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The Mental Game: American Ninja Warrior Finals

The Mental Game: American Ninja Warrior Finals

by Reko Rivera

Five years, six seasons, nonstop training. I’d overcome dislocations, sprains, and tendonitis for more than three years. And I made it! I made it to the ninth season of “American Ninja Warrior” finals course in Las Vegas.

Only the top 15 contestants from each region advance to Vegas to compete in the ultimate setting. Called Mount Midoriyama, a steel structure of four stages towers in the form of a Japanese mountain. It’s made to test your body and mind, to mess you up, mentally break you and even trick you. It’s the final test of will and endurance on how far a human body can push to conquer the impossible . . . or highly improbable.

I felt great physically and mentally at the starting line of stage 1 while prepping my usual fire-breathing materials for my ritual before I start the course. I was confident in my strengths of agility and parkour. I had conquered the first stage twice in testing during previous years. I almost made it through on a third test minus a dislocated arm on the penultimate obstacle, the flying squirrel, the last obstacle on the course. A lot of repeat Vegas finalists have never passed the first stage — proof of hard it can be.

Right before my night run, it started to sprinkle. Yes, rain — rare for the desert.  Luckily, it was just a random cloud, and they wiped off the course. Then it was time! Time to put all my training and hard work to the test. My family was there, and my friends would be watching later on TV. All eyes and cameras were trained on me.

The first two runners kicked off the night showcasing 100 of the nation’s best competitors. They were quickly out. So I knew I had to be the first finisher of the night.

Beep, beep, beep. My first two steps on the first obstacle felt fine, but then I stepped a few inches too high on the second step. It felt like slow motion as my body shifted in the wrong direction. I tried to regain my balance by jumping to the next step. It didn’t work.

My chest fell almost below my waist, and I couldn’t save it. It felt like falling off a slack line. Your mind wants to go one way, but your body and physics won’t let you. I’d fall in the water if I stepped to the left, so I just stepped off the course to the right.

Just like that, all that preparation and hard work was done. I’d never been more dejected and disappointed in myself. I let down everyone there supporting me — my family, friends and fellow ninjas. We all want to succeed, but that is the nature of the beast. Less than 1 percent will ever beat the course, but that doesn’t mean you should give up.

When I was a kid people always told to give up, to quit, that I couldn’t do something. Those people were right — because of their own experiences. They took the easy way out and gave up on their goals and dreams.

Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th U.S. president, once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. . . . I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

It’s not easy striving to become a professional athlete. Some with talent never succeed, and some with just heart never succeed. But the ones who are truly dedicated and hardworking usually persevere.

You can bet I’ll back for season 10.