These Qualifiers keep getting harder, and Philly is no exception. The episode was full of surprises. Many veterans finished the course, but new faces, including three women besides Michelle Warnky also conquered it. The 5th obstacle, the Rolling Thunder, knocked out 21 people! Today, we look at the best, most surprising and most inspiring runs.
- Floating Steps
- Log Grip
- Paddle Boards
- Wall Drop
- Rolling Thunder
- Warped Wall
Michelle Warnky was among few women who had a strong run last season, but this season, Warnky inspired three. Warnky looked good on the Paddle Boards and Wall Drop, but failed on the Rolling Thunder. People shouldn’t be surprised by this. Women are inspired to prove people wrong, and women can be just as good of ninjas as men.
Jesse “Flex” Labreck was an elite track and field athlete in high school, but is now a full time caregiver for Emeline Sterpe, a 20 year old girl with Cerebral Palsy who cannot move her arms and legs or talk after moving to Boston. She communicates through a computer controlled by her glasses. “Jesse will crush the course”, she said. She did, flying through the first four obstacles, with Emeline watching with amazement and a smile, before Labreck became another victim of the dreaded Rolling Thunder.
Rachael Goldstein just barely made the City Finals. Just like the other women, she flew through the first four obstacles, but the Rolling Thunder stumped her as well.
Allyssa Beird is a school teacher that lives in Marlboro, Massachusetts. I live just one town away in Northborough! Beird just made the Finals after two ninjas fell on the Log Grip to save her. She flew through the first four obstacles before becoming one of 21 Rolling Thunder victims.
New Ninjas Inspire Many and Conquer Course
Jon Alexis Jr., known as Jon the Giant, flew through the course, despite some slip-ups. His height helped, he’s the tallest ninja of Philly at 6’6”. If he wasn’t that tall, he would’ve missed the dismount on the Wall Drop! Alexis finished the course with a Top 3 time, sandwiched between rookie Anthony DeFranco and 3-year vet, the Ninja Weatherman Joe Moravsky.
Anthony DeFranco was cancer survivor Greg Smith’s closest friend. They were on the track team in high school together, until Greg got diagnosed with serious cancer. When he was cured in 2013, Smith and DeFranco began training for American Ninja Warrior together. Smith fell on the Paddle Boards, but DeFranco, his training partner showed him how it’s done by finishing the course with the top time.
Najee Richardson lives right in Philadelphia, and had his whole family to cheer him on. He dominated the course and was the first finisher of the Rolling Thunder and the whole course. For a rookie, that struck me into amazement! Did he get to train on the actual course or something? Richardson will be highly anticipated at the city finals.
John Gowder Jr. is doing this for his dad, John Gowder Sr. He has MS which has slowly gotten worse. He is now in a wheelchair permanently. However, John Sr. was guiding Gowder every step of the way. Gowder showed his dad how it’s done by making it to the fifth obstacle, but he was puzzled by the Rolling Thunder.
John Loobey didn’t make it very far on the course, but still made the history books. At 64, the Sunday School teacher is the oldest to get past not just the 1st obstacle, but 2 obstacles. John says that the young guys don’t scare him, in hopes to not just get past the 1st obstacle, but hit the buzzer. He also said that he’ll be back next year at age 65 to try and top that.
Vets Come Up Big
Joe Moravsky still finished with a top time, even after spending a lot of the past year taking care of his daughter Emily, limiting his time for training and sleep. This was Emily’s first American Ninja Warrior event of many to come, and the Ninja Weatherman impressed his daughter by doing what he does best, flying through the course and working the clock to snag a top time.
Geoff Britten is the only person to hit all 6 buzzers in one season. Not even Isaac Caldiero did that! Britten was the first American Ninja Warrior, but Caldiero got the $1,000,000 due to a faster time. The Rolling Thunder has stumped many, but Britten had no issues, dominating it and the rest of the course. He hit his 7th straight buzzer with a Top 10 time. We’ll see if he can make that 8, and faster at the City Finals.
Jamie Rahn, otherwise known as Captain NBC, came back with the same outfit and crazy hairdo. He used his ninja “superpowers” to dominate the course once again, and quickly. He finished 6th overall, just 3 seconds shy of 3 minutes. Rahn also came 3 seconds away from a Top 5 time. Najee Richardson finished in 2 minutes, 54 seconds. Rahn hopes to do even better at the City Finals.
Ryan Stratis is one of a very small group of ninjas that have competed on all eight seasons of American Ninja Warrior. He’s dominated year after year, but this year was different. Stratis is four months removed from severe shoulder surgery. It took hard work to regain the strength in his shoulder. He even had to stretch it out on the course. But Stratis persevered and just barely hit the buzzer and finished in 4 ½ minutes.
Abel Gonzalez made it all the way to Stage 3 last season, and he was looking good early on. He nearly knocked Marlboro native Allyssa Beird out of the Top 30, preventing the women in the Finals record from being broken. But he made an illegal step on the Paddle Boards, and it was ruled a fail on the 3rd obstacle, ending his season.
Chris Wilczewski is a 7 year veteran on American Ninja Warrior. He was on a good run, until his foot dipped into the water at the dismount on the Rolling Thunder. Wilczewski made a rookie mistake, as Matt Iseman said. He still finished 13th after a stellar start, so he will have his chance for redemption this season.
Run Of The Night
I have to give this to Geoff Britten. He may have struggled time-wise, but hey, he completed the course, that’s a free ticket to the City Finals. It’s not that Britten had a mind-blowing run in this season, it’s what he’s done recently. He finished all four stages of Mount Midoriyama and the city qualifier and finals last season. If he keeps this up he could be in for 12 straight buzzers. No matter how tough it is, it seems like this guy perseveres, and is determined to extend the streak and hit the buzzer. I may be a Joe Moravsky super fan, but I’m starting to like Philly in general. I’ve seen many great people that took on the Philly course, so this was very hard to choose.