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How veteran Ninjas cope with failure after the cameras turn off

“I think processing failure is hard.” -Meagan Martin

American Ninja Warrior - Season 11 Photo by: Matthew Hayward/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

We love to talk about successes and the “never give up” attitude that so many Ninjas embody, but failure is also a real part of American Ninja Warrior. We watch our favorites train hard all year only to see some of them go out way too soon on the course. We feel their pain and sometimes even cry with them, but how do they pick themselves back up? What happens when the camera stops filming? Here is the perspective of four veteran Ninjas, including our season 11 Champion, Drew Drechsel.

(All quotes are from interviews with Nikki during season 11 filming.)

Michelle Warnky

Yeah, it’s hard. I mean, each time is different depending on how you do. Vegas last year, for example, was super humbling. Every year I feel ready for Vegas and every year it’s like you have the ability to hit the buzzer: Will you do it or not? And same thing—I came in I’m sure ready that buzzer I’m so ready to finally do on Vegas. And then to go out on the first obstacle—which I’ve never done on a Ninja course—was really rough.

I remember for the next like, month, I was like, I just don’t even want to think about Ninja. I’m just gonna totally separate myself... but at the same time, there was so much going on in life with work and everything, and that’s the bigger picture. And so that balance of yes, Ninja matters. Yes, Ninja affects my job a lot. But at the same time, there is so much more out there than just how you do on Ninja.

I know a lot of people do judge you based on how you do, but at the same time, your friends, your family, people that are close to you don’t... and sometimes it just takes separating yourself for a little bit. You also have to make sure your identity is not in how you do. Anyone can have a bad run. Anyone can fall early. And you have to keep in mind like that’s not who I am. I had a bad run. Okay. Yes, I can cry about it a little bit. Okay, get up and keep going.

Drew Drechsel

I think the easiest way to process and cope with the failure is knowing and going into it knowing that there is a high likelihood that you’re going to fail, and you have to accept that. As hard as that is for me to say being that I kind of want to be a perfectionist and hit all of the buzzers, you have to understand that with Ninja, anything can go wrong.

There are so many things that are outside of your control and something I’ve realized and I’m started promoting to other people and all my students who compete, there’s only two things you can control on the course. You can control your mentality of how much fun you have and you can control trying your best—not to be confused with doing your best. So controlling your mindset and trying your best to your best ability are the only two things that you actually have control of and once you realize that, you can you understand that failure very well could happen.

And then when it does happen, you’ve prepared yourself and it’s not as hard. It is still hard! Trust me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard to deal with but it’s not going to kill you for a year. It’s like, all right, well, we knew this could happen. Let’s recover. Let’s look at what went wrong and why it went wrong, recover from those mistakes and just try to make sure they never happen again.

Meagan Martin

I think processing failure is hard. I mean, I think it’s necessary for progression, but especially as an athlete when you fail, it’s just so personal and it kind of like nags at you for a long time. I think you just hope to not make mistakes again, but it’s inevitable to make mistakes.

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the guest on the show was talking about just in general how much of life is luck. And yes, we trained for this. Yes, we’re prepared for this but at the same time, the amazing things that happen, that’s a bit of luck generally. So like sometimes you just have an unlucky moment and you kind of just have to get over it and you know, get back at it and get back to working and hope that the odds are in your favor the next time.

Travis Rosen

Unless you hit the buzzer at the top of Stage Four, at least for most ninjas, you’ve fallen short of your goal. I know there are some who are just excited to be on the show, but for most, you know, they’re trying to get to the top of Stage Four.

So when the oftentimes inevitable happens and you fall early, you have to take some time to process even mourn a little bit, but realize the opportunity you have to still run this cool course be an inspiration to the millions of people who watch this and you know, learn from your mistakes, but bounce back. Don’t let that defeat or guide you down an unhealthy path. Learn from those mistakes and get back up. Keep trying and be a role model.