Maggi Thorne remembers only flashes of her historic American Ninja Warrior run, which aired on television last week.
The athlete remembers standing at the starting line. She doesn’t remember the wing swing, the fly wheels or the moment her head smashed onto a wobbly steel balance beam on the fourth obstacle.
She remembers hearing one booming voice from the crowd guide her, disoriented, through the rest of the course. She doesn’t remember scaling the course’s warped wall, becoming only the second mother ever to do so.
She remembers cheering and crying atop the wall, then thinking she was going to vomit. She doesn’t remember losing her grip on a later obstacle and falling into the water.
Thorne watched her run from April 14 for the first time when the rest of the world saw it—on NBC, Monday night.
“I really felt like I was watching someone else do my run,” she said Tuesday. “It was almost a phantom [pain] when I saw my neck hit.”
The 38-year-old Lincoln mother suffered a mild traumatic brain injury that April night at the Oklahoma City Finals. Because this isn’t her first concussion—she was a boxer earlier in life and also suffered a concussion in a surfing accident—this injury has had lingering effects.
Thorne has been doing physical therapy, occupational therapy, vision therapy and speech therapy at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln for the past three months. She will continue in some fashion until at least October.
She stopped driving a car, stopped vigorously practicing obstacle courses and continues to struggle to perform some basic elements of daily life.
The worst is the nausea. One of her eyes lags behind the other, blurring her vision and sending her into a spin.
“If I did take another hit like this, it could really change things forever,” she said.
Immediately after her head hit the balance board, Thorne gripped the board, dangled her legs above the water and pulled herself up to continue navigating the course.
Ninja Warrior co-host Akbar Gbaja-Biamila called it one of the “best saves of the evening.” On tape, it looked like she propped herself up and kept competing. But in reality, there was a long delay where she considering stopping her run.
“I just kind of laid there,” she said. “Deep down inside I was like, ‘I can’t give up now.’ “
The show’s producers asked if she was OK or if she needed to stop.
“I said, ‘I’ve given birth to three kids, there’s no way I’m gonna stop now.’ ”
Dazed, she channeled her focus. Family and friends, including former Husker pole vaulter and “American Ninja Warrior” veteran Jessie Graff (who watched via video chat on an iPad) cheered her on.
She followed instructions from fellow Ninja competitor Grant McCartney in the crowd and somehow managed to conquer the warped wall in her first attempt, becoming only the second mother to do so in the show’s 11-season history.
Shortly after starting a subsequent obstacle, the crazy clocks, she fell into the water, eliminating her from the competition. She needed help leaving the course and needed a ride home to Lincoln, Neb.
“Any motion or movement was nauseating,” she said. “Picture doing a Ninja Warrior course being on a Gravitron. That’s what the past several months have been like.”
For the past three months, she has visited Madonna twice a week for four-hour rehab sessions. She still works, travels and raises her three kids as a single parent. She’s exhausted at the end of each day and tries not to take on any more than her schedule demands.
Viewers of the show reached out by the hundreds to tell her how inspiring her run on Monday was, even without knowing the true sacrifice her body made.
If this is the end of her Ninja Warrior career, Thorne said she’s satisfied with the way things ended.
“I really feel strongly about knowing my purpose to encourage and inspire,” she said. “That whole journey came to fruition” when she conquered the warped wall.
As Gbaja–Biamila, the show’s co-host, put it: “The course hit her hard and Maggi Thorne fought back.”