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How Quest O’Neal learned to love herself

“Freckles for me, was my insecurity. Kids are mean.”

American Ninja Warrior - Season 10 Photo by: Cooper Neill/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Earlier this year, Quest O’Neal was on the American Ninja Warrior Nation podcast and talked about how she “always wanted to do something great in life. I always wanted to go out and showcase my skills through motivational speaking and also to my human strength. I didn’t know how soon, or later, that opportunity will come and Ninja Warrior made it happen a lot quicker than I expected on a very, very large platform.”

If you’ve seen Quest on the course or in interviews, you know she radiates confidence. She seems like a person you just want to be around.

But she wasn’t always this way. “The confidence came from me having to really accept me for who I am and where I stand in life,” Quest explained. “It wasn’t something that I always had, you know, I got freckles. I got the curly hair and stuff like that. Freckles for me, was my insecurity. When I was growing up—kids, man, kids are cruel, kids are mean. When I was growing up, they would make fun of me about my freckles... say things like ‘oh, I’m gonna connect the dots in your freckles’ or they’ll say some things like, ‘you’re not really black. You know, you’re not really black. That’s why you have freckles, ‘cause your skin tone didn’t develop all the way’ and stuff like that... they would say mean things. It was just horrible.”

Besides her freckles, Quest felt self-conscious about the gap in her teeth. “I used to have a big ol’ gap in between my teeth,” she continued. “I remember I was standing in the cafeteria long waiting to get my food—this is back in elementary and stuff—and looking at the posterboards, you know how they have the little posters up there with the ‘Got Milk’ with a little milk mustache and they have these other posters with these kids are like arms over each other’s shoulders smiling with like an apple in their hand, like trying to promote healthy eating and stuff like that. And they didn’t have gaps in their mouth. They didn’t have gaps in their teeth. And I was like, so upset that I had this big ol’ gap in my teeth.”

From the moment Quest was born, her mother prayed over her and “as a child growing up, my mom was always telling me that you’re going to be somebody, you’re going to be somebody.” Quest also had her cousins, Thomas and Matthew, who played basketball with her. “I just had those type of people in my life that were telling me, ‘man Quest, you’re gonna be somebody,’ like all the time. So naturally, that just grew on to me, because at first I didn’t understand what they meant, and then I was like, what does that mean? I’m going to be somebody? No, I’m not because I got freckles or no I’m not because I have a gap in my mouth, things like that, but they overlooked that stuff... so in due time that’s how that confidence came.”

Quest talked about how gaining skills in basketball gave her more and more confidence, too. “Simple things like being able to dribble a ball to my legs or being able to make a five free-throw shots in a row or being able to spin the ball on my finger—little things like that. And that’s how I was able to start creating this self-confidence and self-love for myself—because of that.”

As a Ninja, Quest now inspires girls and women around the country, if not the world. Ahead of season 11, she told Nikki, “my motivation for being here this year is just honestly keep proving to myself and everybody that at the end of the day, it don’t matter what you look like, how your built, what background you come from—whatever you set your mind to, you can go out and just do it. And my motivation this year is honestly to prove to a lot of little girls that look like me to accept themselves for who they are and never be afraid to go out into an uncomfortable situation and really make it your own.”

Listen to the entire podcast here to learn more about Quest’s journey and how her childhood impacted her self-confidence today.