With their eyes glued to the television screen at an ‘American Ninja Warrior’ viewing party in Newton, Massachusetts on Monday night, friends of Jonathan Alexis and Jesse Labreck hung on every step and swing taken by the Mainers as they stretched, strained and struggled their way through one challenging obstacle after another.

For Alexis, who grew up in Waterville, and Oakland native Labreck watching themselves negotiate the grueling course on television was almost an out-of-body experience, despite already knowing the results of the pre-taped event.

“The emotions were completely different (than competing) because your senses are a little more tuned in, and with each obstacle you’re basically looking at them through tunnel vision,” Alexis said. “Watching it, you could feel a similar energy but it was like stepping outside yourself and seeing it through another perspective.”

The tension in the room turned to celebration when the show’s hosts announced Alexis and Labreck — who were prohibited to reveal the results to anyone until the show aired — were among 30 out of more than 100 contestants to advance to the regional finals in Philadelphia.

“There were lots of hugs and ‘good job’ and ‘I’m so proud of you,'” said Labreck, a 2008 Messalonskee High School graduate who hopes to watch the Aug. 22 NBC telecast of the next round with her family in Maine.

Based on a similar Japanese show and now in its eighth season on American television, ‘American Ninja Warrior’ takes competitors through a series of challenging obstacle courses. Contestants participate in regional competitions across the country with the hopes of advancing to the national finals in Las Vegas and a chance to win the $1 million grand prize.

This was Labreck’s first year on the show. Alexis’ father, also Jonathan Alexis of Waterville, competed but did not qualify for the regional finals. The father-son duo also competed on the show last year.

Labreck, a former track star at the University of Maine who still holds 11 school records, made it through to the fifth of the course’s six obstacles. She was unable to complete “Rolling Thunder,” a new obstacle that features a wheel on two rails rolling over a pool of water. Contestants are only able to use their hands to get the wheel to the other side.

“I knew I gave it everything I had,” said Labreck, who at 5-foot-7 was the tallest female competitor and was nicknamed “Flex” on the show. “I didn’t make a mistake. I just didn’t have enough strength to get through that obstacle. My forearms were completely pumped out.”

The younger Alexis, who fell in the second round in Orlando last year, rolled through the Philadelphia course in 1:51.08.

Watching the competition Monday, he was able to critique his performance a little more thoroughly.

“I think I did pretty well,” said the 6-foot-6 Alexis, whose nickname is “The Giant.” “You can pinpoint things you can improve upon. I could have gone faster and done better, but I was really glad I pressed the buzzer when I did.”

Alexis said a year of practicing on the trampoline paid off for him this year. He and Labreck agreed that extensive rock climbing proved to be particularly valuable during the competition because it improved their grip strength.

Labreck, who works as a caregiver and trains in Newton, said getting through the second obstacle — the Paddle Boards — which tests competitors’ balance, was a big confidence booster.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh, thank God I made it through that,'” she said.

She said the course didn’t take too much of a physical toll on her, although her forearms were a little sore afterward.

The toughest part of the competition may have been when it took place. Taping for both rounds, which took place on consecutive nights, went into the wee hours of the morning. She said she got on the course at 11:30 p.m. in the first round and 3:30 a.m. for the second round. She added that she didn’t leave until 6:30 a.m.

Alexis, who said his runs took place anywhere from 12:30 to 2:30 a.m., is naturally a night owl and even prepared for the competition with some late-night training.

Alexis and Labreck often train together at Action Athletics in Newton, where Alexis is a trainer. They hope to get the call to return for ‘Team Ninja Warrior,’ which tapes in August, and have made a pact that if one is named as a team captain to pick the other for their team.

Both plan on applying to return to ‘American Ninja Warrior’ for next season. They were among 70,000 applicants for this season.

“It was really rewarding,” Labreck said. “It was a little overwhelming but really fun. I was really happy I did it.”

“I knew way more people this year,” Alexis said. “It felt more like a community and it felt great being in that community, not only the people I met on the show but with Jessie and the five people training with us in Massachusetts.”

“It’s just like a giant playground. It’s an amazing opportunity as an adult to play on an adult playground and have that much fun,” he added. “I don’t ever foresee myself not wanting to do it.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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