Originally published on Women Talk Sports
Incorporating elements of athletic grace, peak performance and gripping drama, American Ninja Warrior (ANW) is more than just a television phenomenon. A captivating forum that has captured the imagination of its viewers, whether they are sports fans or not, the motivation behind these tremendously well-conditioned athletes has found cross-over appeal.
The emergence of its competitors as heroes of popular culture is a fascinating by-product of the show’s popularity, one worthy of awe and admiration. Among such lauded participants is Allyssa Beird, whose status as a role model and accomplished participant on ANW has resulted in a growing fan following on social media.
Considering that Beird balanced her demanding training regimen with an admirable yet important occupation as an educator, she is the embodiment of commitment and perseverance. Having quickly become one of the most popular participants on ANW, Beird is doing more than helping give the female competitors a well-deserved place in the conversation of the most popular competitors,
Accentuated by the proud supporters on-hand during events, sporting their trendy T-shirts featuring “got beird?” emblazoned on the front, Beird’s fans watch expectantly as she tackles the demanding obstacle courses with leonine grace, fearlessly excelling under pressure with strategic precision. Relentlessly focused, Beird first appeared on ANW during the 2016 season. With the chance to return in 2017, there was no sophomore slump, as she has ascended to the top of the women’s division.
“Entering into the 2017 season was definitely different than the 2016 season. I used the 2016 season as a way to feel out what this whole experience was all about. I didn’t really have goals set, I didn’t really know what to expect.
So coming back from Vegas in 2016, I started formulating goals and identifying some of my weaknesses and what I needed to work on. I became more focused on whole-body training, as opposed to strict obstacle training, as I’d done for season 8.
I created solid goals (Jesse Labreck and I texted each other in March and April of 2017 and said we were going to Vegas together and hitting buzzers together!), and planned my workouts to accomplish these goals. I felt more confident approaching the starting block in season 9, and doubted myself less. It was great!
That is the same mindset I have going into season 10, now. I know what I need to work on even more than season 9, and I have some solid plans to get there!”
In the aftermath of the recent season of ANW, the popular Beird enjoyed the privilege of appearing on The Ellen Show. While it added to another dimension to her stature as a sporting icon, equally testament to her own popularity, it also signifies a transformation into celebrity status.
Reflecting on the opportunity to grace the set and sit in the chair opposite host Ellen DeGeneres, the efforts involved in the trek from New England to Hollywood was a reflection of the dedication and sacrifice that makes Beird such a role model.
“It was a crazy whirlwind day on the Ellen Show! Because of the nature of my job (teaching 5th grade), I have a VERY limited amount of time I can take off work (3 paid days per school year). I told the Ellen Show I could take 1 day, so I took a late night flight out on Monday night, we filmed Tuesday night, and then I took a redeye flight home Tuesday night and drove right to work Wednesday morning.
The whole experience sort of felt surreal in the moment, but I made sure to make the most of it while I was there! I was far more nervous walking out onto the set with Ellen than I’ve ever been in the ninja world; it definitely felt more like a celebrity moment than anything else has thus far, and it was great getting to talk with Ellen about the show and my motivation and inspiration for doing what I do. She’s just as amazing and kindhearted as everyone says!”
Balancing obligations as an educator, Beird is certainly humble on her newfound fame. Considering that celebrity emanates from the word celebrate, the chance to appear on one of daytime TV’s most esteemed shows was definitely an opportunity to celebrate Beird’s character and likeability, undoubtedly attributed to a series of uplifting performances on ANW.
Perhaps the most uplifting performance involved the fact that Beird made history by completing Stage 1 at the National Finals in Las Vegas this season, following up on the impression she made when she completed the Cleveland qualifier. Taking into account that it was also mention on ESPN’s website, adding to the crescendo of media interest, such coverage was indicative of the high regard held for these tremendous athletes.
