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Ethan Swanson on his Ninja Warrior drive, ‘I did the best I could have and I want more.’

He’s headed back to the National Finals for his third time.

Dennis Mong/NBC

American Ninja Warrior closed out the Qualifying regions with an exciting night in Cincinnati. We also got our last Speed Pass winner through a thrilling race between rookie Jackson Twait and now six-time veteran Ethan Swanson.

Ethan headed into the Power Tower with the fastest course completion time of the night. For a moment, it looked like he might lose the head-to-head challenge to the newcomer. But at the last second, Ethan pulled off a string of moves that sailed him to the buzzer and the National Finals.

With his third trip to Las Vegas in the bag, Ethan can relax for the City Finals. Although we doubt relaxing is in his daredevil nature. As the season got underway, we caught up with Ethan to learn more about what keeps this swan flying back to Ninja Warrior.

What keeps you coming back season after season?

ES: Some kind of masochistic point of view? I don’t know. It’s the best challenge. The obstacles are the hardest. They keep getting harder every year and it’s a challenge of trying to push yourself to your limit and I’m hoping that I haven’t found mine yet.

Dennis Mong/NBC

What does Ninja Warrior mean to you personally?

ES: It means a lot. I think it changes every year for me, but where I’m at now, after so many years of doing it, I think it means just persevering, not giving up. And that’s not only just in the obstacles. A big part of American Ninja Warrior is the stories of why people compete and the things they’ve overcome personally. Adversities people have faced just to get on the course and I’ve been very lucky not to have to deal with some of that stuff, but it’s just crazy to see some of the stories that people come through just to get on the course and then on the opposite side, there’s only been one person who hasn’t fallen in a single year and that person has fallen every other year that they’ve competed too.

So it’s that ability to look at it and say, ‘Yes, I’ve made mistakes, but I’m going to do everything I can to fix them and try my best next year.’ Then next year, it doesn’t go well again and, hey, maybe you did better, you did worse, but pick yourself up and hit the grindstone and try to do better next year.

What’s different about this year for you?

ES: I think I’ve gotten, over the years, a little bit more lighthearted about how I approach the course and I take my training very seriously. I take the course very seriously. But I feel like I go through the course in kind of a lighthearted way, of just not being so serious and so focused that I’m unemotional. You know what I mean? I like to connect with the crowd when I’m going to the course and I hope that people can latch on to that and cheer me on, because I know when I’m struggling through something, I feel the crowd cheering me on and it helps. I hope that people feel like they can connect with me when I’m out there, because I like to connect with them.

Dennis Mong/NBC

How do you process seasons that don’t end the way you want them to end?

ES: It’s a TV show, but a lot of us take it very seriously. You know, my life has become Ninja Warrior. I own a gym. I manage the gym and I train all the time and all my friends are weird Ninjas like me. I think it’s trying to push yourself, but knowing that’s the game of Ninja Warrior. You could be the most prepared out of everyone that got a call, that gets a chance to run, but if you make a simple mistake, that’s an entire year gone.

An entire year you have to train, you have to get motivated again. You have to get back up. But that’s the whole thing. That is the biggest part of American Ninja Warrior is that you have to be able to pick yourself back up and you have to be able to come back, because it’s happened to everybody.

Every single person that’s considered a veteran has fallen in a spot where they’re not happy with it and I’m not exception. Even though last year, I had what I consider for myself a great year, falling on the Wingnuts, I felt disappointed because I wanted to do better and I always want to do better. But I feel like that’s why everybody is here, because they want to push themselves to their best. Even when you do your best, I feel that type of competitive spirit of going home and going, ‘I did the best I could have and I want more.’

What are your expectations of this year?

ES: I feel like expectations are very hard to realize, but I’m just going to try to do my best. I’m going to try to be smart about how I approach the course. I’m going to try to compete the way I want to compete and not get sucked into watching people that I look up to fall Because it happens every year.

People that are strong fall, and in unexpected places. So a lot of people get caught in the trap of like, ‘Oh my God, that person fell? Now I have to change up my strategy because of that.’ Then you’re doing something you’re uncomfortable with. My expectation is that I’ll try to keep myself calm, keep myself controlled, have fun, soak it up. I don’t know how many years I’m going to do this for, but I know at some point I’m going to look back and think fondly about these times. I want to enjoy it while I’m doing it.

Ethan still has some time before he needs to think about retirement. He’ll be back for the Cincinnati City Finals in a few weeks, and he’s promised a spot on Stage One of the National Finals after that!