First Woman to Beat American Ninja Warrior Course Rides Wave of Male Support

Confession: I’m a big fan of American Ninja Warrior. The show, based on the popular Japanese original, pits skilled athletes against a grueling metal obstacle course that challenges virtually every muscle group—especially the upper body. Though the show’s cheesy tactics sometimes give it a WWF sort of feel (costumes, puns and sob stories galore) it’s hard to not get sucked in.

Part of the fun is to size up the physiques of the competitors, and guess whether they have the body proportions and muscle mass to beat each obstacle. Different body types can successfully lead to course domination, but until this season there’s been one constant: No woman has been able to get past the first round.

Victory at Last

After seeing one female competitor after another drop from the sinister obstacles to the frigid water beneath, it’s hard not to feel that crossing this barrier is simply impossible for those of the XX variety. Besides its serious punishment on the upper body—the course has a multitude of hanging and pulling challenges—certain sectors also put short people at a disadvantage, a double whammy for many women.

But smite me for my unbelief, because lo and behold one tiny former college gymnast did the unthinkable. Kacy Catanzaro catapulted herself into ANW history this season, pounding through each grueling obstacle to accomplish sweet Ninja victory by making it through the competition's intense qualifying round. She even handily blasted her five-feet tall, 100-pound frame up the infamous Warped Wall, the bane of many a hopeful contender, using just one of the three attempts allotted.

And then . . . after five seasons of an all-male monopoly, BAM: Event coordinator Michelle Warnky and rock climbing instructor Meagan Martin also both rocked through the course. What?! And in the most recent development, on Monday’s show, dear Kacy faced the final-round phase. It’s longer and more difficult, and I thought she didn’t have a prayer. I got my Doubting Thomas come-uppance yet again, because she nailed it.

Let’s Hear It for the Boys

These feats of female athleticism are awesome to be sure. But a huge part of what makes these successes so delightful has actually been the male response. The fellow dude-competitors, announcers and fans have expressed euphoric delight at the women’s progress.

In fact, each season the men have been extremely supportive of the women, even when victory continually eluded them. Former NFL player and co-host of ANW, Akbar Gbaja Biamila, (endearingly) nearly lost his shit when Kacy made it through on Monday. And among the throngs of cheering competitors, her boyfriend, Brent Steffensen—historically one of the best ANW athletes—likewise exhibited sheer joy at Kacy’s victories, even though he himself fell prey to the course in the first round this season.

All Together Now

OK, OK. So this is a gimmicky reality-TV show, and it’s not like women just won the right to vote again. But still, this light-hearted TV competition actually provides some heady food for thought.

Here goes: ANW is an utterly non-elitist competition. Sure it’s got rock-climbing doctors and muscly professors in the lot, but most of the competitors come from humble and/or quirky backgrounds: ranchers, plumbers, kid party entertainers and loads of stuntmen and parkour enthusiasts. The show doesn’t care where you came from—in fact it embraces the oddball nature of many of the contestants—just what you can do. And this attitude extends to the women. They may be underdogs, but the community happily embraces them. (Which has not been the case in various other sporting enterprises).  

Thus, the show’s egalitarian nature, which is a big part of what makes it compelling, seems to also translate into male advocacy for women to take part, train alongside the bros and excel in the competition. And given that this is ultimately a profit-making production, the frequent inclusion of women’s runs in the show’s footage suggests viewers at home are also generally into the female competitors.

So we salute the women training for and taking on the grueling courses, as well as the men who give their unreserved support to them. It’s a heart-warming example with far-reaching implications—because for all of women’s impressive efforts in self-advocacy through the years, we need and greatly appreciate male allies to support our rights and aspirations in society.

And of course, we want to extend that support right back to our male brethren. Ninja rainbow!



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