Zhanique Lovett, 30, is not entirely sure how she got through the Battering Ram on the premiere episode of "American Ninja Warrior." All she knew was that she could not give up. Somehow that was enough to propel her forward.
"I felt myself getting tired, and I didn't think I could make the next jump," Lovett said in a phone interview. "But, I told myself that I could not fail."
The Los Angeles course was tough and boasted several new obstacles, notably in the difficult spots of second and fifth. Cannonball Drop and the Battering Ram sent ninjas into the water all night. Only one woman made it past the Battering Ram to the Warped Wall. That was Lovett.
Exhausted, and with her feet slipping, Lovett struggled to reach the top. She hoped to be the first woman of the season to hit the buzzer in qualifying, and just the fifth to ever do so in the regular season.
Instead, she slid back down the wall after her third try, unable to summit its 14-foot-6 frame.
"I thought I would get it pretty easily," she said. "I train on 14-foot walls all the time, so I didn't think 14-foot-6 would be any different."
That unfamiliarity -- paired with poor shoe choice -- is what led to her downfall, Lovett said.
Lovett has been a fan of "ANW" since its second season in 2010 and has been training to appear on the show for just under a year. Growing up, she played basketball and ran track. Working out is one of her passions; she's even competed in (and won) a body building competition in 2014. After a ninja gym opened near her small town of Visalia, California, Lovett did not pass up the opportunity to train on the kinds of obstacles she'd seen on the show. Having witnessed the successes of other women in the series, Lovett strived to join their ranks.
"I want to inspire my [three] kids, my family, and other women," she said. "Regardless of their background, how they grew up, or their education, if they really have their mind set on it, they can achieve their goals."
For a relatively new ninja like Lovett, the Los Angeles course contained several unfamiliar obstacles. In the last few years, ninja gyms have popped up across the country, complementing the courses that many ninjas have built in their respective homes and backyards. Everyone has a Salmon Ladder and a Warped Wall. No one has a Battering Ram.
Ninja veteran Tiana Webberly finished in 30th place to advance to the city finals. Three other women made it to the obstacle and will join Lovett in the city finals under the new rules, including fan favorite and party crasher Natalie Duran.
But it is the unknown Lovett who remains the highest ranked woman on the first night.
"I'm still in shock," she said.