“I think much like everybody else we’re surprised,” Adam Rayl responded when we asked him what it was like to actually be competing on American Ninja Warrior during a pandemic.
“At this point, we’re in the flow of things, and it’s competition time, but certainly when we first got here, when we got the call a few weeks ago, it was like, ‘Really? Are you sure this is happening? The whole world’s shut down, but we’re doing this? You guys are pulling this off?’ I think we’re thankful. It’s a mixture of thankfulness and surprise, but I’m happy to be here for sure, particularly given the fact that I was pretty darn certain this wasn’t going to happen.”
That had to be a bit of a mind-trip for the veteran Ninja Warrior. In the midst of a world turned upside down, the producers of the show were asking the Ninjas to do what they do best: Inspire us all. Season 12 invited about 150 Ninjas to the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, MO to create a very special series of episodes. Adam, a consistent top performer in his four previous seasons, is a favorite from the start to be one of the remaining top eight competitors.
“First trip down the course this season. I feel like I had a pretty good pace. I felt good. Everything was flowing pretty smooth, no real surprises. I got through the fourth, had a fast time. I don’t know if I was on pace for the fastest, but I think I might’ve been in the top few spots at least. That was the plan to get there quick and take a little bit of a break before the fifth. Tactically, I was right on par with what I had planned, so I got there, took a little shakeout, a little breath, and then went for it.”
Adam was recalling his run in the Qualifiers. We thought the buzzer, and perhaps the Mega Wall, were in the bag for him. Falling on the fifth obstacle, Ferris Wheels, was a surprising result.
“It felt pretty good. It was a little pumpy, but not terrible. As I said, on the sidelines when they asked me what the heck happened, it was just a bit of a mental error. I think I had a little nerves to shake out, something like that, and so I had a little bit of a fluke. I knew how I wanted to place my hands, and I think I got a little bit stubborn, which is not the norm for me, so it was a bit strange. I caught myself by surprise. I needed to match the hands on the way down. The first one was fine, got to the second Ferris wheel, and sort of crisscrossed.
And I think I was like, ‘I got this. I can do this.’ This is not what I planned, but in the moment as we’re falling down I’m like, “This isn’t so bad. I could just hang here, and not have to make an extra move,’ and then that was it. I was in. I was done. I was dropped. But thankfully, it was fast enough to move on, and I got the jitters out of the system I think.”
After that fluke, it seemed like Adam settled into his stride. The Semi-Finals saw him hand in a strong performance, clearing the course and taking his season to the Finals.
“It’s Semi-Finals, so seeding is important. Top speed isn’t necessarily primary on my mind. I want to get through. I want to be able to clear. This is a long game,” Adam said before his Semi-Finals run. “This is not the end of the road tonight, so the plan is to have a decent seeding, the top few spots would be nice, clear the course ideally, but I’m going to pace myself so that I get to certainly the back half of the course, and given how the endurance is, which will be a bit of a surprise, because we haven’t all been climbing, and doing Ninja, as much as we’d like.
So, we’ll see what happens, but I’m going to flow. I’m going to have a decent, moderate time, moderate fast pace, and the goal will be to finish.”
We know now that Adam hit the nail directly on the head. In the Finals, he was only stronger and more on target. He took the sixth spot on the top eight leaderboard heading into the Power Tower playoffs. There, it would be all about speed and cardio, something Adam actually tuned up during the various shutdowns.
“Some things shifted around. Obviously, a lot of gyms were shut down, so that changed, but I did step up the cardio, and got on a running routine, and set my personal record on the mile time, and so the focus shifted to be able to do what I could do.”
Once Adam realized the entire season 12 could come down to that cardio work, he felt ready. Speaking to his strategy for the competition, he said, “Nothing outside the norm I would say. If anything, the bit of cardio that’s stronger now than it was before, so we’ll see how that plays, but it’s me, same. Same as it’s been. I just need to not make any mental errors, and hopefully the body will take over and do what it does.”
Adam put his speed on display for the Power Tower playoffs. He soundly won his first race against Lucas Reale. Things weren’t so straightforward once he met up with Daniel Gil. The two titans pushed one another to their limits, creating a race that was breathlessly close but ultimately went to Daniel, who would then win the season.
Adam is a Ninja who wears his heart on his sleeve. No poker face here. While he authentically congratulated Daniel after his win, you could sense the disappointment Adam was feeling in his own result. These are those motivating moments for a Ninja-like Adam. He doesn’t want to feel that way again. That’s going to make him even more of a threat next time he’s on a course.