PHILADELPHIA (NEWS CENTER) — Waterville area natives Jesse Labreck and Jon Alexis Jr. both advanced to American Ninja Warrior's national finals in Las Vegas after successful course runs in the Philadelphia city finals.
The tape-delayed competition aired Monday night on NBC, and for the first time in ANW city finals history, no ninja hit the buzzer, thus leaving the course undefeated. Nevertheless, Labreck, Alexis Jr. and 13 others still made it to the next round.
"Before [city] finals, I was very nervous about making a mistake on the first four obstacles," Labreck told ANW after the competition. "I didn't want to underestimate any of the beginning obstacles just because I had completed them in the qualifier. I came up with a plan for each obstacle and I just wanted to execute."
Going into the city finals, Labreck was worried about one obstacle: Rolling Thunder. Previously in the Philadelphia qualifier, which aired June 27, Labreck failed to make it past the metal wheel on a track. She finished 28th but still got top 30 to advance. (207's Rob Nesbitt spoke with both Mainers ahead of this competition.)
"I had attempted [Rolling Thunder] in qualifiers and I felt like I wasn't strong enough to do it yet," Labreck said. "I thought about every time I hadn't done pull-ups after my workout and I was kicking myself for that."
All that changed during the city finals. Labreck, nicknamed "Flex," not only became the first woman to beat Rolling Thunder but also just the fifth woman to conquer the Warped Wall and first female to secure a spot at the national finals.
"I think what got me through the Rolling Thunder was the crowd cheering for me," Labreck said. "I had adrenaline like I'd never felt and the determination to get to the Warped Wall. At the time I felt like I'd never wanted something so much in my life."
The 26-year-old was ecstatic after finding out she was going to the finals. She is one of four females to make it — the most the show's ever had.
"I was actually so surprised it didn't feel real," Labreck said. "I was so focused on not making mistakes and focusing on each obstacle that I wasn't actually thinking about what the end outcome could possibly be. Being excited would be an understatement once it really sank in. I was smiling for weeks."
Labreck's attempt to complete the course during city finals was awarded the 'POM Run of the Night'.
Alexis Jr., a native of Waterville, competed in last year's Season 7 of American Ninja Warrior. The 27-year-old, who is 6-foot-6, won the Orlando qualifier but wasn't able to make it to the finals after failing on the tire swing during the city finals.
Jon's father, 49-year-old Jonathan Alexis, also competed in Season 7. He attempted but was unable to qualify for the regionals in Season 8.
Labreck, a native of Oakland, is still in her rookie season of American Ninja Warrior. She was a standout track and field athlete at both Messalonskee High School and the University of Maine, graduating in 2009 and 2013, respectively. She still holds 11 school records at UMaine and at least four all-time high school state records.
The 26-year-old trains at Action Athletics in Newton, Massachusetts, and is a caretaker for Emeline, a young woman with cerebral palsy. Labreck was glad to have had her there for support in Philadelphia.
"[Emeline] said she was really proud of me and knew I could do it," Labreck said. "She was bummed a little because she knew she couldn't go to Vegas, and she wanted to be there to support me again, but she was definitely happy for me."
You can catch Labreck and Alexis Jr. competing in the ANW finals starting next Monday, Aug. 29 on NBC, then continuing weekly until mid-September. They'll meet a four-stage obstacle course in Las Vegas known as "Mt. Midoriyama," consisting of a 75-foot rope climb finale in which the competitor must ascend and hit a buzzer within an allotted amount of time.
"Total Victory" of the finals course results in a cash prize of $1 million.
Here is Jesse's Philadelphia city finals run: