Archive for June, 2012

National Finalists in American Ninja Warrior 4

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Here is a list of the 90 national finalists in American Ninja Warrior 4 who advanced to Las Vegas to compete on the Mt. Midoriyama replica uber-course that was built there. There will be 10 wildcards added to these 90 competitors to make an even 100 runners, which is the traditional number that competed in the original Ninja Warrior Japan (Sasuke) for many years. The identity of these wildcards will be revealed when the show airs.

15 finalists from each of the 6 regions (listed below in order of finish) fought their way through their respective regional rounds and then the regional finals to advance to the first finals of American Ninja Warrior held in the US. Mad props to all these competitors, and hit LIKE to applaud them and share this list to spread the word of their awesomeness!

Southwest
Evan Dollard
Jesse La Flair
Kole Stevens
Remi Bakkar
Brent Steffenson
Chad Simpson
Derek Nakamoto
Dorian Cedars
Dan Mast
Paul Darnell
Sedderick Bassett
Ryan Thompson
Dylan Curry
Ronnie Shalvis Jr
Michael “Frosti” Zernow

Midwest
Matthew Derouen
Andrew Karsen
Jack Morgan
Stephen Volcko
Arthur Skov
Michael Silenzi
Nick ‘Lovin’ Stephforn
Johnathan Morin
Scott Robinson
Will Dodd
Joshua Grant
Andrew Lowes
Nate Aye
Nick Kostner
Cade Halada

Northeast
Tim Shieff
Luis Moco
Dan Galiczynski
Chris Wilczewski
Elet Hall
Travis Graves
Jesse Villareal
Christopher DiGangi
Andrew Wood
Danny Johnson
Bradley Smith Jr.
Phillip Pirollo
John Sapinoso
Matt Mings
Michael Pericoloso

Northwest
James McGrath
Travis Furlanic
David Campbell
Sean Noble
Kyle Cochrane
Justin Sweeney
Josh Horsley
Nathan Sausedo
Justin Walcker
J.B. Douglas
Kevan Reoli
Ben Snead
Brian Kretsch
Gunner Bahn
Patrick McGrath

Midsouth
Paul Kasemir
Brandon Douglass
Brian Arnold
Jaret Salas
Kevin Klein
Sat Khalsa
Ahmed Toure
Josh Lobeck
Lorin Ball
Jake Smith
Bob Pondrom
Nathaniel Spencer
James Wyatt
Tremayne Dortch
Alan Connealy

Southeast
David “Flip” Rodriguez
Drew Dreschel
Travis Rosen
Jared “J.J.” Woods
Michael Ekhert
Bull Bullard
Sean Morris
William Brown
Thomas Hall
Brendan Kelly
Andy Taylor
Adam Grossman
Niko Bogucki
Tony Reddick
Paul O’Connor

Almost Up the Warped Wall – Just a Couple of Inches Away

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Keep thinking about this moment in the Midwest regional finals where I was just a couple of inches away from getting up the Warped Wall in my first attempt and most likely advancing to the national finals in Vegas. My time was pretty fast and I historically have a very high clear rate on easy Salmon Ladders (3 rungs not too far apart classifies as “easy” compared to other setups), so I believe I would have advanced even if I had then fallen on the Globe Grasp. Proud of how I did, getting to compete at all as a walkon and then being the oldest competitor to advance to the regional finals in the Midwest, but this is the moment that I’ve already replayed in my mind about 1,000 times.

Just a couple of inches away

Just a couple of inches away...

My Runs – ANW4 Regionals and Regional Finals

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

For those of you interested in seeing my runs, here are the links to the videos of my run in the Midwest regional opening round and then the Midwest regional finals in this year’s American Ninja Warrior. I was lucky enough that they showed both my runs when the shows aired (regional round on G4, regional finals on NBC).

Right-click on link, and hit SAVE LINK AS to download the MPEG4 to your computer. After download, click on it to run it!

Matt Laessig – ANW4 Midwest Regionals on G4 where I was a walkon competitor.

Matt Laessig – ANW4 Midwest Regional Finals on NBC where I was the oldest competitor to have advanced to that stage.

