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Minneapolis Qualifiers recap: A moving night of meaningful runs

Triumphs on and off the course.

Adam Bettcher/NBC

American Ninja Warrior returned from its short hiatus with the Minneapolis Qualifiers, and, oh goodness, it was an emotional one. Seriously, the feelings started flowing early in the episode and they didn’t let up. Minneapolis was the last city on the season 10 tour. That means that after this episode, we circle back to Los Angeles to kick off the City Finals.

But before that happens, Ninjas like Joe Moravsky, Jake Murray, Lance Pekus, Meagan Martin, Sara Heesen, and Sarah Schoback all wanted their shot at advancing.

Let’s jump in!

By the numbers

  • Course completions: 14
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Double Twister: 7
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Ring Jump: 12
  • Ninjas who completed the Mega Wall: 0

The course:

  • Floating Steps
  • Double Twister
  • Ring Jump
  • Diamond Dash
  • Battering Ram
  • Warped Wall

Quick Highlights:

  • Dr. Cody Sessions started the course with a cut on his head that he told us was from a training accident. He added to that collection after a nasty smack from the Ring Jump. He almost had the landing, but his foot ended up in the water.
  • Isaac Mitchell is best friends with Rachel Hunter. The two make an unconventional, but very fun pair. Rachel wasn’t able to travel, so she watched Isaac on FaceTime. He had a bit of trouble getting off the Floating Steps and wasn’t able to gain any control on the Double Twister, where he fell.
  • Corey Belin was out on Ring Jump.
  • Claire Pearson fell from the Double Twister after struggling with it for almost a minute.
  • Kojo Hilaire went out on the balance obstacle, Diamond Dash.
  • Jenn Roder is best friends with fellow Ninja Sarah Schoback. They’ve been through a lot together recently. In January 2017, Jenn was diagnosed with a thyroid cancer. The night before her surgery, Sarah told Jenn to make it up the 15 foot Warped Wall at her gym. It was a symbol to both of the dedication to overcoming all obstacles. Jenn got the wall. She’s also cancer free today.

On the course, Jenn savored every step. She was bursting with emotion after the Floating Steps. She was spinning around on the Double Twister but managed to make it through. Jenn shouted, “Is this real life?” as she took in her accomplishment. She fell on the Ring Jump, and Sarah leaped to her side for a hug that represented so much of their friendship.

  • Eric Middleton was a returning competitor and Entomology student who believes insects are a great source of food. He put QUITE the bet on the line. If he made it to the buzzer, Matt and Akbar had to eat a fried tarantula. It had to be the first time the hosts secretly hoped a Ninja would fall.

But the guys wouldn’t be so lucky. Eric zipped through the course in less than three minutes. As he hit the buzzer at the top of the 14’6” wall, Matt and Akbar kept the bargain and took a big bite of bug.

  • Charlotte Eccles took a dive off the Double Twister.
  • Dan Yager is generally a safe bet for the City Finals. He’s a strong rock climber, which is why it was so surprising to see him fall on the Ring Jump.
  • Jelani Allen made it all the way to the Battering Ram, snagging his second trip to the City Finals.
  • Followers of this site are already familiar with Austin Gray. Earlier this year, he donated a kidney to Kaylee Adams. They two have been friends since fourth grade. Kaylee has Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, which causes her kidneys to scar over and not filter blood. The previous transplant she received in high school was failing and Austin went through the process to become her new donor. The surgery took place in early February and Austin never for a second considered skipping season 10 of Ninja Warrior.

Kaylee was on the sidelines for Austin’s run and he looked to be at 100%. For his rookie debut, he charged through the course, winding up at the Mega Wall. He gave it a shot, but came up short. His adrenaline might have depleted a bit, as Austin then missed his one shot at the 14’6” wall, but he’s still back for the City Finals.

  • James Gomez fell on the Diamond Dash, as did Danny Bergstrom and Roo Yori.
  • Steve Mascaro brought homemade robots to cheer him on. He fell on the Double Twister.
  • Sarah Schoback, a Ninja veteran and gym owner in the Minneapolis area, fell on the Ring Jump.
  • Dan Delano claimed the title of Bowling Ninja, and solidified his place on the course as he completed the Warped Wall.
  • For Maggi Thorne’s third season on the show, the sidelines were bursting with support for her. Maggi was stuck on the Double Twister for a time, but she made it through. On the Ring Swing, she smartly wrapped her arms to give her hands a break. She was working on the descent and close to completing the obstacle when she peeled off.
  • Gavin MacCall is dad of little Ninja Lylah, who’s famous from her viral backyard course videos and a recent appearance on Little Big Shots. Now Gavin wants to be a Ninja too! He made it to the Double Twister, but we’re sure his coach can offer him some new tactics before next time.
  • Larissa Cottle, Tavares Chambliss, and Sara Heesen all fell on the Ring Jump.
  • Lance Pekus, the Cowboy Ninja, shared with us last season that his wife Heather has Multiple Sclerosis. During season nine, Heather wasn’t well enough to travel to Ninja Warrior, which is why it was so special to have her back on the sidelines this year.

Lance was in for a pretty smooth ride on the course. He worked like a machine on the Ring Jump. He removed his hat on the Battering Ram, which seemed like a smart move. Lance went for the Mega Wall, but didn’t get the $10k. He popped up the Warped Wall to lock in his spot in the City Finals.

  • Christina Gambino fell on the Ring Jump.
  • Jaysen Saly went all the way to the Battering Ram despite an early wardrobe malfunction.
  • Jon Alexis Jr. fell on the Diamond Dash, which was precariously early. However, his time to the obstacle just nudged him into the top 30.
  • Abby Clark is a special education teacher with a gymnastics and track background. This was her second season on American Ninja Warrior. She went out on the Ring Jump in Cleveland during season nine. She’d have to defeat that nemesis if she wanted to go farther this year.

