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Drew Drechsel takes us through every step of the National Finals courses

We spoke with the Real Life Ninja 24 hours after his Stage Three run.

Drew Drechsel exemplifies why he’s called the ‘Real Life Ninja’ whenever he takes on the American Ninja Warrior course. The Season 10 finale included a Stage Two that was so brutal, only two Ninjas advanced through it. Drew made it look easy, even enjoying the underwater obstacle that had the audience fairly terrified.

Drew’s stats are pretty clear. Eight years of competition, one trip to Sasuke through the show, six trips to the National Finals, six Stage One buzzers, and now, twice as last Ninja standing.

The conclusion of season 10 saw Drew Drechsel and Sean Bryan advance to Stage Three. Sean went first, setting a strong pace to the Ultimate Cliffhanger. Drew, aware of the clock, sped through the first few obstacles faster, sealing his status as the final competitor and claiming $100,000. Drew had his sights set on Stage Four, but also peeled out at the Ultimate Cliffhanger. There’s no shame in that though. It’s hard to imagine how any one could have given more on those obstacles.

About 24 hours after his runs on Stages Two and Three, we sat down with Drew to ask him to look back at his National Finals experience.

Stage One

“Looking at Stage one, we have some new obstacles. Jeep Run in place of Parkour Run. I couldn’t just skip half the obstacle, so that was something I had to think about. I like the new Archer Alley, the first obstacle. I felt that it was way more straight forward I was less timid about making an agility mistake on that. The last obstacle, it was interesting to see them put in a similar movement, but it had the opportunity to pivot and turn on you if you didn’t have the correct body control. Body control is something I’m very comfortable with. I felt very happy to see a course that looked like a lot of fun that I could probably just cruise through.”

David Becker/NBC

“So I thought about my entire plan, what I wanted to do. I went out there and executed everything that I wanted to do. It felt great. When you come off a course after doing a stage and everything you wanted to do goes to plan, you feel so good. And that confidence is going to carry you over into Stage Two. Again, they just build off of each other and snowball in the right direction.”

David Becker/NBC

“There were a lot of people going down on the Double Dipper. Some people were hitting that with too much power, taking the bar with them. Little mistakes here and there on other obstacles through out the course. Just technical things that I think people weren’t prepared for or didn’t think ahead of time. They didn’t have any sort of back up or plan b of what to do in certain situations. Some people freaked out and it really cost them. There were strong competitors who went down. We should have had a lot more clears on Stage One than we did.”

Stage Two

“Seeing Stage Two and looking at those Wingnuts right away, it was flash back. PTSD. (Drew fell on Wingnut Alley in season nine.) The water obstacle was something I was very much looking forward to doing. I’ve had experience in Sasuke with the water obstacle, so this isn’t completely foreign to me. It’s not brand new even though the obstacle itself is different, I’m used to going in the water and I like it. The Salmon Ladder is always going to be there in my mind and tricky. A mistake on it and you’re done, you’re in the water.”

“But then Deja Vu, a lot of people were getting hung up. I think that was the Ninja killer. Every one was freaked out by it. To me, it’s just two big trapeze swings and the same momentum and movement of doing a Salmon Ladder transfer. Big up, put the bar where you want. It honestly seemed very simple to me. A lot of people, I don’t think they were taking it for granted, I don’t think they were thinking about the movement from both sides. They kept getting one side hung up, and if you get one side hung up when you’re going for your dismount, it’s really going to cost you.”

“I did my best to rest and plan out everything I wanted to do. I wanted to pretty much book it all the way till the Wingnuts, and then start the Wingnuts with about two minutes left. Watching other people do the Wingnuts and watching other people do the tank, typically 45 seconds for both those obstacles each. So I know that I wanted to leave myself some time for error. But I also expected to do those obstacles quicker than most. So I gave myself two minutes to do the last two.

When I got to the Wingnuts and saw that I had over three minutes left, I knew I could take as much time, until two minutes, to relax, to look it up, size it up and see how I feel. That gave me over a minute to control my heart rate and control my breathing. So when I did dismount from the Wingnuts, I wasn’t breathing as heavy as I expected. I went straight into the water. I had my goggles on my bandana. I pulled them down, one last deep breath, jumped in and went straight forward.”

“I felt really good. As soon as I jumped in the water my body cooled down. I usually over heat when I run the course, so to jumped in the water was good. I get wet, I cool off and I’m not out yet? This is fantastic. So it was a little bit of a fight for oxygen, but I’m very comfortable holding my breath and knowing how long I can stay under. Just push through it.

I definitely had a plan going into it. I knew where I wanted to be and what time I wanted to be there. I was very surprised by how quickly I did end up getting there. I didn’t expect to have over a minute rest. I expected to maybe have 30-40 seconds at most. So the fact that I got there and saw the clock, it was a big sigh of relief. Alright, I can rest. I can relax. The Wingnuts is only three transfers and a dismount. Then it’s fun in the water.”

“I saw Stage Two and I originally thought five to seven finishers, if not more, are going to be going to Three. It was very straight forward in what you had to do. But there were a lot of technical things that if you made a mistake on, it was going to cost you. It was going to cost you valuable time and valuable strength. So every time someone made a mistake, it made the entire course significantly harder. People were timing out. People were gassing out on the Wingnuts, which are already going to be difficult. I just think it was a lack of mental preparation and, or, a sense of awareness of what they’re doing. What’s going on at the time.”

“As soon as I hit the buzzer on Two, I was amped. I had just cleared the stage. I felt fantastic. I felt great. I felt on top of the world. After I celebrate for a couple minutes and got the after interview done, said hello to some people. then it was instantly ‘I have more work to do. I’m not done yet.’ Calm my heart rate. Grab some water. Get back into game mode. Stay calm. Focus and save as much adrenaline and energy as possible. I still have two more stages to do.”

Stage Three

“Stage Three is a hard one for me to walk through. At this point, Sean Bryan went before me and if it were just myself, I would have taken all the rest in the world on every obstacle until they yelled at me to go. But Sean went, and he set a pace. He did not take much of a rest between the Floating Doors and En Garde. And he didn’t take much of a rest between En Garde and Crazy Clocks. So when I got there, I knew that I had to go.

I didn’t want to take minimal rests and then end up getting stuck or hung up on something. I wanted to just get it over with. Beat the time. Go the furthest the fastest. Secure that minimal $100,000 prize, and then from there take my sweet time, do everything I want to do and stay calm and beat Stage Three.”

“Doing the Floating Doors, En Garde and Crazy Clocks, into Cliffhanger, with only about 30 seconds of a rest between them all, it pumped me out. The Cliffhanger was a different configuration from what we’ve seen in past years. There were more movements than there normally were. Typically there’s one big, big reach up. That’s something I’m always looking forward to. I have that extra power reserve. But this year they didn’t have that giant reach. They made it a little bit longer, more moves. By the time I got to that area, and I made transfers, that was a lot of movement with very little rest, I was starting to feel pumped.

I made a mistake of sitting on the one foot perch, trying to shake out, and I feel like I actually wasted more energy than if I had just pushed through and keep going.”

In conclusion

“You can never be mad at going out there and doing your best. That’s exactly what I did. I did the best that I could. I’m going to stick by the choices that I made because they were the right choices. Whether they were the best choices, they were my choices and I stick by them. But of course I wanted to hit the buzzer on Stage Three and head to Stage Four. That’s always going to be my goal. I’m allowed to be disappointed. I feel like I could have done better. But I did go out there and try my best.”

American Ninja Warrior season 10 ended with no Ninjas taking on the final climb of Stage Four. But that will change in season 11 if Drew has anything to say about it.