July 7, 2016
Drexel Long, a veteran PE teacher and coach at Kahla Middle School, was one of 100 contestants in the Oklahoma City regional competition of American Ninja Warrior on May 13.
July 6, 2016—Kahla Middle School PE teacher and track and field coach Drexel Long achieved a goal nearly three years in the making when she was selected to compete in one of the American Ninja Warrior regional competitions in May.
Long, who began training in December 2013 as part of a 90-day challenge group, was one of 500 contestants selected from among 75,000 applicants for one of the five Season 8 regionals for the popular NBC show. She joined a group of 100 who ran the challenging obstacle course at the Oklahoma City regional on May 13.
“It was my third time applying, but my first time getting a call,” said Long, who trains with Ninja Warrior legend Sam Sann at his northwest Houston gym, Iron Sports. “When I didn’t get the call for Season 7, I said I would try one more time for Season 8. I honestly wasn’t expecting the call, but when it came I was ecstatic.”
The Kahla Middle School community supported Drexel Long throughout her journey to be an American Ninja Warrior competitor.
A veteran Kahla educator since 2007, Long felt the support from the entire school community as she prepared to fulfill her dream. Principal Ana Martin changed the school marquee to read “Coach Long is the next American Ninja Warrior” for her application video, and the momentum picked up from there.
“She left that on the marquee for a week, and that week I felt like a superstar,” Long said. “They were calling me ‘Coach Ninja’ and high-fiving me in the hallways.”
Staff members bought t-shirts that said “My Coworker is a Ninja. What is Yours?” to help fund her trip to Oklahoma, wearing them on Fridays throughout the final weeks of the spring semester.
From left, Drexel Long, her mother and trainer/coach Sam Sann prepare for the Oklahoma City regional competition of American Ninja Warrior.
Upon arriving at the regional, Long—who served as a course “tester” the previous two seasons—found the experience as a contestant much more challenging. Her run at the course began at 4:30 a.m. in chilly weather.
“It was nerve-wracking,” she said. “You had to sleep during the day and try to stay up at night, and that didn’t really work for me.”
The difficult first obstacle required competitors to leap from five suspended steps resembling pinball flippers. Long hesitated on her jump from the fourth step to the fifth step and fell to the water below, eliminating her from contention.
Drexel Long hangs out with American Ninja Warrior hosts Matt Iseman, left, and Akbar Gbajabiamila prior to the Oklahoma City regional on May 13.
“At first I felt bad because I did all this preparation and then I fell on the first obstacle, but it was 4:30 a.m. in 50-degree weather,” she said. “I don’t train like that, and I gave 100 percent, so I have to be happy for what the outcome is. I believe that if I could have gotten past that fifth step I could’ve finished the course. I am just thankful and blessed to be given a shot at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Long could not divulge any results until after the competition aired on June 20. Although the show omitted her footage from the final TV edit, several friends and family gathered for a watch party to show support.
“All my friends on Facebook were sharing that I would be there so people were having watch parties across the U.S. to cheer me on,” she said. “I got a little emotional because I knew people were hoping I could finish, but they were still so proud of me. Everybody was very comforting.”
But Long hasn’t given up on her next goal of reaching the American Ninja Warriorfinals in Las Vegas. She is already planning on creating an application video for the Season 9 competition by the January 2017 deadline.
“I’ve been an athlete all my life, and as a PE teacher and coach I love that I get paid to play sports and fitness activities with the kids,” she said. “I like to show them that even though I’m in shape, there are some things I can do and some I can’t do. I love when they impress me and I can impress them at the same time, and this experience has been good for that. I was just hoping to make Cy-Fair proud.”