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After a stunning start, Jody Avila has big plans for season 12

He had the top time on night one of Qualifiers and he’s not interested in slowing it down.

Elizabeth Morris/NBC

Jody Avila helped us ring in the new season of American Ninja Warrior with a monster run. The five-time veteran blazed through the obstacles, including the new Weight For It and Ring Chaser. He stayed upright on Rib Run, a difficult new balance obstacle. By bypassing the Mega Wall and opting for the Warped Wall, he saved the time needed to lock in the number one spot on the leaderboard. You can watch his run here.

These moments of glory are well deserved for Jody. The “Big Dog Ninja” has ridden the ups and downs of competition for the last few years. He’s gone out in Qualifiers. He’s made it to Stage Two at the National Finals. In season 11, he went out on Stage One. This year, he wants it all. Read on to hear his thoughts about season 12.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What was it like to get “the call” that the season was happening?

JA: It is a complete surprise. I was not expecting to be competing this season at all until the call came in a couple of weeks ago. Everything is so different! First of all, competing indoors on its own, which has nothing to do with anything else, it’s going to be a first for me. I’m excited about that. But having to deal with all Covid stuff that’s been going on, and the Black Lives Matter stuff that’s been doing on too, it’s a crazy time that we’re in right now.

My motivation is always to win. I know I have what it takes to win and represent my family. Bring awareness to things that are going on in society as well.

You’re sharing this season with your wife, Pauline, who’s an ICU nurse. What has that experience been like for you?

JA: It’s hard. She’s been tested maybe five or six times already. She’ll come home and it’s like, ‘Okay, you’ve been tested five or six times but we don’t know if you’re still negative after today.’ So it’s back to social distancing, six feet apart. She wears a mask all the time. She used to isolate upstairs. Now she’s downstairs with us. But still she has her own couch that we know not to get on. It’s pretty hard. It’s hard as a family. I know the boys just want to go hug her. We can’t even do that unfortunately.

Were you able to keep up with your training during lockdown?

JA: Lucky for me, I don’t train in an actual gym. I train in our backyard. So the training never stopped. I was ready when I got the call. I’m ready now. I feel as strong, if not stronger than I did last season when I thought I could win the whole thing. I’m in a good place right now.

What do you want to bring awareness to this year? What do you want the audience to learn from you?

JA: I’m going to be running the course in a Ninjas For Black Lives shirt. It’s a group of us that came together just trying to really bring awareness to the racial injustices that we deal with on a day to day basis that a lot of people have never had to experience. Some of us Ninjas have gone through it. It’s trying to shine a light on a real issue that we have in our country.

We’re an interracial family. I just really want to get across that we’re a family trying to be good parents, trying to raise good kids. That being said, I want to throw in the fact that my son gets straight A’s. He was one of three kids out of 70-something kids that got straight A’s all year. I am super proud of that, in addition to him being able to crush any course he goes on. I’m proud to say that we are doing as good a job as we can as parents. We want people to be treated fairly. It’s basic human decency.

What are your goals on the course this year?

JA: I want to hit three buzzers and beat all eight people on the Power Tower. That is the number one plan right now. But step number one is to get across the balance obstacle. That is my one and only fear on every course I’ve ever gone on. Anything agility and balance related. If I’m using my hands, I’m confident. Once I need to rely on my feet, they’ve let me down in the past.

I literally have these little balance pods lined up in my hotel room. The people below me must hate me. I don’t know what the balance obstacle is. I hope it’s not Block Run. That one took me out in Indy, season 10. That was a really bad experience. I really don’t want see those again, in addition to probably five other balance obstacles.

Elizabeth Morris/NBC

Jody can rest easy. He made quick work of Rib Run and he’s poised to take down more obstacles this year. Jody will return to the course in a few weeks when we move into Semi-Finals.