Catanzaro’s historic run comes to an end
It had been almost two years since Kacy Catanzaro left Towson, yet this was her first time back to the school where she spent four years as a gymnast, over two years since she won the NCAA Southeast Regional Gymnast of the Year and competed in her last meet.
Catanzaro stood with her Texas-sized cowboy boots firmly planted in the Towson end zone, waving to the 8,000 fans in attendance at the Tigers’ first home football game on the season Saturday night.
Three years was all it took for her to become a worldwide sensation and one of the biggest stars of summer 2014.
“It’s pretty crazy to think about, a year and a half ago I left here, all that has happened since I left,” Catanzaro said. “Then I come back here and it feels the same. For a moment, it feels like nothing has really changed, but then someone will come up to me and say something and I’m like ‘Oh wait. This is where I am now.’”
Monday night, Towson students and fans got the chance to see Catanzaro compete in the American Ninja Warrior finals in Las Vegas. Her three-month run ended at the spider jump, an obstacle that forces the competitor to leap off a trampoline and land between two walls.
Although she didn’t win the competition, Catanzaro has become somewhat of a household name. In Dallas, Texas in early June she became the first woman to complete the qualifying obstacle course. She followed it up by finishing the Dallas finals course and punching her ticket to Las Vegas and the infamous Mount Midoriyama.
“Really being able to think about all that I have accomplished, breaking those barriers, making history and helping the sport, as well,” Catanzaro said. “People who didn’t even watch the show saw the video online and now they watch the show and it’s just building awareness for the sport and all the athletes and that makes me so happy.”
While her runs aired on NBC, the commentators brought up the fact that Catanzaro did gymnastics at Towson. She also wasn’t shy to talk about her alma mater.
“When I come here, the memories start running through my mind of all the good times I had here,” she said. “I don’t want to leave now that I’m back.”
Even as a student, Catanzaro was competing on the gymnastics team and planned on taking on American Ninja Warrior. While she was still in school, she contacted one of the sport’s most prominent figures, Brent Steffenson, for advice on getting into obstacle course training.
“When she was about to graduate, she hit me up on Instagram,” Steffenson said. “We just kept talking and talking and I just knew from talking with her that she just was crazy determined and just had that real drive. I had seen some footage of her competing and I knew she was going to be the girl to reach the warped wall even before I met her.”
After she graduated from Towson, Catanzaro was invited to begin training in the Alpha Warrior circuit, a competition similar to American Ninja Warrior which takes place in Texas. She accepted and headed out to take a step toward making her dream a reality.
Catanzaro and Steffenson competed with Alpha Warrior for a few months, eventually started dating and moved out to Texas to train long-term. Steffenson said he noticed Catanzaro’s determination immediately.
“If nothing else, you can just see it in her eyes as she’s on the course,” Steffenson said. “She has this intense, totally focused look in her eyes and nothing could get in her way. Very little could hold her back, and if it does, she does her best to work hard to overcome that.”
After training for almost a year, Catanzaro decided that she was ready to take American Ninja Warrior. She competed at the Venice qualifiers in 2013, but fell just before reaching the final obstacle, while Steffenson made it to Mount Midoriyama.
The unsuccessful campaign last year brought about more training before this season. Catanzaro and Steffenson hit the Alpha Warrior circuit and trained with a course built at their house.
Coming into the 2014 season, Steffenson felt Catanzaro was ready to accomplish the goals she made while a student at Towson. Both set out for the Dallas qualifiers, which aired in July.
“She was way more focused and I knew she had what it took and she knew she did too,” Steffenson said. “We just broke down each obstacle the Dallas qualifiers and thought about the best technique for it.”
Catanzaro became the first woman ever to complete a qualifying course, finishing in 5 minutes, 26.18 seconds. From there, her name spread across social media and “#mightykacy” became a trending topic on Twitter.
Excitement picked up even more when Catanzaro finished seventh out of 15 competitors and earned a spot in the American Ninja Warrior finals. She said the process of becoming an internet sensation went by before she knew it.
“It really is just a big whirlwind,” Catanzaro said. “Obviously in those moments I enjoyed them, but looking back it’s just like ‘Wait, I felt like that was just yesterday but it went by so fast.’”
It wasn’t long before she competed in the American Ninja Warrior finals. Although her run ended Monday night, both Catanzaro and Steffenson admitted that the journey was fun.
“She did such an incredible thing and inspired so many people,” Steffenson said. “I think no matter how soon she went out in the finals, she was the first woman to walk on the moon and prove that it could be done.”
For the future, the couple plans on building Alpha Warrior gyms around the country in an effort to spread the sport. However, Catanzaro hasn’t gotten over her historic run just yet.
“Sometimes I’m like ‘Wait, did this really happen? Am I awake?’” she said. “It really is just this huge dream come true.”