My Regional Run – The Voices in My Head

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Some of you may have tuned in and watched the Midwest regionals last night on G4.  For the first time in 3 seasons they aired my run and did a nice little background piece about this crazy-ass 40 year old who drives for days with his kids in tow just for a chance to get a walkon spot.  In the piece they showed some nice shots of my training, included a shout-out to this blog (surprisingly), and aired a couple of adorable shots of my cute little kids!

Having to go the walkon route, and not knowing I was going to actually get a shot to run until pretty soon before I was standing on the starting line, I was psyched just to get my crack at the course.  Ask any ninja what he or she most fundamentally wants, and it’s just the chance to try.  Of course, we all want to go far into the course, but the difference between the binary world of “getting to try” versus “not getting to try” is the biggest gulf in potential experiences.  So I was just thrilled to get a shot as a walkon and to be standing at that starting line.

Although it was edited to look like I ran late in the day, I was actually the 5th person to attempt the course that day.  You see, they usually have a handful of walkons try the course out first for any “bugs” or flaws in it before wasting the attempts of the guaranteed runners.  Two of the three runners right before me fell on the Quad Steps, and knowing that super-stud Levi Meeuwenberg had fallen on the Quad Steps in Venice I was more than a little nervous about sharing their fate.

These are my obstacle-by-obstacle notes of my opening round regional run, complete with a running commentary of the Voices in My Head that chattered at me while I was on the course:

QUAD STEPS – As I mentioned, I was more than a little concerned about the Quad Steps.  But when the buzzer sounded I coasted right through them using the cautious “triple step” technique.  I remember hitting the platform at the end and thinking “Thank God!  At least you didn’t fall on the first obstacle!  It’s all gravy from here.”

LOG GRIP – I wasn’t too concerned about the Log Grip.  I took my time and made certain I grabbed the divots that I had planned to use, and then just jumped and held on.  It’s important to get a grip where you still have some bend in your arms to absorb the shock of the drops.

BRIDGE OF BLADES – I wasn’t too concerned about this obstacle either.  When the blades are oriented as an X you can just scoot right down the center pretty briskly without any problems.  This is how the blades were set in American Ninja Warrior 3 (last year) and 4 (this year).  In American Ninja Warrior 2, the blades were set up as a + and many many good ninjas fell that day (I got past it, but fell on the next obstacle…the dreaded Spider Wall!).  But for American Ninja Warrior 4 this year I just scooted right down the middle without much hesitation.

JUMP-HANG – I was more than a little wary of the Jump Hang.  It gets a number of competitors to fall, and sometimes quite spectacularly.  Even top competitors will occasionally miss it.  But I feel pretty good on the mini-tramp and just cleared my mind, focused, and hammered that mini-tramp for a pretty good jump up to the 2nd highest strand of rope.  I got caught up a bit going over the top and I remember thinking “Are you going to get stuck here?  That would be embarrassing…” but I got over in a few seconds with a bit of ungainly thrashing.

CURTAIN SLIDE – I was quite worried about this obstacle.  It was new to the American Ninja Warrior competition and I think I was the second person in ANW history to ever try it out.  I figured the keys to the technique were getting a lot of momentum jumping off the platform onto the first curtain to get it to really slide, and then transition to the 2nd curtain, which was fixed (not sliding), with the very first swing.  I did exactly that and when I transitioned to the 2nd curtain I heard the crowd gasp and I thought “Am I about to fall here and I don’t even know it?” and then hiked my legs up and around the bottom of the curtain.  I made a quick transition to the 3rd curtain and then the platform after that.  Now that I have seen my run on TV, I know why the crowd gasped!  I was pretty close to touching the side of the obstacle with my feet as I was swinging around which would have disqualified me, and then after that I almost touched the water.  Yikes!  Definitely got a cue from the crowd noise there.

WARPED WALL – Prior to that day I had only practiced on a Warped Wall once in my life a couple of years ago.  It had been a smaller wall but I had gotten up it maybe 2 out of 3 tries, even when tired.  But this was a bigger wall, I was gassed from the previous 5 obstacles, and the springs in my legs that I used to use for high-jumping and dunking are a shadow of their former selves 😉  No excuses…I should have gotten up that wall, and I know I can get up that wall.  Just that day I missed.  Watching it on TV I realized that my first two attempts went badly because I was anticipating the curve of the wall before I got there…you can see me almost step up in an awkward step right as I get to the curve.  My final attempt was my closest, I actually got on fingertip over the top, but I was too out of gas by then.  So close, yet so far!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed that in my head.

