Q&A with Carson School alum Jessie Graff from 'American Ninja Warrior'

Jessie Graff. Photo courtesy of NBC.
Jessie Graff. Photo courtesy of NBC.

Q&A with Carson School alum Jessie Graff from 'American Ninja Warrior'

calendar icon11 Sep 2016    

Lincoln, Neb.--Carson School Alumna and former Husker Pole Vaulter Jessie Graff (B.A. 2007) made history when she became the first woman to ever complete stage one of the "American Ninja Warrior" finals on NBC-TV. Known for her "Wonder Woman" costumes, Graff has become a fan favorite. On Monday, Sept. 11, she will compete in stage two. The two-hour season finale airs Monday at 7pm CST on NBC.

There were only 17 finishers of stage 1, and Graff finished 5th overall. 

We visit with our own Husker Ninja Warrior ahead of the finale in this exclusive Q&A:

UNLArts:  What was going through your mind when you hit the buzzer, turned around and heard the crowd roaring and it began to sink in that you had just become the first female in the history of show to complete stage 1 of the finals?

Jessie Graff (JG):  I've had some lofty goals in my life—elite  gymnastics, Olympic pole vaulter—they were goals that I wanted so badly, and so much, that I committed EVERYTHING to it.  I worked tirelessly, got very good, and acquired many valuable skills in the process, but always fell just short of the goal.  I'm used to the pattern. I've learned to accept and celebrate the skills and discipline I've gained in pursuit of the goal, despite my failure to achieve it.  And those skills are vital to the successful career I have today in stunts...but It's crushing during those months or years of plateau where you slowly come to the realization that the dream will never be a reality. 

I honestly expected something to go wrong somewhere in the course, because, when it comes to goals that mean this much to me, something always has.  I think that's why I took so much care analyzing and preparing for the course.  I tried not to get emotionally invested in the results, but I couldn't help it. I cared too much.  I KNEW i could do it, but it only mattered if I actually delivered in this moment.  And when I closed my hands around the 2nd swing of the last obstacle, I felt a rush of elation pulse through me.  I actually started to let myself believe this was going to happen.  I snapped myself back into the present and the actions of the last transfer, and as I caught the net, I knew it was happening for real.  All I can remember thinking when I hit the buzzer was "I did it! I'm ok!"

UNLarts:  How confident are you about stage 2 and the rest of the finals? Can you become the ultimate American Ninja Warrior? 

JG:  I am 100% confident that I can complete last year's version of stage 2, but because we had two finishers last year, we're all predicting a much more difficult stage 2.  And based on what I've seen from peeking at the construction and testing across the lot, our prediction was correct.  I'm not sure if I'm strong enough yet.  I know I'm not quite there on stage 3.  That one will take me at least another two years to get strong enough.  But stage 2?  If I do everything smoothly and efficiently...maybe. who knows? It's possible.

UNLArts:  What motivates you to keep competing on American Ninja Warrior? And do you plan to keep competing on it next year and beyond?

JG:  My top goal is being an action hero on TV, so that type of opportunity would take priority.  But I'm feeling pretty inspired to keep challenging my own perceptions of what's possible for me on Ninja Warrior. I think there are a lot of people who don't believe women are physically capable of achieving the upper body strength necessary for stage 3.  And I'd like to be one of the women who shows the world that we can.

UNLArts:  How does it feel being a role model to so many women and young girls? What do you hope people take from watching you on the show? 

JG:  Amazing.  I've always loved working hard for the goals I'm passionate about, but for the first time, I get to see how it can help others.  Having this kind of influence to inspire kids to pursue their dreams, adults to get healthier, and women to believe in themselves is...it validates all those years of hard work and study.  It inspires me to be stronger, healthier, better, to keep pushing to break new barriers and show what's possible.

UNLArts:  What are you working on next?

JG:  You can always check imdb to see when my recent projects are scheduled to release.  I try to post on my social media when a new episode is coming out, but I usually miss the original air date! "Yoga Hosers" just opened in theatres Sept. 2. "Another Period:  The Duel" is available on Hulu.