While Beird has enjoyed the novelty of being able to watch footage of the race, it is a point of pride, standing as one of the hallmarks in her treasured time as a competitor on ANW. Considering that the completion of Stage 1 in Las Vegas was a key goal for Beird, the chance to reflect on the achievement attained is one that still holds significant emotion,
“Honestly, as it was happening, I expected it to feel more overwhelming! I was sort of waiting to cry out of pure excitement and accomplishment, but it felt, just…normal. It felt like it was what was supposed to happen. I had stated in my season 9 application video that I had “my sights set on Vegas, stage 1”, and that’s what I expected to accomplish, and I did it!
Looking back on it and watching the video of my stage 1 run now, I do actually get a little teared up. It seems now, a few months separated from that moment, a more overwhelming experience.
I guess it’s gotten more exciting with the passing of time, now that I’ve had the time to reflect on it! I got to sit down with the writer of the ESPNW article, Katie Barnes, and it was great getting to chat about the whole experience with her. I love the quotes she chose to use from our conversation…they’re so me ;)”
Perhaps the most compelling element of American Ninja Warrior is its authenticity. The viewer quickly sees how there is a tremendous sense of mutual respect among all the participants, subsequently creating a strong support network among them, simultaneously forming a tremendous culture of true teamwork. In addition to Beird, some of the other wondrous women competing on ANW include Jessie Graff, Jesse Labreck, Kacy Catanzaro and Barclay Stockett, among others.
With such a culture in place, the result is on-screen magic. One where the viewer can quickly feel a collective sense of victory among its participants, realizing the fact that anyone who can reach such a demanding level of enduring competition is a very disciplined and dedicated athlete, reshaping their expectations.
That kind of appreciation for ANW is one that is reciprocated. Competitors like Beird are not only shepherding this unique sport, their continuous successes help to define it, evincing an era where hard work and sportsmanship are part of a collaborative appreciation.
“There is always a bit of TV magic that occurs when the show gets aired. The run order may be aired differently than it actually happened, pieces of interviews are shown at different points, we’re fed some lines in interviews, etc. However, the one thing that you will never have to think twice about is the warmth and support of the ninja community.
Everything you see there is 100% genuine. We all want the best for our ninja family, and they want the best for us. We are not competing against one another, but against ourselves and the course.
We get so incredibly excited for each other’s successes and accomplishments. We each spend anywhere from 1-6ish minutes on the course. If all goes well, we get on at least 3 courses, with the goal of 6 courses to ultimate victory. All that time on the course adds up to fewer than 20 minutes.
However, we film ALL night each time, so we spend hours and hours with each other. We form such a close-knit community and family during this time because of how much time we spend together, which makes any nerves dissipate pretty quickly!
It feels like a very comfortable, warm, supportive environment. If you choose to step into a ninja gym and give it a shot, you will immediately be accepted into this family, too. It’s the best!”
The feeling of family is one that has extended into other elements of Beird’s endeavors. As an educator in Middleborough, Massachusetts, her students have taken on the role of an extended family. For these awed students, Beird’s efforts are a vessel, pouring their emotions into her athletic exploits, giving them a sense of what can be accomplished with desire. With Beird’s body of work a signifier for the values of hard-work, it is evidence of her vitality, also making her a subject of praise among the parents.
“I had a few parent-teacher conferences this year that started with “I just want to say congratulations on all of your ninja stuff! And the Ellen Show! That is so cool.” It definitely is a bit of an ice breaker, and I’ve been able to bring in some of the mindsets of the ninja world into my classroom (perseverance, the importance of failure, goal-setting, etc.).
I even created a buzzer where students can celebrate their “buzzer moment” when they reach a goal they’ve been working toward. A lot of parents have commented on this and how much they love it! I also have students who ask me to play around on the monkey bars with them at recess, and ask me to show them my ninja skills.
They love feeling a different sort of connection with a teacher, and I think it’s very beneficial in creating a family environment in the classroom, too! I do this cool thing that not many other teachers do, so it forms this sort of bond from day one and a talking-point that we use throughout the year. It’s a great merging of the two biggest parts of my life, and it’s cool to see that I can inspire others beyond just academics!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”