UNL student to compete in City Qualifiers on American Ninja Warrior

Leigh Jahnke smiles for a portrait while doing a plank inside Cook Pavilion at the Nebraska Recreational Center on Friday, March 28, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Mother knows best — and the note Leigh Jahnke’s mom wrote in her senior yearbook seems to confirm this old adage. She foretold that one day, Jahnke would be on the NBC TV series, American Ninja Warrior.

Jahnke, a freshman biology and Spanish double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, did women’s wrestling, gymnastics and pole vault in high school, which later served as training tools for the show.

“I’ve always liked obstacle course kind of stuff, but mainly gymnastics is what has prepared me for this [kind of training],” Jahnke said. “I work out every day in the morning; I normally go and do core or arms, and I rock climb a lot, too, throughout the week.”

A lifelong fan of American Ninja Warrior, Jahnke now has the chance to pursue her dream of being a contestant. After the show’s age limit to participate changed from 21 to 19, Jahnke immediately signed up on her 19th birthday in November. She said it was a dream come true to find out she had made it on to the show.

“When I got the call, I was in the basement of my sorority, and he told me I was going to be on the show. And I just started screaming and jumping,” she said. “I was so happy. It was so exciting, and it was one of the best moments of my life, honestly.”

Jahnke will head to the City Qualifiers on April 12-13 in Oklahoma City, where the show will be filmed. Her hope is to be one of the top-five women, which would allow her to advance on to the next round.

“I'm most excited to actually meet the other ninjas and see them in person, as well as just getting the opportunity to try out the course,” Jahnke said.

After sending in her application and video, Jahnke received an email in the fall from the show that paired her with a former contestant, Maggie Thorne, who lives in Lincoln. The two have been training together once a week ever since, leading up to the news in March that Jahnke would be on the show.

Megan Fischer, a sophomore international business major, met Jahnke in second grade when they started gymnastics together. Fischer explained that Jahnke’s hard work ethic and dedication to training will help her succeed in the course.

“She is very persistent, disciplined and extremely hard-working. She doesn’t stop until she is done, and it is incredible to see her,” Fischer said. “She is always very positive and encouraging, and you just want to do what she is doing and be like her.”

Fischer said she believes Jahnke has the opportunity to go far in the show, even if Jahnke is slightly wary of taking on the course for the first time.

“I hope she can show herself how much she actually has in her, and watching her will be very surreal, but I know she is very capable of succeeding,” Fischer said.

No matter the outcome of her debut on the show, Jahnke said she plans to continue applying for the show in the future and hopes to continue training to do better each time.

“I plan on applying every year after this because hopefully after my first time, I will get better — even though I'm sure my first time might be rough,” she said. “I want to keep training and hopefully keep being on the show, and then make it further and further each time.”