It’s a trait that propelled 5-0 New Jersey native Kacy Catanzaro to great success during her Towson gymnastics career. It has carried over to Catanzaro’s success on American Ninja Warrior, a television show that challenges competitors with extreme obstacle course events.
Catanzaro made history in May as the first woman in show history to scale the 14-foot “Warped Wall.” After competing for the Tigers from 2009-12, she used her gymnastics background to propel herself to success on the show.
The 16th-leading scorer in school history, Catanzaro led the Tigers to a 20-5 record as a senior and a four-year mark of 75-16. She was a member of the Tigers’ 2009 and 2010 ECAC championship teams. As a senior, Catanzaro was named the NCAA Southeast Regional Gymnast of the Year and the ECAC Gymnast of the Year. She won the all-around title at the ECAC Championship meet and the ECAC title on the bars.
Catanzaro has many memories from her Towson gymnastics career but the one that sticks out most in her mind is “Senior Night” in 2012 when she performed in the Towson Center Arena for the last time in her career. Her teammates helped her make the most of her final home meet as the Tigers recorded an all-around score of 194.8. It was the highest team score for the Tigers since 2008.
“It was definitely a bittersweet night for me,” said Catanzaro. “I was fighting my emotions because I did not want to feel sad, but knowing it would be my last time competing with that team was very hard to swallow. Although my emotions were running high, it was just an outstanding night. I wanted to go out with the team and have fun, and that’s exactly what we did.
“I can remember hearing our final score announced at the end of the competition and jumping for joy with the team. It was a perfect ending to our senior night. I will cherish that moment forever. I wanted to go out that night and do the best I could for the team. I am so happy I had a great meet that night, and that my scores were able to contribute to the final team score. I earned a couple career high scores, 9.875 on both beam and floor, landing me in first place on those events. I also won the all-around competition with a 39.225. Having such great success for my team on my last competition in the Towson Center Arena was just a dream come true!”
Catanzaro also admitted there were several challenges to being a college gymnast.
“I would say that my biggest challenge at Towson was just making enough time for everything I wanted to do,” remarked Catanzaro. “Being a student-athlete is a huge privilege, but it doesn’t come easy. Class and school responsibility takes up a lot of time and effort, and trying to be successful in your sport and trying to have a social life is a lot to handle. When you have class starting at 8 a.m., then go right to practice in the afternoon, then have training in the weight room, then eat dinner, then homework, it just feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Don’t get me wrong; I would not change a THING, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging. It was such a great experience because it teaches you discipline, time management, responsibility, resiliency, and so much more!”
Getting Involved with American Ninja Warrior
Catanzaro admits to having a fascination with the show, American Ninja Warrior even before she finished her career at Towson. She watched the show when it was just taking place in Japan and wanted to compete even then. However, participants have to be 21 to be on the show, and since Catanzaro turned 21 during her time as a Tiger gymnast, the dream had to wait a little longer.
“After I graduated from Towson and completed by gymnastics career, I knew I needed something else to put all of my time and effort into,” said Catanzaro. “I started doing research into American Ninja Warrior, which is where I met Brent Steffensen [Catanzaro’s boyfriend]. He was a veteran on the show and had accomplished amazing things in the sport. He made history by being the first American ever to pass the Ultimate Cliff Hanger on Stage 3 of the competition, which was a HUGE accomplishment! I knew he would point me in the right direction.”
Steffensen helped Catanzaro get involved and taught her a lot of the basics about competing on the show. She submitted a tryout video and appeared on the show for the first time last season. She did well but was unable to complete the fifth obstacle and finish the qualifying round.
“I knew I had to come back and really make my mark this season,” said Catanzaro. “Making history by being the first female in the six seasons of American Ninja Warrior to make it up the warped wall and finish the qualifying course was a dream come true.”
Second Time’s the Charm
In Dallas qualifying, Catanzaro had to pass the slanted quintuple steps, a log drop, a tilted platform that moved when she ran across, a swing jump to a cargo net, ring toss (which involved Catanzaro using rings placed over pegs to cross water) and the warped wall.
Catanzaro admits that her 5-0 frame presents some challenges on the course.
“My height does play a part into obstacles like the log drop, where I couldn’t wrap my arms and legs around the log as much as a taller person,” she said. “This just meant I had to hold on with my arms and legs as tight as possible and not slip.
“Obstacles that involve a jump or have to do with your arm reach, which is a lot of them, are definitely a little more challenging for me because of my height.”
The Warped Wall
On the qualify run, Catanzaro powered through the first five obstacles, becoming just the third woman in show history to have a chance to scale the warped wall. In interviews prior to the show airing, Catanzaro stated, she believed she would be the first woman to scale the warped wall. She admits that was in her head as she faced the wall.
Catanzaro said, “One of the producers asked me, ‘we have seen you complete the warped wall in training… when you make it to the warped wall in the competition, will you be relieved and know that you will make it, or will it still be a challenge to get up the wall?’
“My response was you could never be too sure about anything. Yes, I have completed a warped wall in training, but every wall is different. Being on the big stage with all the cameras and people, and completing five obstacles before reaching the wall definitely make it a lot different than completing the wall at a gym. Also, you can complete an obstacle a thousand times, but statistically, there are going to be times you will have a slip-up. I was very excited when I completed the ring-toss, but I didn’t think to myself “that was it, I’m done now.” I knew I still needed to push through and get up that wall! I dug deep, gave everything I had, got to the top of the warped wall, and hit that buzzer!”
Catanzaro scaled the wall on her second try.
Tonight at 9 p.m. on NBC, Catanzaro will get a chance to make more history as she will try and complete the Dallas city finals course and advance to Las Vegas.
“In the city finals competition, first you re-complete the first six obstacles (ending with the warped wall) then you have to tackle four new obstacles right after that, to complete the course,” said Catanzaro! “No woman has ever conquered the warped wall, which means no woman has ever touched the obstacles that come afterwards, including the salmon ladder, and much more. I want to be the first woman to conquer the warped wall, TWICE, and finish the city finals course! No woman has ever earned her spot to the Vegas finals, and I have my eyes set on making more history.”