ninja please

A Quick Chat With the Inspiring Woman Who Made It to the American Ninja Warrior Finals

Photo: Peter Larsen/NBC

This morning, the internet lost its mind over a video of a diminutive former gymnast completely destroying the American Ninja Warrior course, becoming the first woman to make it to the show’s final. Watching her tackle obstacle after obstacle, it was hard not to have a few questions: Who is this person? And is she even a person, or is she, like, some sort of alien or an X-Man? Also, why am I crying right now? To answer those: She’s Kacy Catanzaro. She is a human (it appears). It’s because what she did is incredible. We still had more questions, so we got on the phone and had a brief chat with the very excited, very confident person of the moment. Find out what it’s like to pave the way for female ninjas, how often she trains, and what she eats for breakfast. All hail.

I think the first thing people will want to know is: How does it feel to be so amazing?
Oh, stop it. It does feel really, really great. You know, I’ve worked so hard and it’s been a dream come true. And obviously, I want to do these things to prove to myself, but like I’ve said before, I also wanted to make these big steps for everyone, for all the women out there and for everybody else that thinks that they can’t do something or that they have an excuse. Ever since I’ve been watching the show — I used to watch it when it was in Japan — and then ever since there’s been American Ninja Warrior, the main thing has always been obviously that no American has made it to the top in Japan. But it’s also been that no woman has even completed the qualifying course. So it was like, oh, I wish that we could make that happen.

Do you have a sense of why a woman hasn’t been able to before?
Well, there obviously aren’t as many women that do the show. I think that has a lot to do with it — that women haven’t really been inclined to try out because they don’t think it’s for them. And also just the fact that no woman has done it, it makes it feel unreachable to some women. You know, like, oh, no woman’s ever done it so obviously I can’t do it. Instead of thinking, no woman’s ever done it, I want to be the one to do it, which is the attitude that I took.

What did you change from the last time you tried out?
A lot of it is also mental. Being a rookie out there is a lot different because there’s a lot on your plate: all the cameras, all the people, all the pressure. So being able to have a year under my belt was really helpful. And then, like I’ve said before, having Brent [Steffensen, her trainer and boyfriend] by my side, he’s definitely been my secret weapon getting me through this, ’cause Brent Steffensen is a huge name in the game.

So how long have you been training for ninja warrior specifically?
So, I would say about two years now. This is my second year competing and before that, I was competing in gymnastics full-time and in college and in places like that.

So how is the training for this different?
We’re doing a lot of body weights, circuit training, things like that. There are people that lift heavy weights and that’s great for them depending on what your goal is. My goal is to be as light and lean and strong as possible for the course.

How often do you train?
We try and strength train anywhere from four to six days a week. And we’ll always try and do obstacles at night for a couple hours.

Do you find running boring? I know I do.
[Laughs.] I definitely don’t wanna offend the runners out there and say that it’s boring, but it’s definitely not my favorite thing to do just because … we don’t go out and run as a workout. I am very amazed by the runners out there because I like jog to the garbage can outside sometimes and I get tired.

What do you eat? What is your normal diet?
We definitely stay away from anything processed — no corn syrups and sugar and things like that. I always say that if I look at the ingredients and there’s something that I can’t read, I’m assuming that it’s bad. [Laughs.] So we definitely try and stick to super natural things, lots of greens, anything from the earth, greens, fruits, vegetables, nuts, things like that. We stay away from grains and gluten because it does bloat you out a little.

What’s your typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner then?
I’ve been eating a lot of oatmeal lately, which isn’t the complete grain or gluten free obviously, but it does kind of get your body moving. For the next two meals, it depends on where we are, but we do big salads with eggs or something like that. We love fish — salmon or shrimp, scallops, definitely lots of seafood. Not too much meat … every now and then we’ll splurge and get some chicken nachos or something like that, but meat definitely isn’t on my normal meal regimen or anything.

You’re on the shorter side, which seemed like a giant disadvantage for this course. Did it feel that way to you?
It definitely goes both ways. I would say that my weight is an advantage because I’m light, so I don’t have to hold up as much weight, but I think that my height and my size is definitely a disadvantage because my arms are a lot shorter when it comes to reaching things, my legs are a lot shorter when it comes to jumping to things, stuff like that. Obviously, I’ve been on the shorter side my whole life, so I just know that sometimes I need to make adjustments and find my own way to do it.

Your background is as a gymnast. Can you just do backflips, like, at will, just standing?
Um, yeah! I mean, not like super-crazy backflips, but I can do a back-tuck and land it if we’re standing on the grass. Not as cool as any of these parkour guys that bust out and do it, but I could do a flip if I had to.

So, you don’t know me, but I’m pretty tall. I’m six-three. I played sports in high school, but I don’t really exercise too much. I do push-ups every day. On my best day, how far do you think I could get on the course?
You know, I would say … I would say that you have a good shot. Some people think that being tall can be a disadvantage, and it’s kind of just like how people think that being short can be a disadvantage. You just have to know your body and use it in ways that help you. You might be able to reach things better than I can, but you also have a lot longer of a body to trudge through the obstacles as well. So you have to definitely understand your body — what works for it, what doesn’t — I think we could definitely get you through the quad steps with some training. Me and you, easy. You could get through the quad steps for sure. [Editor’s note: The quad step is the first obstacle.] And then, I think we could get you through a qualifying course, no problem.

What was it like watching yourself compete? [Note: The show airs Mondays nights on NBC and Tuesdays on the Esquire Network.
It’s funny because obviously I was there and I did it, but watching it when it aired, it was a whole other experience. When I’m competing, I can’t hear what the commentators are saying and I can’t hear what the crowd is doing because I’m so focused on what I’m doing. So re-watching it was actually really emotional, and I got lots of tweets from everyone like, “Oh I cried when you got to the top.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, me too!” [Laughs.] In my interview afterwards I was like, “Hold on, I’m trying not to cry!” It was just … overwhelming happiness. I couldn’t ask for anything better.

Interview With the Female Ninja Warrior Finalist