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Najee Richardson puts Baltimore behind him and prepares for the National Finals

It wasn’t a bad start to his season, but he did want more.

The American Ninja Warrior Baltimore City Finals was a painful experience for both the fans and the Ninjas. No one reached the buzzer, which was such a shock in such a strong region.

Najee Richardson is one of the Ninjas that fans believed could finish the course. In his three trips to the National Finals, he’s made it to Stage Two twice and Stage Three once. It was a surprise to see him miss the buzzer in the season 11 Qualifiers due to the Mega Wall. It was another surprise to see the Angry Birds topple such a strong competitor. However, Najee’s quick time earned him third place overall for the night. He missed out on the Power Tower by a hair’s breadth, clocking JUST in behind Lucas Reale.

It’s time for Najee to put that all behind him though. Just ahead are the National Finals, where the buzzers really, REALLY matter. We sat down with Najee just before Stage One in Vegas kicked off to get more info on how he’s felt as this intriguing season has unfolded.

Tell us about the City Finals experience you had that brought you here.

NR: So the City Finals experience. Oh man. For me, it was pretty tough, only because of the fact that this was the very first year that I did not hit a Qualifier (buzzer) since my very first season. So I went in to City Finals, just thinking I got to rock this thing. I did not hit a Qualifier’s buzzer. I didn’t get the 18 foot wall. I was feeling very, very down on myself because of it. And I was just like, ‘I’m really going to have to show up and perform now. I got to get the City Finals, and I got to just do what I’m expected to do.’

So, you know, I knew in the back of my mind that the Power Tower was going to be a thing, and I really wanted to get to the Power Tower to have a chance to get the Safety Pass. And I started seeing all of my friends, and guys that I know are stronger than I am or at least on my level. You got Joe Moravsky, Chris Wilczewski, Jamie Rahn. All of these guys were falling. And I’m just thinking to myself, ‘If these guys are going down, I’m really gonna have to change my strategy.’

So I went from thinking to go as fast as I possibly can to finish City Finals, to really trying to take my time in certain areas, to make sure I was going to have the gas in the tank to be able to get through where everyone was falling. And when I made it to the Salmon Ladder and I got up the Salmon Ladder, I knew I had gotten there in enough time to make it to Vegas. But I did not realize how close it was going to come down to me and Lucas Reale. I was just like, ‘Why?’ If I just would’ve taken one less of a second to rest on the Salmon Ladder, or just went a second sooner on the Warped Wall or anything, I would’ve been in that Power Tower.

Would I have beaten David? I don’t know. But at least I would’ve had that shot. So I felt like my Qualifiers and my City Finals was just a whole lot of missed opportunities. But at the same time, I like to look at things as just something to stoke my fire. You know what I mean? I wasn’t happy with Qualifiers. It pushed me to go a little bit harder at City Finals, and really strategize the way that I thought was best, which I don’t regret. I don’t regret going for the 18-foot wall. I don’t regret taking my time to see if I could finish the Angry Birds.

I’m not regretting any of the choices I made during those competitions, but I’m a little disappointed in the fact that I just couldn’t get the things done that I really wanted to get done.

How does it feel to be here in Vegas knowing you’ve got an opportunity for more buzzers now?

NR: It’s such a cool feeling. It’s a nerve-wracking feeling because, again, I have that feeling of, ‘Man, I have to show up. I have to perform.’ I’m trying my best to get out of that mindset. I’m trying to get into a mindset where I am capable and I know what I’m capable of doing, and just being in the zone and being in the moment and not worrying about I have to do this because of this reason or I have to show up because I didn’t show up here.

I’m just trying to get myself in the head space where I’m just here and I’m living in the moment. I feel like I can get there. I’m right at that point. Not quite there yet. I still have a little bit of anxiety, thinking, ‘Oh, but what happens if I go down early? I’m not gonna have as many buzzers as people are used to seeing from me, and that’s gonna suck.’

It’s all about getting in the right mind frame right now. And just the fact of knowing I have an opportunity that’s more than most. It’s more than some Ninjas right now, which is really, really sad. But I do have a chance. I have an opportunity and that’s all I need.

What do you expect from the courses you’re about to face?

NR: I expect the same thing I expect every single year. It’s doable, but am I going to be able to put it all together at the time that I need to do it? I think there are a ton of Ninjas that can make it to Stage Four this year. It’s just did, we get enough sleep the night before to stay up all night and compete? Did we hydrate enough to make sure that we didn’t cramp up? Which happens to me a lot. Did we do all of the things in our ability leading up to the competition, leading up to the stage, to really give us the best chance of performing to the best of our ability?

What I expect out of the course (Stage One) is that is going to be very, very doable, but am I... I’m more expecting just to do everything in my power, put myself in the best possible position to get through it.

Najee will step up to Stage One in the coming weeks. The American Ninja Warrior National Finals kick off on August 26!