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[Weekly Q&A]

Love on the salmon ladder: The star couple of ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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Last time, Kacy Catanzaro was swinging, leaping and climbing while her boyfriend Brent Steffensen was sitting on the sidelines.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

They call her Mighty Kacy. Last year, the 5-foot, 100-pound former gymnast made history as the first woman to conquer the Warped Wall and qualify for the finals of extreme obstacle-course competition American Ninja Warrior. But while Kacy Catanzaro was swinging, leaping and climbing her way to hashtag fame, her boyfriend, veteran ninja Brent Steffensen, was sitting on the sideline after going out early.

This year, the roles have reversed, and it’s Steffensen who will be eyeing the top of Mount Midoriyama in Las Vegas when the finals air August 31. We caught up with the couple during taping to talk obstacle advantages and why Olympians don’t necessarily make the best ninjas.

How has this year’s competition felt different? Is there added pressure? Kacy Catanzaro: It felt a little different for me this season. Last year I made history, and I think a lot of people have had their eyes on me and are expecting a lot from me. It’s an honor to have that and have all of that support, but it’s definitely a lot of pressure, too.

Brent Steffensen: For me, the more seasons that I compete, the more I realize that you’re going to have your good seasons and your not so good seasons. You can’t really let that stress you out and affect your current season. You just have to relax and have fun. If you’re enjoying yourself on the course and having fun and doing what you love, that’s when you’re really going to perform your best.

You’ve had a role reversal from last year, with Brent making it to the finals and Kacy going out early. How do you deal with one person’s disappointment and the other person success? BS: I kind of view Kacy and I as a team, so one of our results doesn’t really define who we are as a team. Last year when I went down early, it was kind of nice to have Kacy’s history-making run to redirect focus behind, instead of just sobbing in my wet clothes and fixating on all the things I would’ve changed.

The obstacles are constantly being adjusted and tweaked. Does it feel like the course gets more difficult year to year? KC: Oh yeah. They know that we’re getting stronger, that new rookies are coming in who are stronger than ever and that we probably already built the obstacles that they gave us last year. So they want to throw new stuff at us. If it is the same obstacle, they tweak it a lot and make it harder or make little adjustments to test us a little bit more.

BS: That’s part of being a ninja, too. You can train for all these things that you think are going to be there, but really what helps you get through the course is being able to adapt on the fly and get through whatever they put in front of you.

Is the course built for men? Are there certain obstacles, Kacy, that you won’t be able to complete no matter how hard you train? KC: There’s definitely a big balance. I am short, so sometimes if people can reach and swing to [a bar], I have to actually jump and get off the bar completely and get to the next one. … Sometimes my body just isn’t long enough to reach it. But it definitely goes both ways. I am also very light, so something like the peg board, where it’s just about strength, I only have under 100 pounds to hold up. But I’ve always had to approach things differently and figure it out, and I know that I can get out there and make it happen.

You also train together. What’s your least favorite exercise? BS: Oh man, I dread jumping lunges. We have two different workouts and we kind of alternate between them, and one day for whatever reason the reps are just insanely high. It’s one thing if you’re only doing 15 reps, but when you’re doing 60 jumping lunges you have to just push through it. You know you’re going to feel like a million bucks when it’s over if you just push through it.

What’s it like to be stars in a new sport? KC: It’s really awesome to be able to learn from everybody who comes from different walks of life. Everybody’s not just a gymnast; everybody’s not just a rock climber. Everybody’s bringing something new to the table. You’re talking about tips, you’re talking about training, and what they’re up to and how they did things, and you kinda realize how it all meshes together. With obstacles you can’t just be good at one thing. You can’t just be really amazing at one thing. You need to be diverse and you need to be good at a bunch of things.

BS: It is very interesting to see top athletes in their specialty come in to this new sport because it is so diverse. A lot of people think this Olympic track runner is going to crush this thing because he just set all these world records, but it’s its own sport. You gotta have it all: You gotta have the grip strength, you gotta have agility, you gotta have the endurance, strength. So there are a lot of different attributes you gotta be training for and staying sharp on.

American Ninja Warrior has yet to crown a winner. Do you think we’ll see one this year or ever? KC: People are getting stronger every year. People are learning from their mistakes and coming back ready. We have a lot of awesome ninjas this year, and I really do believe that one, if not more than one, will make it to the top.

BS: Every year the course is doable, you just gotta be able to have that flawless run in that moment. The talent pool and the bar of talent this year is bigger and badder than ever, but it’s a whole new course. It doesn’t matter how many hours you put in on the salmon ladder [obstacle], they’re going to have a bunch of new stuff that nobody’s ever done, so it kinda levels the playing field in that way. I know that it’s doable. We’ll just see if someone can do it this year. Hopefully it’s both me and Kacy and maybe another buddy joining us at the top.

American Ninja Warrior Mondays, 8 p.m., NBC.

The Ninja Smoothie

This power-packed beverage is how Brent refuels after a tough workout. Feel free to adjust the portions of each ingredient according to taste.

Ingredients:

Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice

bananas

coconut chips

carob chips

beets

almond butter

chia seeds soaked in Pom

Method: Combine ingredients and blend away.

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