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Najee Richardson talks leg cramps, the Mega Wall, and where he’s heading this season

The Flying Phoenix was just as worried as we were.

Najee Richardson has become an American Ninja Warrior who needs no introduction. The Flying Phoenix was one of only three Ninjas to make it to Stage Three in season nine. His massive lachés and ability to over reach on the Warped Wall have secured his nickname. The notoriety has brought Najee the opportunity to work with multiple charities, as well as added pressure to his performance.

Najee gave us all a good scare on the season 10 Philadelphia Qualifiers course. He was visibly uncomfortable as his legs cramped up as soon as he started the first obstacle. But somehow, he managed to keep that from hindering his performance. He even managed to toppled the Mega Wall for $10k.

The Phoenix gave us some insight on what was happening for him during that run and where he’s heading this season.

Preparing for season 10

“This year it’s more mental than it is physical. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with popularity and the sport. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with competing in front of your home crowd. You want to perform. You want to do your best. You want to represent. I think more for me this year, it’s more staying level-headed and remembering why I do this.

Remembering that I got into this because it was fun. I felt like I was playing around on a playground, not because I felt like my career depended on it. So for me it’s been more about mental preparation in that format. Then I’m still training just as hard as I ever have. I’m really taking a step back and remembering to just remind myself over and over again that you do this because you have a skill for this. You have an eye for this. You’re doing this because it helps get you out of bed in the morning. This is what brought you from the dead when gymnastics ended. When I do that, I’m able to enjoy it a lot more.”

What was going on with his legs

“I actually have a really hard time staying hydrated. I always get a little too in my head and I’m just focused on keeping my head on the goal at hand. I forgot to drink water and I warmed up for about two hours. An intense warm up. So when I got up to the platform, I rested for a good 15 minutes and when I stood up, my legs just started cramping on me. I just thought to myself, ‘Why is this happening right now? Why is this happening now?’ I got one of my Ninja friends to give me a quick calf massage. It helped a little bit, but I was definitely panicking a little bit when I stepped up to the platform.”

Step by step through the Qualifying course

“I definitely was worried throughout the entire course. I stepped up and the second that I hit the first quad step my leg instantly seized up and I was like, ‘This is not going to be good.’ Luckily, this obstacle course was very laché based. I knew that if I could get off of the steps and I could get off of the balance obstacle, then I would be okay. But I was definitely panicking for the steps. Once I got off the steps I was like, ‘Okay, that’s one down. Now I just need to make it past the balance obstacle.’ And I was really, really worried about that. So once I got past the balance obstacle I knew I was going to be okay.

I always knew I was going for the Mega Wall. It was bitter sweet because I knew I could get it, but I didn’t know if my cramps were going to hold me back. I got there and I wasn’t too excited about it because I didn’t actually expect to get it. Once I grabbed that lip, it was like a beast awoke in me. It was awesome, it was such a cool feeling.”

What’s next

“Every year I strive to go farther. I haven’t hit a City Finals buzzer yet. I am very, very, very determined to get back on Stage Three. I’ve got some choice words for the Cliff Hanger this year.”

What this means to him

“I met a family when I was working with Support Center for Child Advocates. They were in North Philadelphia, in my backyard. These kids, they were so cool. They were three siblings with such different personalities. But this one kid in particular just reminded me of myself. It was like looking in the mirror seeing this kid. He was having trouble in school. Bullying was a problem. He wasn’t really able to find his stride. And he was so young. He was maybe nine or 10 years old. I sat and had a conversation with him. Just talked to him a little bit about my story growing up. He was like, ‘Yeah! I know you were a gymnast. So I started gymnastics at my elementary school because of you.’ That’s crazy! The fact that I’m able to make a difference. Kids are looking at me on TV and thinking, ‘Oh he did that. Maybe I can do it too and be successful.’ That means the world to me.”