On Friday morning, Jessie Graff underwent her third surgery since early August.
Even while, at times, she had taken to social media to preview and detail those medical procedures for her devotees, the famous Hollywood stuntwoman and ninja warrior wasn’t at liberty to discuss the origin of her recent injuries.
Simple math based off her summer spent filming two obstacle-course themed shows — “The Titan Games” and “American Ninja Warrior” — helped loosely connect dots despite whatever nondisclosure agreements were in place.
And on Friday night, the reason for at least some of those operations was broadcast on NBC.
Normally an uplifting highlight-maker on “American Ninja Warrior,” Graff’s seventh season on the show came to a painful conclusion.
Graff, a 36-year-old Urbana High alum, was making her run in the finals on “American Ninja Warrior,” where she was one of 14 competitors in the last round during this unconventional Season 12, filmed from July 16-27 at The Dome of America’s Center in St. Louis.
Before she made her attempt, Graff was shown talking about her goal of finally completing a 10-obstacle course, which she’d never done in her career as a trailblazing female ninja.
“Hitting the buzzer on that finals format of 10 obstacles has been my primary goal in Ninja Warrior since I started really paying attention in Season 6,” she said. “That’s the most magical course to me, for whatever reason. More than Stage 1 or Stage 2 in Vegas finals. I want that 10-obstacle finals buzzer.”
It started well. She bounded through Shrinking Steps, then carefully traversed Spring Forward.
Heading into Falling Shelves, she took a moment, per her custom, to gather herself and pantomime the hand movements needed to get through the three swinging, X-shaped structures. But on the first transfer, she grabbed the handles and almost immediately had her right hand slip off as she shrieked, falling into the pool below. She immediately grabbed her shoulder before hopping out of the water.
Twice in the past year, the former Urbana pole vault state champion had her shoulders injected with stem cells to address persistent problems in that area from years of high-impact training, competition and stunt work. So, heading into this shortened Ninja Warrior season, she hadn’t been able to adequately strengthen that part of her body — which is crucial to so many of the show’s obstacles.
After the fall, Graff was shown on the sideline smiling and trying shake off the pain in her right shoulder, but damage had been done.
To both shoulders.
Several hours after left rotator cuff surgery on Friday, she watched it unfold again on television just like everyone else who tuned in. It didn’t feel good either time.
“I’ve been mentally preparing for this moment for awhile. ... I don’t feel like I looked like I was being overdramatic,” Graff said Friday over the phone from Calabasas, California, where she resides. “I’ve been so open about the injury all along, posting on Instagram. I don’t think there’s that much of a surprise. It’s more like, ‘Oh, that’s where it happened.’”
Graff had right shoulder surgery to address a damaged supraspinatus about two weeks after the show wrapped up. And that surgery was eight days after knee surgery for a severe injury that also occurred during Ninja Warrior.
What Graff did on Friday’s episode, she did on a torn ACL.
“We haven’t seen the knee injury yet,” she said. “They have a special episode that was shot between qualifiers and semifinals, so if you were to go back and watch the semifinals and the competition [Friday night], you’ll see that my knee is taped. When I landed off one of the obstacles I landed kind of sideways and heard my knee pop, and then it was very wobbly and unstable, but it didn’t hurt that much.”
Graff has maintained a positive mindset during a months-long rehabilitation after her disappointing Ninja Warrior outcome. She insists her body will eventually be stronger than ever, and she’ll once again be back to taking stunt jobs while, on the side, pursuing her Ninja Warrior goal of conquering a 10-obstacle course.
“A hundred percent chance that I’ll be 100 percent,” said Graff, who has used the time off to learn sign language and work toward a certification in nutrition. “I’m just seeing this as an incredible opportunity. I saw that it was time to take a break and make some changes and shifts in my life. Obviously my body needed the break.”