Former Springfield Gymnast Abby Clark competes on American Ninja Warrior

Helen Lucas
@_helenlucas

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After conquering the second obstacle at the Minneapolis City Qualifiers, former Springfield gymnast Abby Clark looked at the mat below her to compose herself.

While taking a step up the the third obstacle, the ring jump, which took Clark out in her rookie season last year, the former gymnast shook her hands before leaping to the ring.

The ring, which hangs from a beam with six pegs, all of different heights, was taking out “ninjas” all night.

After leaping to the beam, Clark spins herself around so she is backwards. She starts to swing her legs back and forth like she is on a swing to gain momentum before thrusting her body backwards and clearing the first two pegs.

The technique works, and the gymnast does the same thing again.

Clark then reaches across a gap to grab an identical ring to begin the second half of the obstacle, the decline.

She then switches so she is jumping forward and clears the first peg and slides to the second. Her legs continue to swing as she throws her arms upward to clear the next peg. Then the next one. The former gymnast begins to swing her legs as she prepares for the dismount.

Standing at 5 feet 3 inches tall, Clark prepares herself for the big jump to make it to the platform. The gymnast swings for five seconds before releasing her grip from the ring.

The crowd of fans and family erupts with cheers as she sticks the dismount. On the night, Clark was the first women to get past the ring jump.

After completing the next two obstacles, the diamond dash and the battering ram, Clark came to her final challenge of the night. The Warped Wall. The wall which stands at 14 and a half feet tall towers of Clark by over 9 feet.

After missing on her first attempt by mere inches, Clark catches her breath while staring at the buzzer atop the wall.

Again Clark misses by inches and slides back down the wall.

“I literally just missed it and I was like ‘alright this is not the situation I wanted to be in there is a lot more pressure on you now,’” Clark thought as she prepared for the third attempt.

The final attempt.

The former gymnast walks to the very end of the runway and grabs onto the platform.

Clark, already tired from finishing the five pervious obstacle once again takes a moment to regain herself as the crowd of fans, friends and other competitors cheers her on.

While catching her breath Clark’s boyfriend encourages her from the sideline exclaiming how close she was on her previous two attempts.

“Beat that wall! Beat that wall!” The crowd cheers on as she leans back and then bolts down the short runway.

Clark runs up the wall, almost defying gravity as her right hand grips the top followed by her left. With a smile beaming across her face the former Springfield standout pulls herself up and over the wall as she hits the buzzer and finishes the course in a time of 5 minutes and 27.48 seconds.

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With the crowd erupting, Clark throws both hands in the air and yells.

“When I felt my fingers grab around the top of the wall, I’m sure it was milliseconds but I felt like I was hanging there for a second just because I couldn’t believe I got my fingers around on my last chance.”

In Minneapolis, Clark was one of 14 ninjas to complete the course. On top of that, Clark was the only female to finish the course.

“When I got to the top and looked at the buzzer I didn’t even know what to do.”

Clark, who graduated as a rehabilitation and disabilities studies major in 2015, was the Pride’s first-ever member of the women’s gymnastic team to win a National Collegiate Gymnastic Association National Champion on the balance beam when she tied her own school-record, which still stands today, with a score of 9.775. The ninja was the first gymnast in 15 years for Springfield to earn a national champion title.

On top of her national championship in 2013 Clark also earned All-American honors in the floor exercise. Over her four years with the Pride, Clark earned multiple ECAC honors.

While many of the successful ninjas have backgrounds in rock climbing, a strong contingent were also gymnasts. Having the gymnastics background has helped Clark, and other ninjas, with the obstacles on the course.

“Body-control is definitely the biggest thing that I’ve found to help. I know how to swing, I know how to control my body in ways that people who haven’t done gymnastics don’t really know how to do.”

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Aside from being a gymnast for the Pride, Clark also ran four years of outdoor track, where she competed mostly in the hurdles.

“There is a lot of obstacles that have to do with lower body and quick movements which definitely helped from track and running that I wouldn’t have as just a gymnast.”

Both track and gymnastics are individual sports, where you not only compete as a team, but the athlete is also competing for themselves. Clark, having been an individual athlete is used to having all eyes on her.

“[gymnastics helped with] being out in the spotlight and being out there on your own mentally being able to handle that pressure.”

Despite being used to the spotlight Clark still had to adjust to the tough courses that American Ninja Warrior has to offer.

“With gymnastics and track you know exactly what you are training for, you know what rotinues you are doing in gymnastics and what skills you’re doing. Track you know what events you’re training for, you know the technique to do those events. With American Ninja Warrior you don’t know the course beforehand, you can’t try the course beforehand. When you go to film or you go to a local competition it’s the first time you are seeing that course and you don’t get to do any test runs, when it’s your turn that’s your only shot.”

The unknown factor is one of the many things that makes the American Ninja Warrior courses so tough on its competitors. They need to not only be tough physically as they push their bodies, but also mentally. They must train for the unknown.

This year while competing Clark had to show her mental toughness. The former gymnast original casting call was in Philadelphia , but after it rained on-and-off rain all night 13 contestants had to be sent to Minneapolis. Clark was one of these contestants.

Every qualifying course has different obstacles on it, so the obstacles Clark saw in Philadelphia wouldn’t be the same as the ones in Minneapolis.

After arriving at Minneapolis, the Springfield graduate saw the obstacle that knocked her out in the previous season, the ring jump.

“When I saw it, knowing I had been on that obstacle and knowing that I’ve trained it since I was  a little nervous because I knew I could do it,” said Clark. “But once I got up there and in the motions of doing the obstacle I felt really comfortable and I really didn’t have any concerns that I wasn’t going to clear it. On my way down I still felt really strong where last year on my way down I was fighting to hold on and I had no technique and I had no idea what I was doing, so I was way more comfortable this year then last year.”

Even though Clark is only on her second season of the show, she doesn’t look like a new competitor. While competing, viewers can see ninjas look uncomfortable on the course. After only two seasons Clark looks like a veteran. However, she didn’t start training right after graduation. After graduating from Springfield the former hurdler didn’t start out ninja training right away.

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After a year and a half of going to a normal gym, Clark went to go watch Connor Galvin, who was a gymnast on the men’s gymnastic team, compete in a local ninja competition. After watching Galvin compete Clark decided they wanted to compete as well and from there she started her training at Centercourt Athletic Club in New Jersey. At this athletic club Clark trains there with her boyfriend and former Springfield gymnast Joe Capobianco.

“When I retired from gymnastics after I graduated from Springfield, I just went to a regular, normal gym.I didn’t fall in love with working out in a regular gym. I was so used to gymnastic-type workouts like flipping and swinging, I never was really ready to stop doing that.”

 

Now at the conclusion of her second season on American Ninja Warrior, Clark has been able to form bonds with some of the other ninjas on the show .

“I keep in touch with some of the other ninjas, I got really close with Meagan Martin, Barclay Stockett and Jesse Labreck which is really cool because they are kind of the face of the show and you would never know talking to them in a regular conversation.”

Aside from American Ninja Warrior, Clark also competes in the National Ninja League. At these local competitions she is able to see other ninja’s she films with on the show, and other athletes who weren’t cast by NBC.

“It’s a really supportive group of people, no one is against anyone and everyone is willing to help and give technique help and training tips.”

Although there are only a limited amount of spots each season on the show, and a limited spot in qualifying and final rounds in the different cities all the athletes support each other in their success.

“We like to think of it more as us against the course it’s not really us against each other.”

Photos courtesy of Abby Clark

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