Rebekah Bonilla punches her ticket to Vegas
Two seasons ago, Rebekah Bonilla fell on the quintuple steps. She didn't train well or know what to expect under the bright lights of "American Ninja Warrior."
"I wasn't really mentally or physically prepared," Bonilla said of her initial run in a phone interview.
Now, she's the top-ranked woman in her region after making it to the back half of the Los Angeles city finals course. With her run, she became the seventh woman to make it up the Warped Wall in regular season competition.
After failing on the first obstacle in 2015, Bonilla considered giving up on "American Ninja Warrior." Her mother got sick, and Bonilla was going through a divorce.
"I walked away for almost a year," she said.
After not seeing her on the circuit in the wake of "American Ninja Warrior" season 7, fellow competitor and 2016 national finalist Adam Rayl sent her a message, urging her to return to the course and give ninja training another shot.
Eventually, Bonilla listened. Now she makes the two-hour trek from her home in Tuscan, Arizona to Phoenix in order to train with Rayl once a week. There, she found a ninja community that has helped to elevate her training and jumpstart her success on this season's course.
"Having the community just makes it so much more fun!" she said. "It sucks to be a lone ranger."
Standing at 5-foot-3, Bonilla is shorter than most successful ninjas. Her upper body strength is accentuated by her short stature, but her size can prove disadvantageous on an obstacle like the Warped Wall, since she can't depend on long legs to get her all the way up.
"I have to have extra leg power to make up for that," Bonilla said.
After falling on the Battering Ram in qualifying, Bonilla rebounded to complete the obstacle, and became the second woman in the region to stare down the Warped Wall this season.
Zhanique Lovett had unsuccessfully tried to conquer it both in qualifying and earlier that night in finals. Bonilla also endured a failed first attempt, her fingers slipping off the top of the wall. She looked to Rayl for advice, and he told her to try it again, but to reach higher with one arm. The technique worked: Bonilla stood atop the Warped Wall for the first time before going on to complete the Salmon Ladder, something just a handful of women have ever done.
"Being a female and a shorter competitor, historically there hasn't been a lot of us who have been able to do it," Bonilla said of making it up the Warped Wall. "I knew I could do it, but it was a matter of making it happen at that moment."
Bonilla ended up falling on the Swinging Peg Board, a new obstacle that took out venerable ninjas all night. Her run set the tone for what to expect from the women on the city finals courses, and is hopefully a sign of things to come in the second half of this season.
And to think that two years ago, Bonilla did not even make it past the first obstacle.
"I kind of want to say that season 9 is my first season, but it's a cool part of my story, especially for people who have been disappointed and are looking to bounce back," Bonilla said.