Season 12 of American Ninja Warrior was a bright spot in a tumultuous time for many of us. The show found a way to safety tape during the pandemic and provided eight episodes of escape from the world around us with the inspiring stories and triumphant runs. One of the bright spots within that bright spot was the rise of rookie Amir Malik.
A virtual unknown, the 20-year-old from Vermont debuted on David Wright’s team and got us all smiling. He bounded through the obstacles with effortless joy and aplomb. In the Qualifiers, he announced his presence by taking the fifth spot on the leaderboard. In the Semi-Finals, he battled his way to the Spider Trap and slipped from the buzzer with just a few feet left.
In the Finals, Amir raced to the ninth obstacle, Dragonback, but was unable to complete it. With such a talented field of competitors, that very well could have been it. However, when none other than Joe Moravsky made an error on Slam Dunk, Amir was suddenly in the Power Tower Finals.
There, he faced Jake Murray, who was the number one seed and had earned the top time on every course he’d stepped on this season. Amir had one choice: Sell out. And when he bolted from the start line, his ferocity threw Jake a distracting curve ball. Against the odds, Amir took Jake out of the competition.
Amir’s Cinderella season ended once he faced Austin Gray on the Power Tower. Austin would go on to race Daniel Gil, the eventual champion of the season. We caught up with Amir by phone after the season was concluded. Read on to experience the season through his eyes.
I want to start with your finals run. That final 10-obstacle course run where you went out on Dragonback. Can you walk us through that run?
AM: I remember after my Qualifying run, hitting that buzzer and just doing so well... After that, it was kind of just going out there and just having fun and doing what I love. I remember...One of only two rookies going into (the Finals), I was just going out there just going to give it all I had, go for some really crazy moves, just all or nothing at this point. And I just remember everyone falling at the dragon back and my goal was just to make it there as fast as I could and just hope for the best and see what happens. But I definitely had no intention of making it to the top eight whatsoever.
What was that moment like then when you realized that Joe Moravsky fell and that put you in the top eight?
AM: Oh, it was such a shock. I couldn’t even... I did not have any words. I was like, “I’m going to go back to the hotel, I’m going to get some barbecue and just enjoy my stay.” But once he fell, it was really like a shock moment and I had to get more mentally prepared because I was in the top eight and I was going to be going against Jake. So I decided to get prepared.
What were you feeling? Were you nervous? Were you excited? What was that like?
AM: Definitely both. At first I was pretty nervous just because I wasn’t planning on it. And then once everyone kind of current congratulated me and stuff, I started getting more excited and there was a good time gap so it wasn’t just going straight into it. But yeah, it was mostly excitement. Just doing this well for my rookie season and just getting people to notice me.
What were your thoughts about facing Jake Murray, who was the number one seed going into the Power Tower?
AM: Honestly, out of everyone besides Lucas (Reale), I probably would have wanted to go against him just because I’ve actually done some Ninja competitions with him before and I’ve known him. He’s a really nice guy and he’s like a friendly guy to go against. So it wasn’t really any pressure, it was just go out there and have fun pretty much.
Do you remember what that first Power Tower race was like?
AM: Oh yeah. Well, they call me Sonic. So that’s definitely where I thought I would highlight my skills the most. I just remember going up the steps in the beginning and just like flying by him. And just sliding down the big pole and... Once I was at the end of it, it was crazy.
Hitting another buzzer is always great add to your season. It was awesome, especially when I hit it and cheered Jake to keep on going. That’s just part of Ninja. You’ve got to win, you got to lose sometimes. But just that teamwork and kind of cheering each other on.
So what do you think happened for you in your race with Austin Gray and round two on the Power Tower?
AM: In my first race going down the big fireman’s pole, I actually ripped off a bunch of layers of skin on my thumb. Then I had to get that taped up. Definitely that was bothering me in my head. Putting any pressure on it, there definitely was discomfort. For me it was a long day. We had been there for, at that point it was probably 10 plus hours, so I was just done and tired and ready to go back. But I just remember being really tired. My legs were pretty gassed going up the first steps and he beat me up that and then I had to make up some time and I tried connecting with moves on the last dropping shelves. And I just came up a little short, but I had to go for a crazy move to win it all, but it just came up a little short.
Overall, what does your rookie season mean to you personally?
AM: Personally, it means the world to me, honestly. Just to do this well. When you know what you’re capable of, you want to do the best that you can and show other people how good you are. But I’m just glad that everything kind of worked out for me and I really couldn’t complain about how the season ended. And I’m ready to come back for the next season.
If you could go back in time to the start of the season and say something to yourself, give yourself some advice, what would it be?
AM: I would tell myself to enjoy in the moment more. Definitely when you’re on the course, I was more just focused on the course instead of soaking it all in. Especially this year, only being picked out of 150 was really a big thing. I think just enjoying it more and having more fun with it.
Are there any words of advice that you would give next season’s rookies?
AM: I would say, “Just pretend like it’s another day of training. Don’t overthink the obstacles too much.” When you start to think about it, you make these little mental mistakes and then they make bigger mistakes. Just go out there and don’t really think about it and just have fun.
It’s a rare thing to enjoy a rookie season like Amir’s. The season 12 format played to his strengths and allowed him to prove consistency with multiple runs. We’re sure Amir will be a Ninja to watch in the coming years.