Charlie Andrews-Jubelt '17 celebrated a triumphant finish (video) in the Los Angeles city finals of American Ninja Warrior earlier this summer, though a subsequent injury prevented him from competing in the national finals.
In December, Andrews-Jubelt was on a three-member MIT team that missed a national championship by a split-second on Team Ninja Warrior: College Madness.
Competing individually had its pluses and minuses. "On Team Ninja Warrior, you could sometimes mess up and still rely on your teammates to win and help your team stay in the game. On the other hand, it was also kind of relaxing to compete by myself," Andrews-Jubelt says. "If I made a mistake and fell early, it wouldn't really affect the other competitors."
However, he says competing in LA along with his best friend Josh Levin, a recent Northeastern graduate who also qualified for the national finals, was a big boost.
Andrews-Jubelt took an analytical and systematic approach to prepare for the LA qualifiers and finals that filmed in March and aired in June and July. He reviewed video of past courses, identified physical skills he would need to succeed, and created a workout spreadsheet. He was nervous before the qualifiers but was encouraged when Levin finished successfully before him.
In the days before the finals, the pair stayed up late to acclimate to the middle-of-the-night filming schedule. "By then, there was no more training we could do without breaking down our muscle tissue, so we just hung out and stressed together. We played board games, got none of our p-sets and makeup work done (too nervous), went to Kinko's at 2 a.m. to print out embarrassing big-head posters of each other, and just had a good time," he says.
The finals posed one especially formidable obstacle: the Stair Hopper. "I had sort of obsessed over it in my training, watching videos to figure out exactly how one guy succeeded on it while almost everyone else failed," Andrews-Jubelt says. "This was both a good thing and a bad thing—I had intimate knowledge of the obstacle despite never having tried it before, but was also terrified of it. Fortunately my strategy was exactly right, and I had enough power left to execute it when I got there."
At the end, Andrews-Jubelt was overcome with emotion. "After hitting the city finals buzzer, I realized that I hadn't really allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to realize the goal I'd had for so long—not just that season, but really since I'd started watching the show back in 2009. I was also too exhausted by my run to manage the emotions that came forward—I saw people cheering below and I let out a really guttural scream, right over the railing," he says.
"Then I put my head down on that same railing and just started crying. I still don't really know why I did that, but I think it's because I was finally able to let go of this gnawing, corrosive thought that I was not mentally strong enough to achieve something that was this hard and this important to me. It's a TV show, not the Nobel Prize, and I realize that. But it still felt horribly out of reach until I proved to myself that it wasn't."
Unfortunately, Andrews-Jubelt was injured in a training accident about a week after the city finals were filmed, so he couldn't compete in Las Vegas. But he plans to keep rock climbing, a favorite activity, after he returns to Cambridge this fall to complete his degree—and he hopes to return to Ninja Warrior competitions some day.