Jesse Labreck competes during Season 12 of “American Ninja Warrior,” which was filmed in July and aired in late October. Contributed photo/NBC Universal

Jesse Labreck has faced — and conquered — her share of obstacles over the years while competing on the NBC hit show “American Ninja Warrior.”

What she doesn’t do is cringe at the sight of them, because the show’s producers come up with new ways to challenge competitors with different obstacles each season.

“Typically I don’t get that because they’re all new,” said Labreck, an Oakland native and 2008 Messalonskee High School graduate. “I just said to myself, have fun and see what happens, and next thing you know I’m at the buzzer.”

“American Ninja Warrior,” which recently completed its 12th season, attracts more than 500 competitors from around the country who compete on difficult obstacle courses. Regional competitions are typically held throughout the country, before the national finals are run in Las Vegas. The coronavirus pandemic impacted the show this year, with only about 150 competitors invited to participate. Furthermore, filming in July occurred in just one city, St. Louis.

“Flex” Labreck made history on the show, becoming the first woman in history to advance to the Power Tower final round. The Power Tower began with a 40-foot climb to the top, followed by a slide down a pole to steps spaced high above the ground. Racers then climbed another set of poles, before crossing a series of falling shelves by swinging between and grabbing each one to the finish buzzer.


Labreck finished seventh overall, her best season since she started competing in 2016. Labreck lost to Daniel Gil, who went on to win two more races to earn the title and the $100,000 prize.

Labreck soaked in her accomplishment of reaching the Power Tower, saying on the boradcast, “That’s just insane, but having a challenge doesn’t intimidate me.”

In the finals, one obstacle ended the run of many athletes — the Falling Shelves. The third of 10 obstacles on the course, the Falling Shelves has got the best of Labreck in the past. The third of the three grabs on the obstacle was a tough reverse grab. Of the 26 ninjas who reached the third stage of the course, seven — 27 percent — failed to complete it and bowed out. Labreck’s fiancee, Chris DiGangi, saw his run end on Falling Shelves.

“Your hands have to swing toward your face and go underneath something to grab,” said Labreck, a member of the University of Maine Sports Hall of Fame for her standout track and field career at the school. “I’ve definitely struggled with reverse grabs.”

The fourth obstacle, Diamond Dash, required competitors to sprint across a series of moving platforms. Labreck hit the final one a little off, causing it to rotate up at her as she crossed. She made it, pausing for a second to regroup before completing the course with relative ease.

Jesse Labreck competes during the finals of Season 12 of “American Ninja Warrior,” which was filmed in July and aired in late October. Contributed photo/NBC Universal

Just one of three women to complete a 10-obstacle course on “American Ninja Warrior,” Labreck is now enjoying some down time at home in Naperville, Illinois. She’ll soon look into competing in small ninja warrior leagues around the country.


“I’ve been taking it easy. Now I’m ramping up to get back into it… I can do these (leagues). With COVID-19, I can be careful. I’m kind of waiting to see what happens,” Labreck said.

Labreck’s “American Ninja Warrior” success doesn’t ensure her a spot on the show in the next season. Labreck still has to apply, and that announcement will come approximately six weeks before the next season is recorded. The show’s producers need time to choose contestants and plan the stories that accompany the competition. For example, prior to Labreck’s finals run, the show aired a segment on her youth growing up fishing with her father, Larry Labreck, on East Pond. In the segment, Labreck was shown calling her dad for fishing tips.

The pandemic has the show’s schedule up in the air, Labreck said.

“We need to try to get ready, because we don’t know what will happen,” she said.




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