Laurie Hernandez and Matt Iseman Were “Completely Blown Away” By The Young Athletes of ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’

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Laurie Hernandez and Matt Iseman Were “Completely Blown Away” By The Young Athletes of ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’

If you’ve spent the past season of American Ninja Warrior Junior being totally impressed by the way those kids swing, run, jump, and hurtle themselves across the obstacle course, you’re not alone. Hosts Matt Iseman and Laurie Hernandez had their minds blown every day that they watched it happen right in front of their faces — and would recap all their enthusiasm with each other during their car ride at the end of the day.

We caught up with Iseman, who is busy filming the next season of American Ninja Warrior, and Hernandez, who happens to be training for the 2020 Olympics, about what stood out to them during Season 1 of the exciting series, and even got a preview of this week’s season finale (hint: Laurie does the course!).

Decider: Watching these kids blew my mind, and seeing what they could do was awesome. Was there anything for you that really stood out where you thought, ‘Wow, I cannot believe that human child just accomplished that’?

Matt Iseman: For me, it’s the same thing as when I was watching Laurie in the Olympics. Ninja Warrior has grown so much in just 10 years. We know it’s the most family watched show on TV, we know kids love it. But we really kinda sprung this on the kids, they didn’t know the show was coming. We didn’t know how they would be able to perform on the course. We had no idea until we got out there. We knew a lot of kids had been going to gyms, but until we saw it we were completely blown away by their speed, strength, but mostly by their fearlessness, the way they attacked this course and the way they pushed each other. What was awesome to see was the camaraderie and the sportsmanship remained. It blew my mind to see what they could do. I feel so lazy watching these athletes!

Laurie Hernandez: I agree with Matt that the sportsmanship was right there. Even before these kids were running through the course they were giving each other high fives and handshakes and even dancing together before they got out there. Then next thing you know, they’re off. Not only are they getting through the course but they are moving so fast. It blew my mind. I know that course is really hard, and seeing them go up there as if it’s nothing and knowing that they’re trying their best, that was really neat to watch. Seeing them at the end giving each other handshakes and telling each other that they did a good job, I think that’s important for a lot of kids to see.

If you’ve spent the past season of American Ninja Warrior Junior being totally impressed by the way those kids swing, run, jump, and hurtle themselves across the obstacle course, you’re not alone. Hosts Matt Iseman and Laurie Hernandez had their minds blown every day that they watched it happen right in front of their faces — and would recap all their enthusiasm with each other during their car ride at the end of the day.

We caught up with Iseman, who is busy filming the next season of American Ninja Warrior, and Hernandez, who happens to be training for the 2020 Olympics, about what stood out to them during Season 1 of the exciting series, and even got a preview of this week’s season finale (hint: Laurie does the course!).

Decider: Watching these kids blew my mind, and seeing what they could do was awesome. Was there anything for you that really stood out where you thought, ‘Wow, I cannot believe that human child just accomplished that’?

Matt Iseman: For me, it’s the same thing as when I was watching Laurie in the Olympics. Ninja Warrior has grown so much in just 10 years. We know it’s the most family watched show on TV, we know kids love it. But we really kinda sprung this on the kids, they didn’t know the show was coming. We didn’t know how they would be able to perform on the course. We had no idea until we got out there. We knew a lot of kids had been going to gyms, but until we saw it we were completely blown away by their speed, strength, but mostly by their fearlessness, the way they attacked this course and the way they pushed each other. What was awesome to see was the camaraderie and the sportsmanship remained. It blew my mind to see what they could do. I feel so lazy watching these athletes!

Laurie Hernandez: I agree with Matt that the sportsmanship was right there. Even before these kids were running through the course they were giving each other high fives and handshakes and even dancing together before they got out there. Then next thing you know, they’re off. Not only are they getting through the course but they are moving so fast. It blew my mind. I know that course is really hard, and seeing them go up there as if it’s nothing and knowing that they’re trying their best, that was really neat to watch. Seeing them at the end giving each other handshakes and telling each other that they did a good job, I think that’s important for a lot of kids to see.

Laurie, we won’t spoil it, but in the finale we get to see you do the course yourself. What was that like?

LH: It was really hard! I figured being an athlete it shouldn’t be too bad. And then as soon as I got on the course I realized how it uses so many different muscles. There’s a lot of pressure not only to get through it but get through it fast. So I had the amazing Barclay Stockett to help me through it and understand how the course works. It was really difficult! I had so much respect for these kids before, but being able to run through the course and really feel how they feel running through, these kids are awesome.

You two are stationed at different points of the course — did you get hang out together at all?

MI: They have me locked in a tower, so Laurie gets the privilege of interacting with the athletes. But at the end of the day it was really fun because we’d all get in the car together to get back to the hotel. We were overflowing with our enthusiasm. We’d compare notes. We were seeing runs that were coming down to one one-hundredth of a second. We were seeing people who were three or four obstacles behind all of a sudden come explosively back. It was one of those things where you never know how a run would end until it was over. I think we all felt the electricity even though these were long days in the hot sun, we get in the car and think, ‘Oh my god! Wasn’t that awesome!’ I thought it was so much fun for us to get to celebrate these kids. We were watching nine and ten year olds compete at the same level as athletes on the main show, athletes in their twenties or thirties who have so much more experience and maturity. These kids just blew us away with that. We were always at the end of the day really unloading on each other about how impressed we were.

You are both obviously in great shape. Has watching these kids inspired you to try a new workout or made you want to do something different for your body?

LH: Sure! For one thing, the obstacle course. To try that out, I didn’t realize how much strength you need, especially in your fingertips. Also, being in gymnastics, that is an obstacle I should definitely be trying, I’m hanging from my hands. I definitely am inspired to try all these crazy new workouts. Especially because here are these kids, willing to not only try out the course but do it with grace and also with strength. They are enjoying themselves out there. They are enjoying the freedom to move and I think that’s going to inspire so many people who are watching these kids run through the course, and especially myself.

MI: By the way Lea, I can’t thank you enough for likening me athletically to gold medalist Laurie Hernandez. That is the first and only time I’ve ever been lumped in with an Olympic gold medalist.

LH: But Matt you’re so strong!

MI: Oh, Laurie. She’s so sweet. I played baseball in college, and most of my athletic life, so much of it was, ‘How strong can you be, what can you lift?’ even though that really probably wasn’t the most productive. We didn’t have the enlightened mindset of bodyweight, and really using strength to weight. What I really love about these kids, and I think back to Peyton Myler, the girl with the pigtails, one of the Ninja Kidz out of Utah, who was I think just over four feet tall and a few ounces over 50 pounds. And yet she’s going out there with boys who almost weigh twice as much as her. You see it’s not about the size, it’s about how strong you are and how athletic you are.

I love that idea of rather than just focusing on raw force, it’s how efficiently you can move your body. It’s not about having these enormous muscles it’s about how fit you are and the idea that you don’t have to be this enormous muscle-bound person. Really, you’re much more functional being lean. Seeing these kids embody it and to see how they could carry themselves through these obstacles much better than adults could, that was one of the cooler things. The bar has been set for me. But I am strong! Laurie, thank you.

Matt, has this changed your perspective at all on American Ninja Warrior adults, can you feel the differences?

MI: We’re right in the middle of our 11th season of American Ninja Warrior the mothership, and it’s the same. Relatively, the obstacles are a little bit smaller. But proportionately, the obstacles are every bit as challenging. What I loved about it is that the show treats everybody the same. They all compete on the same course. Whether you’re 19 or 77. Whether you have one leg or you’ve been an Olympic gold medalist or you’re a Navy Seal: everyone’s going on the same course. It’s opened my mind to it; we’re watching nine year olds and seeing this incredible athleticism. When you remove the limitations that you place in your mind on it, and you just go out there and execute, it’s amazing what these athletes can do. I’m so happy that we got to see them get their chance on the course.

The best part about this show is that it’s reached a whole level of people who might not otherwise have thought there was a sport for them. Who didn’t fit in to football or basketball or gymnastics or hockey or soccer, any of those sports. It just didn’t appeal to them or physically they weren’t right for it, and yet still they’re unbelievable athletes. I love that American Ninja Warrior gives all these athletes an unbelievable chance to shine, or people who never thought of themselves as athletes who just loved the challenge. We’re just seeing people do things that I think they didn’t even know. It’s everyday people doing extraordinary things and inspiring other people to push themselves a little further. What’s so cool is every year that envelope gets pushed. Every year we see people from different areas, people from different backgrounds, people with different challenges come out and blow us away. You just stop doubting anybody, and realize anyone can be extraordinary if they really put their mind to it.

Laurie, how has it felt to be the one who is talking to these athletes afterwards and asking them, ‘What was going through your mind?’ Now that you’ve been on both sides, is there something you want to be asked after you compete?

LH: One of my favorite questions to be asked after I compete is, ‘What was going through your mind when you were up there?’ At the time, you’re not really thinking about who’s watching me, what is the pressure that’s been placed on me. You’re just out there to do the best that you can. But you also get to let that out and let people hear, ‘I was thinking about staying on the equipment. I was thinking I’m going a little crooked, maybe I should swing this way.’ Or whatever that might be, and indulging them in what you’re thinking about as you’re up there. People are watching you, and for people who want to try, they want to know points of views that they can look at things.

Also, being able to have that honor of talking to the kids on the sidelines. I know a lot of them got rips on their hands from swinging on the equipment. As a gymnast I would get those all the time, and being able to give them some different advice. Like, ‘Hey man, let’s try some ChapStick, let’s try some Vaseline,’ whatever that might be. Also to be able to connect with these kids and know that they are such incredible athletes, and to talk to them and get to know them. I think that was the best part, it was definitely an honor and privilege to be on the side to connect with them.

I love that Captain Marvel is inspiring you through your training now. How is that going?

LH: Thank you! Yes, Captain Marvel is so cool. It’s been so long since we’ve had a female lead superhero, I’m so excited for that. But yes, coming back to training, it has been a wonderful, exciting new challenge. I think within the first couple of months it was really difficult because originally I had taken two years off. I wasn’t sure what my gymnastics journey was gonna be then. But coming back, starting to do the extra conditioning, now we’re starting to get into the big skills at practice, [it’s] all the more exciting to be doing those tricks. I’m just excited to get out there. I did miss it a lot, getting all my teammates out on the floor. So far it’s going good.

The American Ninja Warrior Junior Season 1 Finale airs this Saturday at 7pm ET/PT on Universal Kids.

Decider

Matt Iseman
Matt Iseman
I'm the host of American Ninja Warrior and I'm squaring off against 15 other celebrities, all representing their favorite charities while vying for the title of “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
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