Since I was the 5th runner of the day, I spent the whole day in the qualifier pit with 30 chairs for the 30 people who would advance to the regional finals.  I was SURE I would get bumped out at some point, but was just happy to have run and to have done as relatively well as I had.  Plus, it was super-fun to hang out all day in the qualifier pit with some other cool ninjas like David Gabel, Steven Volko, and Cade Halada among others.  Then, suddenly, the day was over, and I was sitting in the 29th seat, meaning I was going to advance.  I was only one seat from the “hot seat” as the guy about to be bumped, and I was already scripting my farewell speech in my head for the camera when they told us the day was done and we were the Midwest regional finalists!  Pretty dope!  Even doper…I was the oldest competitor to make it to the regional finals, which is some mad street cred among my middle-aged peer group 😉

Thanks to everybody for their support, and I hope you tune in for the regional finals and have a blast!

Southeast on Deck!

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

The last of the six regions in this year’s American Ninja Warrior, the Southeast, is finally on deck to be shown this Sunday on G4 and Monday on NBC. The Southeast region was filmed in Miami along with the Northeast region, and has a tough lineup with a number of veteran competitors who will be gunning for the top spot, and could very well be the most experienced overall region with four of the ten returning finalists from American Ninja Warrior 3 that went to compete in Japan.
Ryan Stratis – It’s safe to say that Ryan is one of the superstars of American Ninja Warrior, and has competed in and been shown in every competition. He’s improved every season and made it all the way to the third stage in Japan in ANW3, and his intensity and symbolism as a member of our armed services make him a favorite with both fans and competitors. A buddy of mine since ANW2, he’s one of the guys I root hardest for, and a true threat to win it all.
Travis Rosen – Another returning finalist from Japan in ANW3 where he fell in Stage 2, Travis is an incredibly trained and gifted athlete who was an All-American gymnast at the University of Iowa once-upon-a-time. Travis and I bonded entering ANW2, both of our first seasons, as fellow middle-aged dads who felt compelled to compete. When we first became buddies I had NO IDEA he was as sick as he is…Travis could truly be the first American Ninja Warrior and is another guy that I root hard for every year.
David “Young Flip” Rodriguez – Young Flip burst onto the scene last year not only as another finalist in ANW3 who made it all the way to Japan (where he fell in Stage 2), but also as a competitor in the awesome parkour/freerunning show Jump City: Seattle where he competed for Miami Freerunning. Young Flip is a very agile strong competitor with great conditioning and confidence in his abilities. He’s famous for his use of a mask when he competes which he says helps him focus. I don’t know him well, but he’s a good guy and a threat to go deep in this year’s competition.
Drew Drechsel – Drew is yet another returning finalist from ANW3 (making 4 of 10 in the Southeast region) where he painfully blew out his knee landing from the rope in the Half-Pipe Attack in Stage 1 in Japan. Drew is a young guy with incredible strength and coordination who should be back strong this year from his injury, and I fully expect him to be among one of the last guys standing in this competition.
Other Seasoned Vets – From earlier seasons we have two more returning vets from Japan in Brett Sims and Patric Cusic, as well as Thomas Hall (Boot Camp from ANW2) and Sean Morris (two-time semi-finalist). All of these guys are seasoned competitors, and experience shouldn’t be overlooked as a differentiating factor in a field of strong competitors.
NFL Football Player Kamerion Wimbley – Kamerion Wimbley, a professional football player who plays defensive end for the Tennessee Titans, competed in the Southeast. At 6’5″ and 255 lbs, that’s a big man on the course. Some people are dismissing his chances for being that large, but that’s only an inch taller and 35 lbs more than me, and I KNOW he’s much younger stronger faster than I am, and I just missed making the national finals, so my money is on him to shock some people. Having recently signed a $30 million contract with the Titans, the $500k prize doesn’t represent much motivation, but I hear he’s a true fan of the show so I wish him well.
Newcomer Alert – I’ve heard great things about Jared JJ Woods, Young Flip’s training partner in Miami, and am looking forward to seeing how he does.

Sorry for the many deserving athletes that didn’t get profiled here. Do something amazing and make me profile you next year!