- 16-year-old Katie Bone competed in American Ninja Warrior while living with type 1 diabetes.
- About 244,000 American children and adolescents are living with type 1 diabetes.
- Bone is inspiring others living with type 1 diabetes to pursue their dreams.
As she jumped, swung, climbed, and catapulted her way across the American Ninja Warrior stage in its latest season, 16-year-old Katie Bone was living out one of her long-time dreams.
“Being on American Ninja Warrior has been a dream of mine for a really long time and I never thought that it would be a dream that I would be able to live out at 16 and…I never could have imagined that I’d reach the buzzer, and the impact I made in the type 1 community,” Bone told Healthline.
In addition to being the only woman to hit the final red buzzer during the qualifying round course, Bone also had to battle through her glucose levels dropping dangerously low during the filming of the semifinals — a symptom of living with type 1 diabetes.
When she was 11 years old, Bone was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after not feeling well during a climbing competition she participated in. At the event, her condition caused her to fall while climbing, which was unusual since she had been climbing since she was 8 years old.
“I just felt super sick and I had to go pee a lot. I was not feeling good and we ended up going to urgent care a couple days later thinking it was just a UTI or something, and then that’s when I was diagnosed with type 1,” she said.
During a two-day stay in the hospital to regulate her condition, the first question Bone asked the doctor was “When can I climb again?”
“Some may think that having type 1 diabetes limits one’s ability to be physical or athletic or engaged in society in a way that a person without type 1 diabetes would be, but that’s not the case at all,” Dr. Minisha Sood, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline. “Teens and kids can absolutely be active with type 1 diabetes.”
However, she added that getting the right care and access to the latest advancements in diabetes management can “level the playing field for those with type 1 diabetes.”
Determined to climb
After her diagnosis, Bone began wearing a Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which monitors her glucose levels in real-time, as well as a tubeless insulin pump. The devices helped her continue climbing over the years, going on to become a nationally ranked rock climber and participating in competitions around the world.
She also competed in the American Ninja Warrior Juniors in 2020 before making it to the adult competition this year.
“It was a huge thing for the show that I don’t have to prick my finger or do any kind of shots constantly, and just made competing and living and just doing all the things that I want do a lot easier,” she said.
Technological advancements in diabetes have been “a game changer,” according to Dr. Sanjay Bansal, a pediatric endocrinologist at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago.
“We now have continuous glucose sensors that allow individuals (and their parents) to monitor glucose readings while they exercise or play sports,” he told Healthline. “Individuals need to be monitoring their glucose while being active to avoid hypoglycemia (low glucose). If they become hypoglycemic, they need to stop the activity and eat a snack.”
Sood added that insulin pumps can help predict trends in blood glucose and adjust insulin delivery in real-time to account for fluctuations. Additionally, she said advanced types of insulin that regulate blood glucose in a more stable way than earlier versions help provide better glucose control while people are active.
Active kids with type 1 diabetes should also “eat regular meals and snacks and use appropriate amounts of insulin for their food intake with some adjustments to take into account that physical activity/exercise generally lowers blood glucose (sugar) as well,” said Sood.
Taking visibility to another level
About 244,000 American children and adolescents are currently living with type 1 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
To raise awareness about type 1 diabetes and to inspire other kids living with the condition, Bone proudly made both her diabetes devices visible during her time on American Ninja Warrior.
However, she wasn’t always as open about her condition.
“[But] this year I just remembered how I felt in the hospital and I don’t want the next kid to feel that way, so if they can see me physically wearing [my devices] and thriving with type 1 and that can show them that it is okay and that gives them permission to do the same, then I would do that all over again,” said Bone.
After her qualifying episode on American Ninja Warrior, viewers became aware of her condition, and she received thousands of comments on social media from people in the type 1 diabetes community sharing their experiences and thanking her for being an advocate.
“I was just scrolling and reading through all the comments and I couldn’t believe that me walking across that stage made such a huge impact,” said Bone.
The outpouring of love and support she received was bigger than she imagined going into the show, and she said she didn’t understand the impact she could make.
“I still can’t wrap my head around that,” said Bone.
But she is embracing all eyes on her for the betterment of all those living with diabetes. She wants her community to know that she understands the hard days that come with the condition, and that despite her accomplishments she experiences difficulties too.
“There are definitely harder days and days that I don’t want to [train or compete] but…when I was first diagnosed, I had to make the decision if I was going to do all of this despite diabetes,” Bone said. “[I] also learned over the years that I could hate diabetes and love life at the same time.”
Her love for climbing helped her escape her diagnosis.
“[Even] now when I have hard days, just going to the gym and just climbing or going to Ninja is such a big thing in my life and just so helpful on hard days,” said Bone.
She plans to continue leaning on physical activity to push herself. She will compete in the next season of American Ninja Warrior, and hopes to climb in an upcoming Olympics.
“I’ve wanted to compete in the Olympics since I was a little kid and then they introduced climbing to the Olympics in 2020, so qualifying in 2024 or 2028 would be a goal of mine,” Bone said.
While some goals seem harder for those living with type 1 diabetes, she stressed that they are possible.
“[Whether] it’s a job or sports or any of those things you can still achieve your dreams while having type 1, and I think that that’s something that’s a little misunderstood…I want people to understand that yes it’s harder, but it is still 100% achievable,” said Bone.