At 32-years-old, powerhouse athlete and butt-kicking stunt woman Jessie Graff broke records and stereotypes by becoming the first female to complete the Stage 1 course on American Ninja Warrior. She’s an unstoppable force, inspiring millions everywhere with her determination and strength.
So how does Graff—who continues to kill it on the ANJ stage—do it? Well, with a lot of hard work and a little help and inspiration from her pet pig, Sammo.
“Sammo’s actually been very helpful for me in my training because my biggest struggle is that I always want to overtrain,” Graff tells PawCulture. “Any time I struggled in competition or felt stagnant or hit a plateau, it’s because I’m doing twice as much as I should be doing and I’m not taking any rest time. Now I have designated chill-with-the-pig time. If I sit down, she’s in my lap and then I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t wanna get up, I don’t wanna disturb Sammo.’”
You can’t blame her for wanting to chill with her adorable, 6-month-old Juliana pig, who, like Graff, is a social media phenomenon herself, thanks to her awesome Instagram page. “She’s super cuddly,” Graff says. “She’s so irresistible.”
Sammo is a staple at Graff’s training sessions and keeps her mom company during workouts. The spry and adorable pig even gets rewarded with a Cheerio for every flight of steps she completes trotting at Graff’s side. Sammo even became something of an American Ninja Warrior celebrity, hanging out with the other athletes between their sets.
But, much like being a world-class athlete, being a mom to a pet pig took some time and patience.
“They’re a little skittish at first,” explains Graff, who grew up with Labrador Retrievers as pets. “A puppy might not mind being picked up, while a pig [feels] threatened. We were very careful when we first got her to make sure she associated being picked up with positive things.”
The first attempt at picking up Sammo was met with squeals and squirming, so in order to calm her down, Graff and her roommate had pig food at the ready for a special treat. Though it took weeks to get Sammo entirely comfortable with being picked up and sitting in laps, now she loves it. “I have hoof prints all over me,” Graff admits.
But while they may be more nervous than, say, a dog, Graff says pigs are intuitive and very smart. While Sammo needed some obedience training (“[Pigs] are defiant”), some things just came naturally.
“Any time I struggled in competition or felt stagnant or hit a plateau, it’s because I’m doing twice as much as I should be doing and I’m not taking any rest time. Now I have designated chill-with-the-pig time.”
For instance, Sammo took to the litter box quickly. “It’s instinctive for them, they like to be clean,” says Graff. “[Pigs] don’t like to poop anywhere near where they’re hanging out, so once you establish the litter box is the poop area, they get it.” While Sammo is still litter box trained, she prefers her very own corner of the yard to do her business now.
The piggy is also on a pretty strict sleep schedule, of her own making. Sammo, who likes to be tucked into bed, will wake Graff up by snorting in her ear around 7 in the morning. It’s just one of the many adorable quirks that Graff regularly gushes about. In the middle of our interview, Graff interrupts to talk about another one of Sammo’s weird quirks: “She wants to put her nose in my armpit, that’s her favorite.”
While Sammo has certainly influenced Graff, the pig has also picked up health habits from her super-sporty mom. If you check out Sammo’s Instagram page, you’ll see her working out right alongside her mama. “She’s not lazy or lethargic,” Graff points out. “She will do random sprints around the living room.”
Whether you’re a world-class athlete like Graff, or just a fellow animal lover who wants to give a pig a home, she urges potential pet parents to do their homework.
“Do your research so you know what you’re really getting into,” Graff says, pointing out that pigs should come from responsible farms or reputable pig adoption facilities.
Before bringing Sammo into her life, Graff visited the farm multiple times to meet the mother pig, take pictures, and make sure everything was just right.
Graff also points out that she waited until she was in a place in her life where she could devote time and effort to a pet pig. “They need attention,” she points out, adding, “They need love, more so than a dog. If you don’t work from home or have someone at home, you need a dog or another pig for them to socialize with.”
Still, for any pet parent that has the time, patience, and extra bit of love to give, it’s an amazing and rewarding relationship. As the American Ninja Warrior superstar puts it, “It’s so nice to come home to an adorable pet.”
Images: Courtesy Jessie Graff
Aly Semigran is a lifestyle writer for the world, and roommate of Ruby, the cutest dog in the world.