The first night of American Ninja Warrior’s finals gave us one of the biggest thrills of the season. On the devastatingly difficult 10-obstacle course, only four Ninjas were able to reach the buzzer.
One of them was Jesse “Flex” Labreck.
In a run we’ll never forget, she worked her way through obstacle after obstacle and earned a place near the top of the leaderboard. She’s now in position to advance to the top eight and the Power Tower playoffs. We won’t know for sure if that’s the case until the final episode next week, but as of right now, Jesse is in position to be one of the last Ninjas in the game for season 12.
There’s no other way to describe this. It’s huge. Jesse has established an unshakable dominance in the sport. As a women, she’s a groundbreaker. She’s changing the conversation regarding men’s and women’s ability on the course. This is Jesse’s second extended course buzzer. She first reached the goal in the season 11 Cincinnati City Finals.
We spoke with Jesse about her incredible season and got her insights on what might be next. She could be on the Power Tower in the finale episode... Read on for her thoughts.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ll face this season?
“The biggest challenge I’m going to have is, I would say just not getting too nervous. I get really nervous before, every single time.
Just not getting too nervous, and getting in my head, and psyching myself out. The competition’s going to be really tough because there’s less qualifiers. So we’re more condensed. There’s a lot of really strong athletes. And so just not let it get in my head, I feel like of just the level of athletes that I’m competing against.”
Everyone wants to know, what was Corkscrew like in the Semi-Finals?
“Corkscrew was pretty scary looking from the ground when we were going through rules, looking up at it. The lachés... It was hard to tell, when we were going through rules, how fast it actually did spin until someone demonstrated it, obviously. The scariest part to me was the laché from the first Corkscrew to the second Corkscrew. I didn’t think that once it dropped that I was going to be able to laché up enough because my lachés are not something that I’m very strong at.
So I honestly wasn’t as scared of the spinning as I was of the laché. Once I got there and I felt the force of the drop and the spin, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that was insane.’ And so it definitely taxed my forearms pretty good because you’re squeezing so hard to not get peeled off that by the end of the Corkscrew, I felt very, very pumped when I didn’t feel like I did a lot. I just laché and held on, laché and held on. I was surprised at how much my hands and forearms were taxed after that obstacle.
Do you think that’s what contributed to your fall on obstacle nine, the dungeon?
“Oh yeah, definitely. I felt like I couldn’t even close my hands, like I didn’t have control over my hands. And vertical grip is something that’s already really, really hard. And so being pretty pumped out after a corkscrew, it definitely made it super hard.”
But how did it feel to realize that you were going to move on into the finals?
“It was so relieving. I was very, very relieved and really, really excited.”
Looking at that finals course, what was your plan of attack for the course? Or how were you feeling?
“Going into the Finals course, I felt confident I could get to number nine. I felt confident I could get to the Dragonback, but I did not think that I could do that obstacle in the slightest. I figured obstacle nine, by the time you get there, you are just so tired and that obstacle was technique and a lot of strength. And so I usually feel pretty good if I see a ninth obstacle that is more technique than strength because I feel like I have decent technique on obstacles. But by that time, usually my strength is pretty low. And so I have to be able to use my technique over my strength. Whereas, with Dragonback, it was just basically pulling and pulling and pulling and kipping. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’
So Chris (DiGangi) actually was talking to me and hyping me up and telling me, ‘Babe, I really think that you can finish this course.’ And I was just like, ‘Okay, honey. Yep. Okay.’ And he could tell that I was just... nothing was getting through to me. So he actually went over to Michael Torres and made Michael come up and talk to me and tell me that he thinks I could do the course. And I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Okay. Yeah. I think I can.’ Whatever, totally listening to Mike.
And so I still went into it being like, ‘Okay, well, if I get to the ninth obstacle, I’m going to be happy,’ and whatever. And then obviously, once you get there, you try your hardest. And so my hardest ended up being good enough that time, which I did not think he was going to be. So I’m pretty shocked. Shocked myself pretty good finishing that course, for sure.
You hit an extended course buzzer back in season 11. How was this buzzer different?
“This buzzer... It’s always better the second time because it feels like you really earned it. It wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, that course was an easy course and that’s the only reason you got it.’ No, it’s like you’ve solidified I am capable of completing extended courses. So I think it just helped me personally feel like I’m capable and I can do it and like I earned it by all my hard work. Whereas, when you just do it once, sometimes you’re like, did I just get lucky? Was it just all of my strengths? Or just in the same course altogether, was it an easy course? That kind of stuff runs through your head. And so it made me feel good knowing that I could do it on another course. And another course that was really, really hard.”
How do you feel about the possibility of being in the top eight and having to race the rest of those Ninjas on the Power Tower?
“This whole time, going through this season, my goal was always one course at a time. And so I never really imagined myself being in the top eight. I guess I should have. I should have put that as a goal, eventually, once I got there. But I didn’t, I just was trying to do the best I could on each course. And ultimately, that led me there.
I was pretty excited. I was pretty nervous. I could be going up against, literally, the fastest and most powerful guys in the sport. And I’m fast. Ninja vs Ninja, I’m pretty fast. And I can move through obstacles pretty quick, but the Power Tower is kind of different where it’s like... It says it in it’s name, it’s Power Tower. You have to have a lot of power and I just don’t have that yet. It takes a long time to build it.
And I’m definitely getting more powerful as I train, especially training with Ethan Swanson and Michael Torres and Chris. So I’m working on it but it takes a long time. And so I was really excited and I thought, I’ll just go for it, everything I got, as much speed as I can and just see what happens.”
Is Jesse Labreck in the top eight? We’ll need to wait one more week to find out. American Ninja Warrior’s season 12 finale airs on Wednesday, November 4 at 9pm EST/PST on NBC!