Kacy Catanzaro’s epic run at American Ninja Warriors’ Mt. Midoriyama may have ended Monday night, but “Mighty Kacy” forever changed the sport that is growing in popularity, specifically among women.
There was once a time that the show’s producers had to recruit from cross-fit gyms, gymnastics teams and even circuses to find women to compete on the show. That was before Catanzaro dominated the Dallas qualifier in June before shocking the country by becoming the first woman to reach the finals in July .
The run, posted on YouTube, has been viewed more than 8.8 million times.
American Ninja Warrior co-executive producer Anthony Storm confirmed the show’s casting department vetted “for the first time” a couple hundred applications from women wanting to follow in Catanzaro’s footsteps, wall climbs and jaw-dropping jumps.
“I can promise you thousands and thousands of them are women and that’s largely attributable to Kacy’s run,” Storm said.
Before Catanzaro, Storm confessed the show’s organizers didn’t test the back half of the 10-obstacle course for women because “we didn’t expect them to be there,” he said.
“We’ve been exposed a little bit,” Storm added. “We’ll test for women, and we’ll make sure the course is hard enough.”
Catanzaro, a New Jersey native, earned a gymnastics scholarship at Towson University where she was named NCAA gymnast of the year in 2012 . Her former Towson Tiger teammate Abigail Trader started looking for “ninja gyms” shortly after Catanzaro’s qualifying run.
"I've been following her on Facebook and texting her. She's just been an inspiration. She lit a fire in me," Trader said.
Trader found Alternate Routes gym , the first facility to teach and train for parkour and American Ninja Warrior style competitions in Maryland. The gym, located in White Marsh, opened on Sept. 1, 2012 and has since bred dozens of American Ninja Warrior competitors featured on the show.
The gym’s owner Tony Torres said he has seen a bump in business – both men and women inspired by Catanzaro.
“Definitely,” he said. “I haven't charted it, but I probably could. I would guarantee there has been an exponential growth of everyone, just the volume of people in general."
He joked that gym members talk incessantly about Catanzaro, "to the point that I'm almost getting tired of hearing it.”
Torres and his brother recreated some of the marquee American Ninja Warrior obstacles housed at Alternate Routes. Trader easily sprang from a trampoline to a series of dangling pipes. She swung for a moment before breezing from one pipe to the other. She launched herself up three rungs on the salmon ladder , before scaling the spider climb .
"This place is great because I walk in and see a lot of obstacles that I can't do,” Trader said. “I love that. I just see something that I can work on every day and doing it over and over again to perfect it. It's something that in gymnastics, I haven't had in a few years."
Trader said other Towson gymnasts have talked about making submission videos to enter American Ninja Warrior qualifiers, spurred on again by Catanzaro’s rise on the national stage.
"It's been just phenomenal to watch her,” Trader said. "She is so little, she's so light, and she's so strong. Her whole message is that other girls can do it too."
It took Trader a few tries to run up the warped wall, a 14-foot ramp that only three women in American Ninja Warrior history – Catanzaro included – have ever conquered. At the summit, she was helped by Sandy Sanders , a 40-year-old mother of two and all-around world beater.
Sanders was the first black woman to earn the rank of Navy Basic Diving Officer.
"I wanted to be a Navy Seal, but there are no women in the Navy Seals," Sanders said. "The next thing was explosive ordnance disposal, EOD. Have you ever seen The Hurt Locker ? That was going to be my career. Then I got pregnant, and I said it's either motherhood or this career in the Navy. I got out of the Navy, had [my daughter], and haven't stopping challenge myself since."
Sanders’ young daughter Quren Santiago joins her regularly at the gym. Sanders said she used Catanzaro as an inspiration for both her children, and herself.
“When you see a female athlete … when you see this woman actually doing that, you're wowed. She's inspirational," Sanders said. "I've got a 12-year-old. When she sees that, she gets excited and comes with me to the gym."
Sanders watched American Ninja Warrior before it was acquired by Esquire, before the show featured any female competitors. The show is a spin-off of Sasuke, a Japanese reality show competition.
"I would see the contestants, not many women, and I said I think I can do that," Sanders said. “I always like to challenge myself."
She routinely competes in “mud runs” and triathlons and teaches a
boot camp style workout. The example she sets for her children is echoed by her motto.
“There are two regrets in life: Regret having done something. And regret having not done something,” she said. “It's the not having done something that will eat away at you. … I'd rather do something and fail and show my kids don't be afraid to do it and fail. Then you come back stronger.
"You give up when you say it's time to give up. I like for Quren, for both my kids, to come out of the comfort zone, just to challenge themselves, not be complacent and reach for the next level," Sanders continued.
Catanzaro failed at reaching the finals of the sixth season of American Ninja Warrior. She couldn’t manage to grip the walls of the dreaded spider jump and fell into the pool of water below.
“It has been such a dream. All of this has been so amazing,” Catanzaro told American Ninja Warrior reporter Jenn Brow (via International Business Times ). “I wanted, obviously, to do better than I did here, but I couldn’t have asked for anything more this season.”
Catanzaro promised to return next season.
“She’s certainly invited back,” Storm said. “She’s part of the family now.
“It’s such a positive impact on society. … It provides inspiration to make yourself better and we can use that,” he continued.
Another woman made American Ninja Warrior history Monday night. Megan Martin, a professional rock climber, became the only woman in history to traverse the spider jump, an obstacle that tasks competitors to catch themselves in a wide gap and progress forward.
Martin however ran out of time to complete the course.
“Outside of Kacy what we find every year is that the competitors get better and better,” Storm said.
He added that American Ninja Warrior would likely increase its casting department to handle the more than 25,000 submission tapes, up from 6,000 for previous season. (Take a look at Kacy Catanzaro's submission video .)