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Lance Pekus on learning from mistakes and getting back to his childhood dream

“So just learning from my mistakes each year, hopefully coming back stronger, better, smarter.”

Elizabeth Morris/NBC

American Ninja Warrior has a handful of beloved long-time veterans. Ninjas the fans want to watch year after year because they just downright like them as people and want to see them succeed. Lance Pekus is definitely one of those Ninjas.

Season 12 marks Lance’s ninth season on the show. In those years, he’s experienced the ups and downs of the course and life. Lance’s two young children have grown up watching him on the show. He and his wife Heather have shared their journey with Heather’s multiple sclerosis. He’s made it to the National Finals five times. And, like this season, he’s gone home before he was ready.

After completing the Qualifying course, Lance fell on the balance obstacle, Burn Rubber, in the Semi-Finals. The disappointment was obvious, but it made us think about something Lance said to us in our interview before his run.

Be a lifelong learner and everyday is a new lesson.

Elizabeth Morris/NBC

“I always overthink things or overlook obstacles that I think are easy. I have to concentrate on each obstacle. Last year hurt because I fell on the obstacle that I did the night before. And I did it real well, and I was actually the first one to complete it that night. So it hurt to fall on that after I already knew what it felt like. I should have been able to do it just fine.

So just learning from my mistakes each year, hopefully coming back stronger, better, smarter. I’ve definitely done some different training on the off season. I had a little bit more time last year, and I was trying to motivate my kids. My kids, Gracie’s in first grade now, Grayson’s in kindergarten. Every day is a learning experience, from rolling a ball down and telling them why it rolls and ‘Why does it roll?’ ‘Because it’s round.’ I’m not looking to the point where school gets into geometry and stuff like that because I hate geometry. But it’s fun right now.

Every day is definitely a learning experience. But they also get to the point where you try to sneak school in too much. Like, ‘Why do I have to always do school? You don’t do school. You’re not learning.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, we go to work. We’ve already done our learning.’ But that can only go so far sometimes, so I’m like if I’m not being a good role model for my kids to see, be a lifelong learner, that I should show that to them.

So I decided to try to learn something new, and I kind of went back to... Gracie’s in first grade, and I went back to when I was in first grade. I have a little picture of me in first grade, and it asks, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ And being a 90s kid in first grade, Top Gun and Blue Angels was the thing. So I was like, ‘All right, I want to be a pilot.’ And that’s something that’s kind of always been in the back of my head and stuck. Even though I never became a professional pilot or an Air Force pilot or something, I thought, ‘Maybe I should go and try to get my pilots’ license.’ So I started working towards that, and my kids saw me reading textbooks, making note cards, studying for practical exams, written exams. So I felt like I was setting a good example for them, and they’ve definitely got into learning.

Gracie’s trying to read, so I just catch her off trying to read sometimes when I’m reading and stuff. So yeah, it’s just kind of showing you can be a lifelong learner. You can always be learning. I kind of thought, ‘Well, at 33, am I too old to go jump into trying to become a pilot or learn and stuff like that?’ And like, ‘Yeah, this seems kind of older to learn that.’ But when I started doing it, pilots tend to be older. Everyone I was talking to, they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s great to see a young pilot in here and coming in here.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, well maybe I shouldn’t overthink this. Maybe I’m at the right age to chase becoming a private pilot, or even a commercial pilot.’

So you just never know. Just take a chance and go for stuff sometimes.”

With the lessons of season 12 under his belt, Lance will head back to his family to share their love of learning.