Let me admit, straight up, that I have never watched American Ninja Warrior. The show to me just seems like a bunch of muscly dudes doing obstacle courses and without the fun names and silly costumes of American Gladiators (which I will admit, straight up, I did watch– as a kid. “Ice” was my favorite.)
Anyway, scrolling my facebook feed today, someone posted THIS, a link to Kacy Catanzaro’s run through an obstacle course that makes her the first woman ever to qualify for the show’s ultimate challenge. Who knows why I clicked it, but I did. Two things in the video really got me, not to mention the fact that I felt compelled to watch the whole thing, which comes in at nearly 8 minutes long and is, again, not something I would normally take the time to watch.
Firstly, how goddamn easy she makes a challenge like the one she’s presented with look. Sure, she takes her time between the obstacles to catch her breath and shake out her limbs– I can’t even stay in downward facing dog for a few minutes without looking like I’m about to die– but Catanzaro owns these intense physical challenges in such a way that makes it look graceful. I do not expect anything from a show called American Ninja Warrior to look graceful– though maybe that’s my own misunderstanding of the show? I can’t be sure, but I doubt it, especially after glimpsing the other contestants watching on the sidelines, who were just as psyched as I was to see Catanzaro complete the course, it seemed.
Secondly, how awesome and supportive the crowd and even the announcers are of her during her run. Reality TV and game shows and sports these days sometimes mesh together in this ugly way– viewers can expect announcers to be critical and often they are cruel or mocking in their commentary. Even Jeopardy host Alex Trebek is unkind to women when it come to their relationship with sports. Every time a women runs a football category or a group of women manage to complete one about athletes, he has a snarky comment ready. It’s not an exaggeration to say that athletic women or women who show interest in sports who don’t look the part are often not taken seriously. Catanzaro’s height and weight are mentioned at one point in the video– 5′, 100lb., and the announcers on this show are amazed properly throughout her performance that she can do what she does. And by properly, I mean, they talk about the odds of her being able to do certain things due to her height and body type in a way that isn’t offensive but realistic; but then, when she powers through the challenges, they are properly astounded at their own previous doubt and her extreme athleticism. Their amazement is supportive and enthusiastic–not mocking. They aren’t ever like, “I can’t believe a GIRL can do this” in their commentary. They speak about her use of the advantages she has– her gymnast past, her stamina, her integrity. And the crowd’s support of her throughout the course made me tear up.
What’s so great about this, in short, is that she completed the course in a flawless way because she is who she is. What’s newsworthy about it is, yes, she’s an unlikely candidate due to both her body weight/height… and her gender. People often don’t expect the same amount of physical ability from women like they do from men, so when someone, when a woman, can make a course like this look as easy as Catanzaro makes it, we talk about it. And we should.
I hated gym class. I can’t do a push-up to this day. The only athletic ability I have is that I can throw a football with a mean spiral and pretty damn far. Though this isn’t due exclusively to any lack of female athlete role models in my life, as two of my cousins were pretty great field hockey players, I’m glad that young girls of today have Kacy Catanzaro– and other great female athletes– to look up to so that they can decide what their goals are when it comes to their own athletic abilities. I hope they know they don’t have to look like “Ice” to make it as a woman in the typically male-dominated world of sports.
As for Kacy and #ANW specifically, I may even tune in to see her compete in the Mt. Midoriyama course that this one qualified her for. I hope she kicks ass. I bet she will.
Here’s the video. So far, a majority of the comments aren’t cringe-worthy. Awesome: