Kacy Catanzaro Shocks Audiences and Opens Conversation for Gender Equality in Sport

People face their fears everyday. Some big, some small, some indefinitely, and some for just little bit. No matter what the case, it happens each and every day. We see this particularly in competitive athletics, and it’s the source of some of the greatest stories in sport. Amongst these instances of overcoming the ominous “performance anxiety,” there are a few examples that stand out as truly legendary. Times when the athlete overcame what seemed like insurmountable adversity, pushing through fear and anxiety on their way to one of the most impressive athletic performances of all time.

In the 1980s, basketball gave us Michael Jordan. In the 1990s, baseball gave us Derek Jeter. And now, in 2014, American Ninja Warrior has given us Kacy Catanzaro.

For anyone who hasn’t seen exactly what Kacy did, check it out here. Seriously, drop everything you’re doing and appreciate just what this woman was capable of doing. It will be the most athletically impressive thing you’ve seen in a while, and that’s a promise.

Though American Ninja Warrior doesn’t necessarily qualify as a ‘sport,’ and while you won’t be seeing it live-broadcast on ESPN anytime soon, that doesn’t mean that it can’t provide an overwhelming amount of performance anxiety. Each competitor must complete an intricate and grueling obstacle course, twice, before then attempting to conquer Mount Midoriyama: a vertical climb that has only been completed a handful of times in the show’s history. Also, because of how complex the American Ninja Warrior course is, a majority of the competitors train specifically for the obstacles (with some even going as far as to build models at home). As a cherry on top, the whole competition is for a monetary prize.

So, already, the average American Ninja Warrior competitor is going up against: 1) the anxiety that comes with facing such a difficult and daunting task, 2) the pressures of performing on the ‘big stage’ after having practiced so much at home, and 3) fear of missing out on a prize that could help turn someone’s life around. For Kacy, there was one more defining piece of adversity that she had to face on her way to success.

Kacy Catanzaro was attempting what most people thought was impossible.

Never before in the history of American Ninja Warrior had a woman qualified for Mount Midoriyama. Many believed that it couldn’t be done – that no female body had the capability to undergo the rigors of the qualifying courses. They believed that American Ninja Warrior was a competition for men, and while it was noble for Kacy to try, there was only a snowball’s chance that she would succeed.

So, let’s do a quick recap. Stepping up to the starting platform of the qualifying course, Kacy was dealing with: 1) the anxiety of comes with facing such a difficult and daunting task, 2) the pressures of performing on the ‘big stage’ after having practiced so much at home, 3) fear of missing out on a prize that could help turn someone’s life around, 4) the voices of millions of viewers telling her that she couldn’t do it, and 5) the fact that no woman had ever done what she was attempting to do.

[Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t watched the video yet, go do it!]

The beauty of it all, is that she did do it. She DID IT. Kacy Catanzaro overcame every bit of performance anxiety that she was faced with –whether it was internally or externally generated – and DID IT. And not only did she do it, but she rocked it! She smiled the whole way through, every step of the way, doing it all with apparent ease.

Kacy’s performance is grabbing national attention, and for good reason. Over the course of her nearly nine minute performance, Kacy taught America two very important lessons:

1) It is very possible to overcome performance anxiety, no matter how daunting it feels.


2) Women can compete and excel in sports just as well as men can.

When performances become legendary, there’s usually ‘something extra’ to help it reach that status. For Kacy Catanzaro’s American Ninja Warrior success, that ‘something extra’ is twofold: making history, and shattering a gender-bound glass ceiling. In overcoming her performance anxiety, Kacy showed the world that women can be just as athletically capable as men, and could well have set a ball in motion toward gender equality in sport.

We know it’s just American Ninja Warrior, and it’s not technically a sport, but there are hundreds and hundreds of men that have tried to do what Kacy did and failed – go watch the show, you’ll see what we’re talking about. If what Kacy did can cause just one change, like motivating other competitions to have a uniform course for all genders, then she’ll have made a difference. Who knows where it will lead?

She’s not the only one, either. Ronda Rousey, winner of Best Female Athlete at the 2014 ESPY Awards, has redefined what it means to be dominant in mixed martial arts. Rousey has never been taken out of the first round before submitting an opponent, either by knockout or technical knockout. There have even been talks of Rousey fighting against male competitors. Again, we don’t know where it will go, but it’s the start of a conversation that has never been seriously had, a conversation that could mean a big push towards gender equality in sport.

So a tip of the cap to you, Kacy Catanzaro. You’ve done it. You’ve shocked the world. You rocked the world. Now go do it again at Mount Midoriyama. We are all–men and women alike–behind you.

Konnor Fleming

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