Jessie Graff Again, Y'all

Last year, I wrote about American Ninja Warrior contestant Jessie Graff when she made history by being the first woman ever to complete Stage One in the finals. Earlier this year, I linked to Vivian Kane's terrific piece at The Mary Sue when Jessie made history again by being the first woman ever to complete Stage Two during an international competition.

She hasn't made history again this season (yet) — although Allyssa Beird and Jesse "Flex" Labreck have! — but her run last night was incredible all the same. So here it is!

Video Description: Jessie Graff, a blond white woman, who is a professional stuntwoman, stands at the starting line of the obstacle course, wearing a red and blue superhero costume. (She always competes in a superhero costume; she is a stuntwoman on Supergirl.)

The buzzer goes off, and Jessie begins, first leaping her way across the Floating Steps — a staggered series of inclined steps, hovering over a pool of water. Most of the obstacles on the course are suspended over water, and if the contestant touches the water with even so much as a toe as they navigate the course, they are disqualified.

Jessie completes the steps and grabs a rope, on which she swings to a platform which leads to the second obstacle — the Rolling Pin, which is a rounded tube onto which she must grab and cling, wrapped around a long metal bar, which swings quickly and roughly down an incline. She is flung off the apparatus onto the next platform, and is safely through to the third obstacle!

The Wingnuts obstacle is a series of three swinging pendulums with two hand-holds, from which competitors must leap sideways. Jessie leaps to the first, catches it, and begins to swing side to side. Once she has garnered enough momentum, she leaps sideways and grabs onto the second. She swings and swings and then leaps sideways again to the third. Then she swings some more and flies sideways once more onto the platform. She's done it!

The next obstacle is the Broken Bridge — a series of floating wedges at various heights across which competitors have to balance without falling into the water below. Jessie sizes it up, plotting out her steps with hand gestures. And then she takes off, skipping across the wedges like nothing! Boom! She's through.

As the crowd cheers, she takes a deep breath before she approaches the next obstacle — Rolling Thunder, a huge and heavy wheel which competitors must move across three descending levels while swinging beneath it. This is the obstacle on which Jessie went out during the qualifier (along with a lot of other contestants), so she's determined to beat it this time!

She takes a running start, then hops onto a trampoline, grabs a stationary trapeze bar, and then swings onto the wheel. Dangling backwards, she begins to move the wheel slowly across the track toward the opposite platform. It is a devilish device, with transparent plexiglass barriers blocking places along the wheel that would be natural hand-holds.

image of Jessie clinging to the Rolling Thunder wheel

Jessie carefully navigates the wheel through its jarring descents, and, right at the place where she fell off in the qualifier, she begins to slow, dangling precariously over the water. Will she make it?! She flips around, so she's facing the opposite platform, then swings and LEAPS!!! onto the platform. She's done it! She's only the second woman ever to beat the Rolling Thunder! The crowd goes wild, and Jessie grins proudly and waves at them.

On the sidelines, the first woman to beat it, Jesse "Flex" Labreck, cheers in celebration, while Jessie's mom and friend hug each other. A girl in the crowd holds up a sign reading "I [heart] Jessie."

Now, Jessie faces the next obstacle — the Warped Wall, which she's done a million times, one of only a few women to achieve the feat in competition. "Beat that wall! Beat that wall! Beat that wall!" the crowd chants. And so she does!

She's now gone further than any other woman in this city final, and she moves on the next obstacle — the Salmon Ladder, in which competitors must use a bar to hop up sets of extended hooks. She traverses that with no problem, then moves on to the next obstacle — the Giant Cubes, which has been frustrating competitors all night.

There is an angled bar that leads to the first of two huge, suspended cubes, which competitors must navigate with the help of only a shallow ledge at the top of the cubes and a couple of tiny footholds. Jessie pulls herself up with extraordinary flexibility and makes her way around the first cube. Then she stretches her leg across the space separating the two cubes and is basically doing the splits mid-air to make her way from the first cube to the next.

image of Jessie Graff suspended doing the splits between the Giant Cubes

She is the first person to use this technique all night (and several male competitors will borrow it later). The crowd chants her name as she makes her way around the second cube and then leaps onto the next platform. She's done it!

She moves on to the next obstacle — the Circuit Board, in which competitors must use two bars with round balls at the end to navigate across a series of boards into which have been cut openings, only through some parts of which the ball can fit. Once through, then the ball is big enough to prevent the competitor from falling, as they dangle below.

Jessie makes her way across the Circuit Board like a champ, as the crowd goes absolutely wild. It is so precarious and so time-intensive; it kills competitors' arms. But Jessie has a grin on her face, like she's having the time of her life.

She gets to the third of four boards, and she decides she's had enough and goes for the dismount. She swings and then leaps! HUZZAH SHE LANDS IT! Everyone in the crowd is losing it! The announcers are going wild!

image of Matt Iseman, a white man, making a HOLY SHIT face, and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, a black man, jumping around excitedly

Now Jessie faces the final obstacle — the Elevator Climb, a 35-foot tower which competitors must traverse by gripping two jacks on either side of the chute, which they must pump upwards to a platform.

She is the first woman ever to attempt this obstacle, and none of the competitors have completed it tonight.

Jessie starts to maneuver her way upward, but her arms are just dead, and, halfway up, she has nothing left. She hangs, with a huge grin on her face, as the crowd cheers, and then drops back down to the safety platform below.

image of Jessie hanging on in the Elevator Climb, smiling broadly

It doesn't matter. She has gone far enough fast enough that she has qualified for the national finals.

In the end, only one person completed the Elevator Climb the whole night. And Jessie came in fourth overall. Three dudes — and then at #4 one of the coolest women in a sport where women and men compete together.

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