PUNXSUTAWNEY — A familiar face from Punxsutawney will appear — again — on American Ninja Warrior this year.
Tawnee Leonardo, who grew up in Punxsutawney, will have a second try at the course this year.
She moved to San Antonio, Texas one month ago because her husband is in the Army. Before that, they spent two years in El Paso, Texas, where she taught health and physical education to elementary school aged kids and coached a competitive gymnastics team.
“I’ve wanted to do American Ninja Warrior since I saw it on TV when I was 15. I always watched it with my dad and would constantly say, ‘when I’m old enough, I’m gonna do this!’ Once I was old enough I always wanted to apply but I knew that it would take training obstacles and specifically for the sport to do well in it. So I decided I would do whatever it would take to get experience, so I would drive four hours to Albuquerque, N.M. from El Paso to train at a ninja gym,” Leonardo said of her goal.
Last year, she got the call to compete in San Antonio for Season 9 of ANW.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was so shocked, so excited, and also so nervous. Last year I fell on the obstacle called tick tock that took out over 40 other ninjas too. But from the moment I left the course last year, I knew I’d train the whole next year in hopes of another chance,” Leonardo said.
She applied for Season 10 and got the callback. She said in many ways it meant more to her because she had worked for the last year to get it.
“A lot of people think that once you get on for one season, you automatically get on the next one, which isn’t true. No matter how many times you’ve done it, you still have to apply, and hope they choose you again,” Leonardo said.
Season 10 will air starting May 30.
Leonardo says she will compete in Dallas, Texas on March 25 but her results will be a secret until the episode airs.
“That’s one of the hardest things — not being able to tell close family members and friends how I did, but it’s all part of doing the show,” the veteran says.
As for her favorite part, it’s the other athletes (and their support), as well as not knowing what she’ll face when she arrives. She added that, “The hardest part for me, by far, is handling my nerves in competition. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well which makes me anxious and sometimes not perform at my best.”
Leonardo participated in gymnastics and played volleyball growing up, but said those do not compare to the ninja competition.
Now in training she says the four-hour long drive to Albuquerque is not ideal, so she’s taken up power tools and learned to build her own obstacles in her backyard, saying it’s enabled her to build self-confidence and strength.
“I rock climb, do parkour, and do a lot of pull ups. We never know the obstacles in advance. We find out the day we compete, which keeps things very interesting. As ninja athletes, we train to try and be prepared for anything,” she added.
An added bonus, she said, is seeing family at the competition, “I have a very close knit family and living away from home is really hard sometimes. And doing ANW the past two years has allowed an opportunity for me to see them an extra time when they come down to watch me compete, which I’m so thankful for.”
Follow her on Instagram at @tawnee.ninja.