block Run
  • Spin Hopper
  • Warped Wall

Quick highlights:

  • Pizza delivery man Derrick Pavoni started off the night. He brought pizza for the crowd and decided to have a slice himself RIGHT before starting the course. He was still chewing as he slid down the second obstacle, Cannonball Drop. Hopefully, it wasn’t what distracted him from sticking the landing, as he fell backwards into the water.
  • Two years ago, Bill Westrick tore his ACL. It needed to be rebuilt using donor tissue from a cadaver. After the successful procedure, Bill wrote a letter to the agency that had found him the tissue, thanking the source for his ability to run and Ninja. He got a letter back from Amber, the wife of Dennis. Dennis passed away in 2014 and was Bill’s tissue donor. While Bill and Amber shared an incredible bond, they had never met in person until the Ninja Warrior set. Amber came to cheer Bill on. Bill was wearing a shirt with Dennis’ picture on it. While Bill was the first to pass the new Wheel Flip, his emotional run ended on Block Run.
  • Chris Howard was one of the season’s younger competitors, but his run was brief, ending on the Floating Steps.
  • Kendall Coyne was part of the gold winning US Olympic hockey team. She ended up falling on Cannonball Run.
  • Jody Avila was dubbed the “Big Dog Ninja” by Akbar in season nine. At 6’6”, it’s easy to see why. Jody made it to Stage Two of the National Finals last season, but in Indy, Block Run closed things out on him.
  • Nicole Martinez is an elementary school P.E. teacher. In her previous two seasons (season seven and nine) she’s fallen on just the second obstacle. She broke that trend when she survived Cannonball Drop. Then she was through the Wheel Flip. Then, Block Run! She made it to the new obstacle, the Spin Hopper, which looked downright terrifying. She went out on the second “pill”, but the great run put her in the top 30 of the night!
  • Brandon Mears is one half of the Towers of Power along with Dan Polizzi. He’s a firefighter and new dad to son Ashton. Ashton has been a welcome addition to Brandon and Dan’s bro time and training sessions. Brandon fell early in the Kansas City Finals of season nine and he and Dan have never made the National Finals together. That was their goal this season, but Brandon fell on Block Run. For the second season in a row, a balance obstacle took him out.
  • Kevin Libertowski is a YouTube sensation with his basketball trick shots. He landed an unreal throw from the course after a flip. But the run wasn’t exactly a slam dunk. He fell at the Cannonball Drop.
  • Kyle Schulze was so close to defeating the Spin Hopper. On the descent he took a firm hit to the head on one of the handles and fell into the water.
  • Kyle Stradtman introduced himself as the dog walking Ninja. After struggling with alcoholism for years, Kyle found his dog, Blazzo. He credits his dog with saving his life. Now sober for four years with a wife and baby, he walks dogs for a living.

Blazzo watched from the sides with Kyle’s family. He barked encouragement while Kyle survived the Cannonball Drop. Kyle was a confident rookie on the course. After fighting through the Wheel Flip, he yelled down to Blazzo, who was anxiously looking on. Kyle made it to the Spin Hopper, which hadn’t been defeated yet. Using small kips, he climbed the obstacle and navigated the middle pipe. Using the same technique on the way down, Kyle became the first Ninja to reach the Warped Wall! He shot up the 14’6” wall in one go, hit the buzzer, and climbed back down to hug his dog and his family.

  • Jeri D’Aurelio put together a great run and made it to the Spin Hopper, placing her in the top 30.
  • Tommy Daly waited 14 days in the walk-on line so he could run the course in a panda suit. It wasn’t the WORST idea, because he did at least make it to the Wheel Flip and gave us all a laugh.
  • Mike Wright made quite an impression as he ran the course in a speedo. The former All American diver and diving coach made it to the Spin Hopper.
  • This was Josh Butler’s second season and his family’s touching story has a new chapter. Last year, we were introduced to Josh and his wife Katie’s son, Braxtel. They adopted Braxtel after their own child passed away. Braxtel had health issues that the family contended with, but they knew they wanted to help more children and grow their family. This season, Braxtel is off his breathing machine and is able to walk and run around. He also has three older siblings. The Butler’s adopted a girl and two boys who needed a home.

Everyone was on the sidelines for dad’s run. Josh was moving at a good pace, but the balance obstacle Block Run ended his season.

  • Eric Sheppard was a walk on who pushed himself all the way to the Spin Hopper.
  • Travis Rosen joined the American Ninja Warrior family in season two. His own family has grown up seeing dad on the course. In that time, he’s never failed to make it to the National Finals. He had a smooth run through Cannonball Drop and an easy trip through the Wheel Flip. At the Spin Hopper, he carefully kept his balance with a wide hand placement. He slowly worked his way down and landed the dismount! He went for the Mega Wall first, but he wouldn’t snag the $10k. There was still a buzzer for him at the top of the Warped Wall.
  • Tyler Yamauchi is known as the muscle ball and the name fits him well. He zipped through the Wheel Flip and Block Run barely moved for him. He was flying through the Spin Hopper when he was suddenly out on the last handle.
  • James Wilson met his fiancè Caitlin while working out at the gym together. In January of 2015, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and her symptoms advanced quickly. But James and Caitlin are a team who work through it all together.

