PINNACLE — Local students may know Grace Jones from her years teaching at King and Pinnacle elementary schools, but the whole nation will soon know her for her athletic prowess as a “ninja warrior.”
Jones will be one of the competitors on NBC’s popular American Ninja Warrior show on June 22.
The Pinnacle native is no stranger to the show after helping her ex-boyfriend, Neil Craver, get on it last year.
“We were going to a climbing club in Chapel Hill called Progression Climbing,” said Jones. “American Ninja Warrior contacted them after all of the submissions were in last year because they needed more female competitors and climbers typically do very well.
“Progression recommended me and gave me the producer’s email to submit a video,” she continued. “I told Neil they were only looking for girls, but I would make him a video as well just in case. Then he got picked and I didn’t.”
But Jones is no quitter, so this year she submitted videos for both her and Craver. Again, Craver was notified he had been accepted and Jones had heard nothing from the show.
“I was getting ready to go to the walk-on line in Pittsburgh and try to get on the show by myself,” she said. “Then, on my birthday, we went out to eat and his phone rang and it was American Ninja Warrior.”
The producers asked Craver if he was with Jones, told him not to say anything but to be ready to start videoing her reaction when they called her.
“They said we had both been approved at the same time, but they were waiting to tell me when he could record my reaction on camera,” said Jones.
From the day she found out she would be competing she had about a month to train before travelling to Orlando, Florida, for the competition on May 9.
The couple started making as many trips as they could to Atlanta, Georgia, the closest place with gyms with ninja warrior obstacle courses.
“I can’t tell any details of how the competition went,” said Jones. She said the show starts the season with qualifying rounds on the West Coast, moving through different qualifying locations each week. “They take the top 30 to run in the finals and then they take the top 15 and go to the nationals in Las Vegas. Those top 15 compete in three stages. No one has ever won that before and the stakes are at $1 million right now.”
Jones said that though the show is technically a reality T.V. show, she found that there was none of the bickering among contestants usually associated with the genre.
“In reality, all of the ninjas know each other and are the most supportive and amazing community of people I have ever known,” she said. “There are gyms throughout the country that hold competitions and they have people fly in from all over the country to meet and compete. The camaraderie is amazing.
“When I was in Orlando, every time someone was running the course you have all the other ninjas on the sidelines cheering them on and screaming advice to them,” she said. “Some people have been doing it for years. Some of our friends started in Japan and have been on the show every year for seven years.”
Jones said she spends a lot of time climbing at Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain state parks, but noted that, ironically, she did not get into climbing until after graduating from West Stokes High School in 2005 and moving out of the area.
“I did not know climbing existed until I moved to Greensboro and started climbing at an indoor gym,” she said. “People started asking if I knew where Pilot Mountain was and I said I grew up there right at the mountain but had never been there to climb. Now I mostly climb at Hanging Rock State Park at Moore’s Wall. I do a lot of bouldering there.”
Jones said no matter how her competition goes this year she plans to compete again next year. She is actually planning on moving to Atlanta in the near future to continue her training and expand her wedding videographer career.
She said she was especially proud of the fact that all four of the submission videos she created for contestants this year were accepted by the show.
“There are over 50,000 submissions,” she said. “When I went to Orlando to compete the producers told me personally that our videos were their favorites.”
The show will air on NBC on June 22 at 8 p.m.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.