Over a text message, Jesse "Flex" Labreck and Allyssa Beird made a pact before the season started. The two of them were going to finish their city qualifying courses and hit their first buzzers.
The women have frequently trained together during the last two years and were two of the four women who made history in Philadelphia last year by qualifying for the city finals. Labreck watched as Beird made it through the Cleveland course to become the first woman this season to hit a buzzer.
"I couldn't even cheer because I was crying," Labreck said in a phone interview.
"I definitely felt a sense of relief and accomplishment," Beird added.
It was the first time two women had ever finished a qualifying course in the same region. Both of them failed on the fifth obstacle last season, falling on Rolling Thunder, the same obstacle that took out Jessie Graff in Daytona Beach qualifying.
In fact, fifth obstacles have been ninja killers all season, weeding out contestants before they can even touch the Warped Wall. The combination of the Ring Jump and the I-Beam Gap is brutal, mirroring the course set up last season in Los Angeles that proved to be difficult for some top ninjas, including "American Ninja Warrior" vet Alan Connealy.
"Once I finished the fifth obstacle, I knew I had it. The wall wasn't an issue," Beird said.
But she almost didn't make it. On the jump from one side of the I-Beam Gap to the other, Beird's right hand initially missed the ledge and she nearly slid off. She managed to recover in time, but it was close.
Labreck wasn't worried about the I-Beam Gap. She was concerned about getting there. The second obstacle, The Rolling Log, was troubling, if for no other reason than she couldn't depend on her tremendous strength for recovery.
"If something goes wrong, you can't save yourself," Labreck said.
Labreck entered the season after a historic rookie campaign. She qualified for the city finals, punched her own ticket to Vegas, and became a captain on "Team Ninja Warrior." A former heptathlete at the University of Maine, Labreck has all the skills needed to be one of the country's elite ninja competitors.
"I was trying not to let the pressure get to me," Labreck said. "I didn't want to think that I had to top what I did last season. I just told myself to enjoy it, and whatever happens, happens."
She had trained for the possibility of getting up the wall, desperately wanting to hit that buzzer. She wanted Beird to be right there with her. For both of them to do it in the same night took her by surprise. Nothing can be taken for granted on "American Ninja Warrior." The course does not care how much you have trained, or what strength you have. Finishing happens for a few on these courses.
"Some people have the belief that if you don't think you can do something, then you've already lost," Labreck said. "I don't think that at all. Standing on that wall was surreal."