CEDAR FALLS — His family and friends were cheering him on loudly and holding big signs featuring photos of his cat, Hades.
But Jackson Twait, 21, didn’t see any of that during his running of the “American Ninja Warrior” course, which he did in May in Cincinnati.
“I was just kind of tunnel vision and couldn’t remember anything,” Twait, a Hudson native and University of Northern Iowa student, said Tuesday.
On Monday night, when his full run aired on the NBC reality competition show — which Twait and supporters watched at Pepper’s Grill in Cedar Falls — he finally got to see and appreciate them.
“I knew I had a huge cheering section, but I was trying to go fast so I could get on the Power Tower,” he said.
In that, Twait differed from Scott Behrends of Cedar Falls, another area man who also competed on the show. Behrends’ strategy was to take his time in order to finish the course.
Twait took the opposite approach: If he ran one of the two fastest times during his Cincinnati qualifier, he’d get to tackle the Power Tower, a different obstacle course in a head-to-head match-up, where the winner gets to skip their City Final and go straight to the National Finals round in Las Vegas.
Essentially, if Twait beat his competitor in the Power Tower, he’d get a “bye week.” Plus, he’d have a better chance at getting his full run televised — unlike Behrends, whose run was relegated to a few seconds.
“I figured I’d have a better shot at TV time if I went for it,” he said.
Indeed, his second-fastest time of the night meant that producers not only showed his full run, they showed his “backstory” featuring his rescue cat, Hades, shots of Twait training at Ninja U gym in Cedar Falls and shots of him tooling around UNI’s campus.
Then, Twait showed off his ninja skills, zipping through the obstacles Shrinking Steps, Ring Swing, Spinning Bridge, The Wingnuts, Slingshot, and the famed Warped Wall. Only the Spinning Bridge — a balance obstacle that took out 24 competitors — was worrisome to Twait.
“Balance is volatile. Too far forward or too far back, that can put you in the water,” he said.
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Watching his run on television Monday night, Twait thought he could have done better — even though he was only one of 11 competitors out of 104 who finished the course, and received the night’s second-fastest time of 1 minute, 46 seconds.
“I watched it and was like, ‘Was I really that slow?’” he said.
And later in the show, he watched his Power Tower race against competitor Ethan Swanson — a “veteran” of “Ninja Warrior” whom Twait idolized.
“I grew up watching videos of him walking hundreds of feet in the air,” Twait said. “He’s insane. He’s crazy good at ninja and been around a long time.”
In the end, Swanson came from behind to beat Twait on the Power Tower, while Twait tumbled to the ground.
But no matter — that race was just to skip a round. Twait has already filmed his next round, which is expected to air Aug. 19 or thereabouts.
“It was a dream come true; it was wild,” Twait said. “I had the time of my life.”
His air time last night has already made him a few fans — but not more than Hades the cat, who’s gotten photo requests on Instagram.
“Now I’m the cat guy at work. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” Twait said.
More than the cat guy, he’s also one of two Cedar Valley competitors who are moving on in the show, bolstering the reputation of the sport of ninja in Northeast Iowa.
“Just for kids out there who are watching the show, who maybe want to be on the show, I was in their position, watching the TV show — ‘Oh, I wanna do that,’” Twait said. “People would kind of laugh when I said I wanted to be on ‘American Ninja Warrior.’ There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. If you work hard, you can accomplish it.”