This was James’ fifth time competing and he had yet to pass the fourth obstacles. His sprint across Block Run put an end to that. He fell on the Spin Hopper and will return for the City Finals.

  • Meghan Anten spent a whopping 34 days in the walk on line. She fell at the Wheel Flip but still advanced into the women’s top five.
  • Brian Arnold is one of the Ninja Warrior greats. Surprisingly, he didn’t get a buzzer on this course, but falling on the Spin Hopper still moved him to the City Finals.
  • Chris DiGangi had a fantastic run that saw him at the buzzer on the Warped Wall with the fastest time to that point.
  • IndyCar Driver Scott Dixon might be a racing champion, but he still had his sights set on Ninja glory. Ironically, it was the Wheel Flip that shook out his grip.
  • Ethan Swanson had the whole crowd “swanning” with him. He had a blazing fast pace until he fell on the Spin Hopper.
  • Madelynn McNeal moved into the City Finals with her run to the Spin Hopper.
  • Dan Polizzi, the other half of the Towers of Power, made it past Block Run. He also dominated the Spin Hopper and ran for the Mega Wall. He was SO close to getting it, too. He grabbed the edge and managed to hold it for a second before tumbling back down. Hitting the Warped Wall buzzer gave him the new fastest completion time.
  • But then came along Michael Bougher. The 22 year-old member of the Army National Guard was unstoppable out there. He took a close shot at the Mega Wall as well, barely missing it. When he hit the buzzer, his time just edged out Dan’s. His time was 2:29:54. Dan’s was 2:29.70.
  • Next up was Jimmy Choi. He has Parkinson’s disease and he used his run in season nine to raise awareness for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. His run inspired Akbar, who’s father also has Parkinson’s, to join the cause. This season, you could see Jimmy’s tremors as he stood at the starting line. You could see it again as he gripped the Cannonball Drop, but he held tight. He missed one hand placement at the end of the Wheel Flip and fell into the water. The audience greeted him with a standing ovation.
  • Ashley Jones was super smiley during her trip to the Wheel Flip.
  • Brad Spine snagged his first course completion.
  • Wesley Owens Jr. had a grand mohawk that got soggy on the Wheel Flip.
  • Phillip Hucke has one of the most colorful beards around. He was close to falling on Block Run. It took him three attempts to get up the Warped Wall, but he hit the buzzer.
  • Rigel Henry gave the Mega Wall a try, but had to be content with the 14’6” wall.
  • The crowd was riled up to see Jesse Labreck back on the course. Her goal is to make it to Stage Two of the National Finals this season. She looks ready to us. She whipped through the Wheel Flip and had a perfect trip across Block Run. We admit to holding our breath while she crossed the Spin Hopper. She gently lowered herself down the back half of the obstacle and moved to the base of the walls. The crowd exploded as she stepped to the Mega Wall, becoming the first woman to step up to the obstacle. She didn’t get it, but she did complete the course and broke into the top 30.
  • The last run of the night was the return of Isaac Caldiero. Since he took home a million bucks in 2015, he’s bought a truck and house. He watched the Ninjas over the past few seasons and was surprised no one won the grand prize. So he’s back with the intention of doing it again.

He looked calm on the course, and his demeanor through the first few obstacles was as casual as his outfit. He took a moment to organize his thoughts before crossing Block Run. He broke into a smile as he started the descent on the Spin Hopper. Then he was back at the sixth obstacle. Would he be able to add another $10k to his winnings? He wasn’t, but he took down the Warped Wall and will be back for the City Finals.

  • There were 10 finishers in all.
  • For the first time this season, the Mega Wall was undefeated.

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

Heart-pounding moment:

Was anyone else mentally willing Jesse Labreck to the finish line? This is Jesse’s third season on American Ninja Warrior and we feel like she’s on the verge of even more greatness than she’s already achieved. But the Spin Hopper looked like such a difficult, unpredictable obstacle that it was anyone’s guess who would survive it. We could barely breath or blink watching her navigate it. It was a relief to see her safely on the landing pad and brought us the chance to see her try the Mega Wall. She didn’t get it, but it was further proof that Jesse is a gutsy, ambitious Ninja who’s ready for more.

Heart-breaking moment:

We really felt Brandon Mears’ disappointment in his early exit. Last season, he fell on the Broken Pipes in the Kansas City Finals, and it was a balance obstacle again that took him out this year. His frustration was palpable as he climbed out of the pool and talked with Kristine Leahy. We hope he puts the setback behind him, focuses on his beautiful family and comes back next season!

Shout out of the night:

If there’s a Ninja who refuses to back down, it’s Jimmy Choi. Parkinson’s disease is something that very much effects his Ninja Warrior training and experience. His tremors are visible on the course. We imagine that must feel incredibly frustrating at points. But Jimmy doesn’t seem to let that show or slow him down. He wasn’t anywhere near done after his debut in season nine. He went back, trained more, raised even more money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and came back ready for another round. That’s the Ninja Warrior spirit.

Next week:

It’s time for American Ninja Warrior to move on to Philadelphia! The Philly Qualifiers will air on Monday, June 25. Remember last time the show stopped here? The course was incredibly difficult, introducing Rolling Thunder. Is another infamous Ninja Killer in store?