Blog by Janelle Kopa
Abby Clark dominated the American Ninja Warrior Season 10 course this year, setting the bar high with a buzzer in Minneapolis on qualifying night. With fire in her eyes and perseverance in her movement, Abby is a competitor I will never forget watching. She attacked the course in the way I dreamed of doing. After a life-long journey in gymnastics and track leading to a collegiate career in both, her new course of ninja is set forward, but she’s thankful for the foundation those sports brought. In this podcast, she discusses a journey of ‘firsts’, vulnerably diving into the truth and beauty of what it means to take the first step forward towards your dreams.
When I first started training for ninja after college gymnastics, I was terrified at the thought of becoming a beginner again. I may love living a life full of adventure and new experiences, but I have not been a beginner in a sport for a long time. I have been told countless times that gymnastics must be a great foundation for ninja. However, each time I heard these words, my brain thought, You should automatically be good at ninja. Being a beginner is weak. I believed the internal lie that I needed to quickly get over my first experiences in the sport so that I could finally succeed like everyone else.
Abby talks about how embracing the identity of ‘beginner’ is one of the hardest obstacles to face in ninja. In an era obsessed with posting about success in first experiences, we can put pressure on ourselves to achieve instant perfection, instead of enjoying the process of growth. Abby said it best, “Ninja is a student sport.” Athletes dedicated to growth are always learning; they are always a beginner at something, whether that be a new obstacle, technique, or plan.
“We’ve all had to get over that first obstacle of just getting out on the course. You just gotta go for it”. Ninjas share in the fear and frustration of first experiences so we can unite in support for each other as we go through our ‘firsts’ together. It took Abby a pizza bribe to first get out on a ninja course, and now her athletic journey is inspiring ninjas everywhere. Whatever it takes for you to take that first step forward, I encourage you to do it!
To get ninja competition ready, Abby recommends training in a ninja gym to try out obstacles and to go rock climbing. Anything you do to prepare your body for what a ninja course could entail, will help you succeed. This includes training your body mentally. Visualization is a powerful tool for athletic success. By being prepared with a Plan Z on the course, you have committed to staying calm and in control of your body no matter what happens out on an obstacle.
I once heard a quote that said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.” Sometimes, we are nervous when we’re unsure of an outcome in a ninja competition, or we get frustrated because the outcome was not what we wanted. This is especially true when our money is involved; competitions can get expensive! Determining a positive take away from every ninja experience, will allow you to find purpose even in disappointing situations. For example, falling on the first or second obstacle is a real fear. And guess what, it has happened to almost every single ninja!
“It’s okay to be frustrated with yourself, it means you hold yourself to a high expectation.” However, it is important to realize that your time was not wasted. At each competition, Abby challenges us to find the good in every situation, such as by being thankful for the opportunity to try new obstacles at open gym, getting to travel, meeting new people, and having a new area of focus when you head back to the gym. Since we are all students in the sport, there is always something to learn!
As you move forward in your ninja journey, keep your eyes open for opportunities of ‘firsts’. Beginnings are foundational to someday reaching our best. “Your whole life you are going to have firsts. And the more firsts you have, honestly the better.” Ninja and life are all about learning to be prepared and adaptable in situations that are unpredictable. You can set yourself up for success by declaring that your next ‘first’ is the start of your next best.