It’s clear Abby didn’t forget the Ring Jump. She was text book in her strategy this year and landed the dismount. On the Diamond Dash, she took a body dive to slide to the landing pad. Abby then dominated the Battering Ram and faced the Warped Wall. She decided not to try the Mega Wall. She made the right choice since she needed all three attempts on the 14’6” wall. But Abby hit the buzzer and entered the realm of the women who’ve toppled the Warped Wall!

  • Enedina Stanger has been watching her husband Michael compete for the last three seasons. Enedina has Ehlers-Danlos syndrom and when we first met her, she was in a wheelchair. Last season, she stood on the sidelines for her husband. This season, Enedina wanted the course for herself.

They’ve been focused on treatments for Enedina that include nutrition and exercise. She told Michael that her workouts would either, “heal me or kill me.” Now, she stood at the starting line with her overjoyed family watching from the sidelines. Enedina didn’t move past the Floating Steps, but every transfer she landed was a triumph. When she climbed out of the water, she was leaping with joy over what she’d accomplished.

  • Craig Stowell’s run ended on the Double Twister.
  • Jennifer Tavernier took some hard hits on the Floating Steps and Double Twister. But she survived the jolts until she fell on the Ring Jump.
  • Ian Dory has completed every Qualifying Course he’s ever tried. This season was no different. The only thing he missed was the grab on the Mega Wall.
  • Jokester Jake Murray was back after a very early exit in the Denver Qualifiers of season nine. He did not want a repeat of that fiasco. Jake stayed totally focused on the obstacles. We didn’t even get a glimpse of his silly personality until he was at the Diamond Dash. It looked like he was having a little trouble on the Battering Ram, but he stuck through it. Jake had his eyes on the Mega Wall. It wasn’t meant to be, but after a run up the Warped Wall, he was back into the City Finals.
  • Jamie Ross fell on the Ring Jump, moving into the top five for women.
  • Drew Knapp made it to the Battering Ram, and into the top 30.
  • Drew’s brother Dalton Knapp passed his brother by completing the Battering Ram and then the course!
  • Meagan Martin had her sights set on a fifth straight trip to the City Finals. This season, she was running for her young friend Celina, who is in remission from leukemia. Celina was inspired by Meagan and got a chance to meet the Ninja in Colorado. They clicked and have formed a special bond. Celina watched Meagan’s run from the sidelines.

Meagan put together another of her trademark strong runs. She handled the dangerous Ring Jump just fine. She took a small pause before the Diamond Dash and then moved into the Battering Ram. She ended up falling on the last transfer, but it still put her into the top 30 and the City Finals.

  • Alana Olson has alopecia and chose to run without her hat. She made it to the Double Twister.
  • Ben Antoine cut his head on the Ring Jump, but still moved on to the Diamond Dash, where the run ended.
  • Tyler Gillett is back and hoping for a stunning sophomore season. He also came up short on the Mega Wall, but did hit the buzzer.
  • The last run of the night went to Joe Moravsky. He was the last Ninja standing in season nine, and the first Ninja to hold that title twice. Additionally, he’s never fallen on a Qualifying course.

He was going for the fastest time of the night on this course. If you blinked, you probably missed his run through the Floating Steps and Double Twister. He took a HUGE leap up on the Ring Jump. Joe collected himself before the Diamond Dash, and then was almost instantly through the Battering Ram. We had him as a Mega Wall favorite for the night and were a little surprised when it didn’t come true. Apparently, so was Joe who tore off his shoes at the top of the 14’6” wall and looked frustrated. But he did reach his goal of the fastest time of the night at 2:38.38.

  • The Mega Wall went unconquered tonight.
  • There were 14 finishers overall.

Find a full list of who moved on to the City Finals here.

Heart-pounding moment:

Let’s go, ABBY CLARK! We love it when female athletes clear the course, proving their equality on the obstacles. We love it when it’s a newer competitor. Making this run even more dramatic, Abby had to face down the obstacle that took her out in season nine, the Ring Jump. She had to keep a level head, she had to bury the memories of falling on that obstacle, and she was a pro on the course.

She demonstrated her ability to refocus under pressure again at the Warped Wall. One of the most nail-biting moments to watch in person is when someone is working through their attempts at the Warped Wall. The audience moves between screaming encouragement, clasping their hands over their mouths, and erupting in applause. Watching Abby shift her technique on the fly to finish the Wall was awesome.

Heart-breaking moment:

Rookie Austin Grey wanted that buzzer. We know this for a fact. He told us that before he ran the course. Ninja Warrior is his life between building obstacles, taking part in competitions, and coaching others.

While we (and we’re sure the viewers) were totally proud of everything Austin accomplished out there on the course, seeing him not get that iconic moment at the top of the Wall was a little sad. He deserved the buzzer. But, Austin is a rookie, it just gives him even more to strive for in the City Finals.

Shout out of the night:

Jenn Roder and Enedina Stanger were there to remind us what American Ninja Warrior is truly all about. Sure, it’s about getting to the buzzer, but first you have to conquer each obstacle put in front of you. No matter what it is. Both these women are mothers. Both of these women faced down a real fear of what the future could hold. Both of them decided to demand back control of their lives. We had to stop note taking during their runs because these Ninjas captured and deserved our undivided attention.

Next week:

Say goodbye to the Qualifiers! American Ninja Warrior is moving into the City Finals. The show will circle back to Los Angeles and we’ll find out who the first National Finalists are on Monday, July 16.