Obstacle Courses Teach Life Lessons: Kacy Catanzaro at TEDxBirmingham (Transcript)

Kacy Catanzaro – American professional wrestler

When you think of a Ninja Warrior, chances are you probably don’t picture a five-foot tall woman. But I wasn’t going to let the vision of what people thought was normal or possible, keep me from achieving my goals.

And it all started from me when I was about 5 years old. I was put into gymnastics, which undoubtedly shaped me into the person I am today. I learned self-discipline, and time management, determination, sacrifice, and so much more. But three main lessons from my gymnastics years have stuck with me throughout life. Find your own way, improvise, and use your failure to make you stronger.

So when I finished my collegiate gymnastics career, I needed something new and exciting to put all of my time and energy into. I had watched American Ninja Warrior on TV and I thought to myself, I really want to try that. So with the helping guidance of others and some research, I was able to get my shot at the course.

Now, going into the competition I knew that no woman had ever completed a course before. Many talented women have tried, but all failed. This just lit my fire a little bit harder, because I knew I was capable of completing it. So throughout my training and preparation, I leaned back on those three lessons. And I learned how much they translated into running obstacles on the course, but also overcoming obstacles in life. Sometimes, you just have to find your own way.

I am five feet tall, which most people would say it’s pretty short – I am used to it, that’s all I’ve ever known – so going through life, I have learned to approach things a little bit differently, whether it’s something simple like reaching the top shelf, or something a little bit more difficult, like getting up a 14-foot warped wall. But either way, I have learned to make it happen. And I just try and think about it in simpler terms.

ALSO READ:   The Only Disability in Life is a Bad Attitude: Malvika Iyer (Transcript)

If I was thirsty and I walked into the kitchen, and the glass was on the top shelf, I am not just going to say to myself: I don’t think I can reach that glass, I’m probably just going to go thirsty. Of course not. I am going to figure a way to get what I want. And it was the same way on the course. Even though the 14-foot warped wall was almost three times my height, I knew that I could make it happen, that’s what I wanted to go after, and I made sure to do it.

And the thing is, even though I was the first woman to do that – I was the first woman to get up that wall, first woman to complete the course – after I had done it, two more women in other cities after mine also got up the warped wall. And it just shows us that, we may think that something is unattainable, but it’s all in our head. And the thing is we have to keep chasing after our dreams for ourselves, but also to show others keep breaking those barriers so that others can follow you.

Now, improvising. Learn to improvise, and learn to love it. No matter how hard you plan for something, or how prepared you think you are, nothing is ever going to go exactly how you plan, ever. That’s just how it is. And I have learned to improvise. You know, we improvise as second nature all the time without even realizing it. If you’re driving down the street and something pops up in the road, automatically you swerve off. But do you just stay off the road and keep driving on the sideline? You swerve back on the road as soon as possible, and you get back in between those lines. And that’s how we have to think about it.

ALSO READ:   Is Your Country at Risk of Becoming a Dictatorship? Here's How to Know (Transcript)

Even if you get off track, and you have a minor setback, that’s OK, don’t let it keep you off the road. And that happened to me on the course a few times, I have seen the obstacles, I knew how I wanted them to go, and I knew how I wanted to get through it, but it doesn’t always happen that way. One time my hand slipped and I was hanging there by one arm, and I was thinking to myself, this is definitely not how I wanted this to go. But instead of just letting go, I learned to improvise. I told myself, you are OK, keep going. I got my hand back on, finished that obstacle, and completed the course. So the key is not to not make mistakes. That’s OK. It’s as long as you swerve off that road, you get back between those lines.

Using your failure to make you stronger is very important. But it’s definitely not easy because failure is not fun, but it is inevitable. Who here hasn’t failed before? We have all failed tons of times, and we will continue to fail, many more times. And the thing is to not let it keep you down. There’s always going to be that next step, even after you succeed. Now you have done it, so now there’s a new goal that you need to go after.

And when I was the first woman to complete the American Ninja Warrior course, I was on top of the world. But that isn’t the end of it; I earned my spot to the finals, got to that final competition, I was excited, focused, I felt ready. And then I got to this obstacle called the Spider Jump. Now if you can picture a door frame, and how that would be trying to wedge yourself in between there. With your hands on one side, feet on one side. And you have to jump on this mini tramp, over this water, prop yourself in there. I did it, I wedged my feet in there. I threw my arms out like, OK, I am ready. And my arms just weren’t long enough. I put my arms out, my fingers just grazed the wall and my momentum threw me backflopping into the cold water. So I felt that failure before, and that was definitely one of those not so fun failure moments, especially because millions of people were watching, so that didn’t help.

ALSO READ:   What Really Matters At The End of Life by BJ Miller at TED (Full Transcript)

But when I came out of that water, I was disappointed, and I was upset, and I was mad. And it’s OK to feel all those things. The important thing is I didn’t let that derail me from my goal. I didn’t let that defeat me. Even though I felt all of those things, and in that moment it wasn’t my best, I knew that I could do better. And instead of letting that failure keep me down, I used what I’ve learned from that failure, and I used it to make me better. And I’ve used it to guide my training, what can I do differently, how can I approach it, because I will not accept that I can’t do it.

And the thing is, deep down, we are all Ninja warriors. We just have to be brave, and know that every ending isn’t going to be a Hollywood one, but that doesn’t mean that you ever stop trying. Because sometimes, your arms may not be long enough, but is your heart big enough to be a hero? Thank you.