“I don’t handle them,” Jesse Labreck said with a laugh.
That’s not the response you expect when asking a top American Ninja Warrior competitor how she handles her pre-run nerves. But Jesse is very open about the fact that she gets the jitters every time her shot at the course approaches.
“Flip (Rodriguez) and I were talking on the way here. He said it’s part of your process and it works, so soak it in. That’s what I’m doing. I’m like, ‘Yup. This is what happens.’ I just am nervous. I can’t really control it. It overpowers me a little bit. But then when I get out there, I feel like the nerves turn into adrenaline and strength and it goes okay.”
Whatever Jesse does, it works for her quite well. On the final night of the season 13 Qualifiers, she reached the buzzer once again, bringing her buzzer total to seven. That’s even after Jesse took an emotional blow just before her turn on the course. Her fiancé and training partner, Chris DiGangi fell on Block Run, early enough to bring his season to a screeching halt. If Jesse advanced, she’d be doing it without him.
“Right before my run, I was pretty distraught because of Chris falling,” Jesse told us. “I hadn’t really had time to process it. Being there for him, knowing I had to run just a few people later, I was pretty upset. Also knowing this is such an awesome opportunity and I never want to take it for granted.
I felt pretty bummed out. But honestly then I got on the starting line. I saw Emmaline and I saw my friends and my family and I thought, ‘Okay. This is bigger than me. It’s bigger than Chris. I gotta go out there and do my best.”
Per usual, Jesse’s best was endlessly impressive. A finish in the Qualifiers sent her through to the Semifinals. She’ll once again face an extended 10-obstacle course. Jesse has the distinction of beating two of those courses in the past, and she’s put in the work to do it again this time around.
“I amp up my training. Do more course runs that involve 10 obstacles. Try to do that a couple of times in a night. Try to get really pumped out and keep fighting through it.
I’m feeling pretty good. I’m a little bit nervous about (the balance obstacle) and some of the trickier obstacles. I know I have strength. It’s the trickiness aspect. You can make a mistake anywhere because it’s Ninja!”
Jesse moves into season 13 after a banner year for her in season 12. Along with her extended course buzzer, Jesse made the final eight and battled on the Power Tower, the first woman to do so. But she won’t be resting on her laurels this year.
“Last season felt amazing. It was awesome. But every season is new. Anything can happen. I’m always nervous. I just want to do the best that I can. One obstacle at a time. But the obstacles are always different. There are always completely new techniques.
My goal (in Semifinals) is to hit a buzzer. Actually! My first goal is to make it to Vegas. The second goal is to hit a buzzer.”
With her season off to a very solid start, Jesse Labreck will return for the American Ninja Warrior Semifinals in a few weeks.