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During the finale episode, Kaden performed sheer art on Stage Three. He gracefully and stoically swooped through all seven of the seemingly impossible obstacles. Kaden was the only of the final four competitors to reach the buzzer. Austin Gray was the season’s runner-up with his time to Eyeglass Alley.
Kaden has impressed us all season long. Ahead of his run in the Qualifiers, Kaden’s dad told us something that turned out to be a warning in regards to what Kaden was capable of: “I don’t think many people in the world have a drive like Kaden does. When he finds something he wants, he pushes it really hard until he gets it.”
Right after that, Kaden put up the fastest course completion of the night.
In the Semifinals, Kaden tore through the course again, taking the third spot on the leaderboard.
After a run on Stage One of the National Finals that left him in the fourth spot on the leaderboard, Kaden faced Stage Two. Here’s where we all really started to understand the level of talent we were dealing with. Of the 27 Ninjas who took on Stage Two, only four stayed dry. And Kaden came out with the fastest time to the buzzer.
“It was crazy watching Stage Two,” Kaden told us. “All of these insane athletes not being able to finish. I definitely think the cold had a big part to play. It was super hard to warm up. I ran non-stop for 10 minutes before my run and I was still freezing. It was very cold and I think that played a huge part in people not having the performances they would have liked.”
The make-or-break moment of Stage Two was the blind grab of the Falling Shelves. The move took out competitors like Jake Murray, Sean Bryan, and Adam Rayl. Kaden, a rookie, had a different approach that got him through.
“My strategy was to not get a huge backswing on it. Just kind of relax on the swing I was releasing off of. I saw a lot of strong Ninjas get a huge swing and I think that messed them up.”
The smart strategy moved Kaden to the buzzer, a big enough moment in and of itself.
“I could not believe I hit the Stage Two buzzer. It was crazy. I’m still in shock. I have no words for it. It’s absolutely mind-blowing,” Kaden said just hours before he’d stand at the bottom of Stage Four.
“I was definitely nervous (prior to Stage Three). I tried not to think about it too much until they brought us over to do rules. Stage Three looked brutal the first time I saw it. Everyone who was with me on Stage Three was capable of clearing. I thought all of them could. Seeing all of them go down was shocking to me. It was absolutely crazy to be a part of it as well.”
But Kaden, in a testament to his maturity as a competitor, didn’t let those falls get into his head. As he put it, “You gotta go out there and do your own thing.”
The Stage Three obstacles slid by him in a blur, but Kaden recalls one standout moment, “I remember the last Flying Bar cradle. Thinking about how long I’ve been wanting this. It’s finally coming true. I couldn’t believe it.”
We spoke to Kaden ahead of his Stage Four climb, but at this point, we all knew he was the Last Ninja Standing for season 13. That’s a massive accomplishment for anyone, let alone a rookie.
“There are so many emotions,” Kaden said. “I can’t believe I cleared Stage Three. It’s been a dream of mine forever. To actually do it, it’s awesome. I really can’t believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m so shocked to be the Last Ninja Standing. Hopefully, I can be the ANW season 13 champion.”
The $1 million prize was just beyond Kaden’s reach as he timed out on the rope climb. But that outcome only gives him a goal for the future. And he still earned $100,000 for his trouble. He might even share the riches with his fellow teen Ninja Warriors.
“I owe Max Feinberg a trip to Disneyland. He bought me a smoothie once and I said if I won ANW, I would take him to Disney.
To close out our season, we asked Kaden to share his “Oscars moment speech.” Who does he want to thank for this year?
“I’d thank my coach John Maul. I’ve trained with him every single day forever. For the past five years. I couldn’t ask for a better coach and training partner. This season is more than I could ever ask for. I’ve been working so hard for this. And for it to start paying off, it’s crazy.”
Kaden Lebsack, a 15-year-old rookie, accomplished almost everything there is to accomplish on American Ninja Warrior in just one season. What could that mean for future seasons of the show? It means fans better buckle up.