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Jessie Graff reflects on her Titan Games debut: ‘You can’t let that feeling of ‘can’t’ hold you back.’

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The games tested her skills in a brand new way, but Jessie is ready to learn from the experience.

Steve Dietl/NBC

American Ninja Warrior Jessie Graff made her much anticipated debut on The Titan Games in part one of the West Region’s competition. She was selected as one of Dwayne Johnson’s elite Titans to defend Mount Olympus. Jessie faced challenger Kelly Valdez on Mount Olympus. Ninja Warrior fans know Jessie is completely at home on the obstacle course. Mount Olympus proved to be a new world for her.

After a smooth start, Jessie’s run hit a bump in the road on the Log Lift. That was coupled with Kelly’s unrelenting performance on each obstacle. Jessie’s loss was sealed when she was unable to get a firm grasp on the Ball and Chain.

There’s no way to avoid saying that it was a surprising performance since we, as Ninja Warrior fans, know Jessie for her strong runs. But The Titan Games lends itself to brut strength, not the tactical runs on the course where Jessie excels.

We had the chance to talk to Jessie after her first experience with Mount Olympus. She was candid about walking into The Titan Games knowing she was out of her wheelhouse, but also how it might have just helped her American Ninja Warrior skills.

Responses are lightly edited for length and clarity

What was your reaction to learning that Dwayne Johnson wanted you as one of his elite Titans?

JG: I was surprised. Like, “REALLY?” When I first saw the show, a lot of audience members were like, “Jessie, you would crush at this.”

I know the type of strength it takes to do these challenges. So I immediately was like, “Oh no, that’s not a thing that I can do.” And that’s something that I hear from so many other people, so to hear that voice in my head, I was like, “Well, that’s the challenge then. That’s the new thing you have to try, to push yourself in a new way, for yourself.”

Other people believed in me and you can’t let that feeling of “can’t” hold you back.

Steve Dietl/NBC

What was your first impression of Mount Olympus?

JG: There were a lot of heavy things. A lot of very heavy things. I knew it was going to be challenging. The first section was a little bit more technical. It was something I could calculate precisely and pick out my moves and know that I could save time on that beginning section. (Iron Ascent) is very Ninja related so I knew I could get through that.

Everything else was very straight forward. It didn’t really allow for a lot of my big strength, which is analyzing, technique and strategy.

It was like... Do you have the strength to move this heavy thing? Do you have the endurance to continue pushing at that high intensity long enough to get it done? How quickly can you do it? That was my weakness going into it.

We know Stage One in Ninja Warrior is the longest continuous bout that you have to do. Two and a half minutes. In a City Finals course, you’re doing one obstacle that takes 10-30 seconds, sometimes a minute, versus this, which is just maximum effort, gritting through, pushing heavy things and continuously doing that for five minutes or more.

That was a very different challenge for me. I knew that going into the training. I had about eight weeks so it was a game of how you build that much strength as quickly as possible. I’ve always said, in Ninja Warrior, I’m trying to catch up to men who have been elite rock climbers for twenty years. How do I do that?

In this, it was how do I catch up to women who have been powerlifting and doing CrossFit and strength training for who knows how long? How quickly can I do that? You can’t catch up to someone who’s been training for years in a couple of weeks. But I’m going to do the best that I can and push to my limits.

As Ninjas, we train so much grip strength, pulling, we’re over-developing our back muscles and not developing any pushing muscles. Our shoulders are rotated forward, which makes us more prone to shoulder injuries, which is what I’ve been recovering from for the past year or so.

Having to train differently for Titans, lifting weights, developing those chest muscles, has corrected a lot of the alignment in my shoulders. It has strengthened and reinforced the joints and helped make me stronger and healthier in so many ways that I think will improve my ability to perform well in Ninja and everything I do. It was extremely hard, but also so beneficial and I’m probably going to continue using that stuff for the rest of my life.

How did you think your Ninja skills would translate on The Titan Games, and did reality match that expectation?

JG: I feel I had a very clear and accurate expectation of what I would be capable of and how those skills would transfer. I knew that my biggest strength was strategy and that this course doesn’t require as much strategy.

My big failing was actually a technical error on lifting that heavy bag up the slope (Log Lift). That’s the thing, going head-to-head, and rushing myself to move quickly rather than set the log correctly. I’m disappointed in myself for failing in an area that I should have done more smoothly. But I do feel that in my training, I pushed myself as hard as I could to gain as much strength as possible.

I knew that the boulder (Ball and Chain) is just super heavy. I did so much push sled, I did so much dragging heavy objects. When I first saw the show, I knew dragging that boulder would be the hardest thing for me. I improved as much as I could, I think. I studied a lot to try to learn how to improve that as quickly as possible.

The woman I raced against, Kelly (Valdez), she can squat double the amount of weight that I can. It’s so cool to see how that directly applies to pulling that boulder. It was nothing for her. It was exciting to see, “Okay, if I train like she does, I can double my strength.”

You will be back for the West Region finals. What lessons did you learn that you plan to put into practice?

JG: I’m hoping I get a rematch with the boulder. I have unfinished business with that rock. The Rock is awesome, but that boulder... I want a rematch with that thing so badly. I don’t know exactly what the challenges will be ahead of Mount Olympus, I was kind of training for that to be my primary thing. Hopefully it will be very technical so I can win my way back for a rematch against the boulder on Mount Olympus.

Don’t count this Ninja Warrior out just yet! Jessie will return to The Titan Games in a few weeks to take part in the West Region finals.