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The runs that led us here: Najee Richardson’s transformation into “The Phoenix”

He embodies what it takes to survive the course year after year.

American Ninja Warrior - Season 8 Photo by: David Becker/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

In the first two segments of this series (Michelle Warnky and Jessie Graff), we’ve focused on building up to very specific moments. This time, we want to shine a light on a Ninja’s whole career (to date).

Najee Richardson is a top contender on the show and his progress exemplifies a very important aspect of American Ninja Warrior: Utter determination. The course can be a place to triumph, or have failure literally smack you in the face. The constitution it takes to pick one’s self back up again... and again and again, doesn’t come easily. It’s not for the faint of heart and it’s not for everyone.

No one knows this better than Najee Richardson. But that’s why he is the Ninja he is. Take a look back at the runs that have truly turned Najee into “The Phoenix.”

American Ninja Warrior - Season seven

Najee’s rookie season was a quick lesson in what the course has to offer. He fell on Snake Crossing during the Pittsburgh Qualifiers.

American Ninja Warrior - Season eight

This is the year that most viewers came to know Najee. Motivated by the previous year, he returned for his sophomore season in Philadelphia. There, he completed the Qualifying course with a top time. In the City Finals, he missed out on the buzzer but placed sixth overall, earning a spot in the National Finals.

After clearing Stage One, Najee fell on Stage Two, but he had our attention, and he had a taste for buzzers. We couldn’t track down any videos of Najee’s runs from this season but we did find these photos!

Philadelphia City Finals

American Ninja Warrior - Season 8 Photo by: Mitchell Leff/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
American Ninja Warrior - Season 8 Photo by: Mitchell Leff/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
American Ninja Warrior - Season 8 Photo by: Mitchell Leff/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
American Ninja Warrior - Season 8 Photo by: Mitchell Leff/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

National Finals - Stage One

American Ninja Warrior - Season 8 Photo by: David Becker/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

National Finals - Stage Two

American Ninja Warrior - Season 8 Photo by: David Becker/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
American Ninja Warrior - Season 8 Photo by: David Becker/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

American Ninja Warrior - Season nine

Najee’s star was on the rise with no signs of stopping. He completed the Cleveland Qualifiers and did battle with the Nail Clipper on the City Finals course. Back at the National Finals once more, Najee reached the hallowed ground of Stage Three.

Only Sean Bryan, Joe Moravsky, and Najee were able to reach the end of Stage Two and advance. Any lingering doubts around Najee’s ability to be a top Ninja were firmly dispelled.

American Ninja Warrior - Season 10

But nothing is guaranteed in American Ninja Warrior. Right after his best season, Najee faced one of his most heartbreaking.

Back in Philadelphia once more, Najee completed the Qualifying course, plus the brand new Mega Wall, while shaking cramps out of his legs. In the City Finals, he crossed a huge goal off his list when he earned his first buzzer on the extended course.

Everything looked to be set for Najee to be a final contender once again at the National Finals. He cleared Stage One with over 20 seconds left on the clock.

Stage Two proved to be so brutal. Only two competitors were able to complete the course in the time allotted. Najee timed out while reaching out his hand for the buzzer. It wasn’t an issue with strength, it was the introduction of an unexpected obstacle.

The final obstacle, the Water Walls, required that Ninjas hold their breath to plunge down and open gates. Najee has asthma and needed to slow himself down for safety reasons to finish the obstacle.

American Ninja Warrior - Season 11

That heartbreaking conclusion wasn’t just difficult for the viewers. Najee shared his struggles with the moment on the American Ninja Warrior podcast.

He tried to put that all behind him while facing the course in Baltimore. However Baltimore showed no mercy to anyone. In the Qualifiers, Najee was kept from the buzzer by the Mega Wall. In the City Finals, well, Angry Birds happened.

At the National Finals, Najee had a slip on Tire Run of Stage One that ended his season earlier than he’s used to experiencing.

Najee is known as “The Phoenix” on the show. The nickname came from his rise to Ninja Warrior success after a knee injury ended his gymnastics career. But now, more than ever, the name refers to he relationship with the course. Najee is one competitor who exemplifies the highs and lows of this competition and the deep determination it takes to keep pressing on.

Najee did take part in Season 12, which will debut on September 7. We’ll have to chance to see how the Phoenix rises once again.