Wow! What a ride!! Thanks for all the support!! If you missed it this past Monday night, you can watch the Daytona Qualifier episode online right here at NBC.com. It’s a great show all around but if you want to zone in on my run, it happens around 1:04 on that timeline. I hate it for all the folks that don’t get any airtime. There are so many competitors and not enough time to show everyone’s run, so any amount of airtime is appreciated.
I had a great experience, as always, and here’s a detailed look at what it was like from my perspective.
After getting over the flu just 1 week before competing, I got into Daytona a few days early to get settled in and was just beginning to feel like myself again as qualifying night approached. On every qualifying night, there’s a LOT of energy and adrenaline in the air as filming begins, and it’s easy to let that suck you in. It’s hard not to. But this year, the good advice from veteran ninja Reko Rivera convinced me to stay off my feet and avoid too much excitement before my run.
So I sat a lot more and used that time to get a lot more focused on my mental state, adding that to my typical routine of stretching, breathing, and visualizing the course and my run. I focused my best on keeping any negative thoughts at bay. I know a fall is possible at any time, but as with most things, it’s easy for the human mind to dwell on the negative, which creates doubt, causing us to question our abilities, creating more negativity and opening the door to failure.
I kept reassuring myself, “There are more reasons I CAN be successful than there are reasons I cannot,” and I was 100% certain of that. I also reminded myself to smile and to ask myself on the course: “Are you having fun?” After all, if I’m not having fun, why am I there?? That mental attitude took a lot of pressure off and helped me relax and enjoy the run. My goal became less about achieving a certain result and more about calmness, focus, trusting my instincts, doing my absolute best, enjoying the experience, and letting the rest fall where it may.
So here it is by obstacle:
The Floating Steps are tougher than they look, and you can’t take them for granted. They always take down a few ninjas every year. I was confident, trusting my ability and past experience on them in Atlanta last year. I got through them pretty much as I had planned, and was able to exit with only an extra swing or two on the rope.
The Rolling Pin was a new obstacle, and was responsible for helping a number of ninjas earn their dreaded, free POM towels. The favored technique was to pull your legs up and let your core take the impact of the drops. I was confident I could hang on for this ride. Much like the Rolling Log in Orlando for Season 7, my mindset was simply to hold on like my life depended on it. The dismount was a bit forced, and I just relied on the momentum of the bar to sling me off at the end. I landed on my back, which nearly knocked the breath out of me, but I was happy to be safely to the platform.
The Wingnuts was another new obstacle, and I was a little worried about it because I didn’t have much experience on that type of sideways swing and laché. I assured myself, knowing I could do it as long as I committed to it fully without holding back. My transition from the first to the second was confident and went well, but while I was building up my swing for the next transition, I found my mind going to a negative, timid place, and lacking confidence. In mid-swing, I interrupted those thoughts and consciously said to myself, “Shut up, dude!! Just go for it strong and you can do this just like the first transition!” So I did.
The mind is an odd and funny thing… it can either easily control you, or you can easily control it. It all depends on – well – your mind.
The Broken Bridge had me slightly nervous because the smallest mistake can cause balance obstacles like that to shift easily and take down even the best ninjas. But I also knew it was one of those obstacles that played to my strengths, being as light as I am. As long as I stayed over the top of each step and kept my momentum moving forward, all I had to do was focus on my foot placement, stay in the center, not get ahead of myself, and just keep stepping. Just like with Block Run in Atlanta last year, I was across before I knew it, wondering why I had been so worried.
Rolling Thunder. This was an incredibly taxing, upper-body beast. I knew if I had any chance of getting past this obstacle I had to move through it fast and get off as quickly as possible. The big downside for me is that the wheel, itself, weighs 100 pounds, just shy of my own 105, and it takes a lot of time to get to the end. Its squared edges were brutal on my palms. You really don’t want to stop moving on this obstacle if you can avoid it, but I was running out of steam not long after the second drop and couldn’t avoid taking a break to shake my arms out. That helped me get in a few more moves but I wasn’t able to get it as close to the platform as I had hoped. I had to get off of that thing fast, so I chose to try to dismount to the platform. But when you’re on an obstacle that moves like that, it’s more difficult to get a good launch because it counters your efforts to swing. As soon as I let go for the platform I knew I was going to come up short, and you can see it on my face. Both feet hit the edge of the platform but it wasn’t enough. Splash, free towel.
Overall, I was very pleased with my performance and my mental focus and attitude. I was having a LOT of fun out there, regardless of the outcome.
After my fall, I was in the top 30, but over half the field had yet to run. Last year in Atlanta I got bumped out of the top 30 late in the night, barely missing my shot at the City Finals, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. But when filming shut down around 5:30 AM, I had officially placed 22 out of 30, earning a spot in my first City Finals! That was a very special moment for me, and I got just a little emotional thinking about it, as it had been a goal of mine for the past 4 years.
I went back to the hotel, got some sleep, and came back the next evening to run the extended course. I’ll post that recap in a few weeks, after the episode airs on August 7th, so don’t miss it!