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Drew Drechsel: ‘It doesn’t even matter what obstacle they throw at me’

He didn’t hit the buzzer in City Finals, but he’s still planning on taking home the million bucks.

For American Ninja Warrior Drew Drechsel, things are going pretty darn well off the course. His business, Real Life Ninja Academy, is looking at opening a third location in Connecticut and another location in New York. There’s even talks of a Florida location.

Things aren’t too shabby on the course either. Drew completed the season 10 Miami Qualifiers course with the fastest time. When it came time for the City Finals, Drew was looking to hit his sixth buzzer on an extended course. Out of his past seven seasons on the show, he’s collected the City Finals finisher’s badge four times.

This Miami City Finals course was a tricky thing though. Many Ninjas fell on just the second obstacle, the Cannonball Drop. On the back half, Drew had to face both the new Crazy Clocks and the return of the Stair Hopper to get back to the buzzer. In the end, Drew slipped off the Stair Hopper, keeping him away from the final climb. However, the run left Drew in the fourth position overall for the night, meaning his hunt for the million dollars in Vegas was still on, and he quickly shook off the disappointment of his fall.

We caught up with Drew throughout our time in Miami to pester him with questions on his experience and how he stays ready for competition.

On the Miami Qualifiers

“I felt pretty calm stepping on the course. I was a little nervous about the Qualifying course here. I was pushing for time, the 18 foot wall was in my head. There’s a little more pressure on the Qualifying night then is for Finals.

I felt good and calm once I started running, but leading up to that point, waiting in line, waiting and seeing rain come and go, I was starting to get a little nervous.

I remember at one point on the Ring Turn, I was turning around and doing weird things. I was fully in control the whole time, and I kept moving, I knew where I was, but I was doing weird turns I hadn’t planned on. Any thing that doesn’t go according to plan, or exactly the way I want, I start getting a little nervous. But things worked out fine. I got through it pretty efficiently.

(On the Slippery Summit,) I think it was an error on my part to not go switch-grip. Going down, especially backwards, I started feeling the jolt kind of peeling my hands out. So I had to actually actively grip and squeeze the bar, as opposed to just hanging on it, engaging my grip and letting it hang there. I had to start squeezing and forcing my wrists to not snap back and peel off. I think running the Finals, I’m going to go switch grip, but definitely backwards. It’s a long course and I think you’re going to start feeling pumped after the Salmon Ladder. You have to do everything you can to conserve as much energy as possible.

I got to the Mega Wall and I felt good looking at it. It had just started raining as I was coming down on the fifth obstacle. By the time I got to the front of the 18 foot wall, I was sizing it up. The team was trying to wipe it down and keep it dry. I tried drying my shoes. I got my hands over, but as soon as I grabbed the top of that, it was just wet and I just popped right off of it. I had enough in my hand to actually hold on, but not if it was wet. I definitely think my grip was a little bit more worn from the previous obstacles where I couldn’t just hold on even if it was wet. A combination of everything. Things didn’t work out as planned.”

Heading into City Finals

“I’m definitely more calm. I just need to keep a low heart rate. There’s no reason to push myself. There’s no 18 foot wall. This is all about conserving that energy and keeping the heart rate low. I’m going to go out there and take it one at a time. I’ve got a plan into every obstacle and I’ll just get there, take a couple breaths, shake it out, and knock it out one at a time until I get to the top.”

What gets him nervous

“Anything where I have to rely on the obstacle itself. For example, a pipe slider where the obstacle is moving around on something, so you have to control something else. Stair Hopper, anything where you have to make a very committed move. Where, if you make a mistake, you’re falling. Salmon Ladder is a good example. If you make mistake on the Salmon Ladder, you’re falling in the water. There’s no chance to save that.

You kind of have to put it behind you. If you worry too much about something, you’re going to fall on it. You can’t over think it, you can’t over estimate an obstacle. It’s okay to be worried, be conscious that you’re worried about it, but don’t let it affect your performance.”

Staying physically and mentally prepared

“My mental game is so strong. Falling from something I know I can do. Having to get back up and evaluate myself and learn about myself, my mental game has really progressed. How to overcome obstacles throughout life not just physically, but mentally as well.

I have to constantly train physically because I need to work on my endurance, I need to get ready for Stage Three, I need to be ready for that rope climb. So physically I’m always training to get stronger and better. But you can only do so much in a day. When it comes down to the mental aspect, you can really conserve a lot of energy, and save a lot of energy, by thinking about how you want to move when you get up there. What’s the easiest way? What’s the most efficient way to do it. Even just scoping out the course here, I’m always thinking about what I want to do. How quickly could I get through it? How efficiently can I get through it? Where can I save energy? What obstacles do I have to use my biceps on, and what obstacles do I not? Even the playing field when it comes to my muscle groups so that even if I’m not strong enough to do something with all of my strength, I can be smart enough to get through it and conserve as much energy as possible.”

Looking ahead to Vegas

“I know that I’m strong enough to go the whole way. It doesn’t even matter what obstacle they throw at me. Physically, I’m strong enough to do any of the obstacles. Whether I am able to maintain my mental composure so I don’t make any mistakes, I don’t freak out and grab the wrong thing, just making sure that everything comes together. That’s the hard part. But we’ll see that year after year. Very serious athletes who have the ability to go all the way, they just never see their full potential.

You can’t let other people’s performance affect the way you’re going to perform. I know it’s there. I’m aware of it. But at the same time, you can’t let it affect you.”

Is Drew going all the way this season? We’ll find out when he attacks Stage One during the National Finals which start on August 27.