Katie Bone Is the 16-Year-Old 'American Ninja Warrior' Competitor Inspiring People with Type 1 Diabetes

The rock climber spoke with Shape about her journey to compete on American Ninja Warrior and what's next for her.

Navigating through the challenging obstacle course of American Ninja Warrior appears effortless for 16-year-old Katie Bone. Appearing in the fourth episode of the show's 14th season, aired on NBC on June 27, she delivered an impressive performance during her initial qualifying run. However, her primary aim is not just to triumph over the course, but also to utilize her presence to demonstrate that those with type 1 diabetes are not limited in their abilities.
"A child I babysit once confessed that wearing his Omnipod [a tubeless insulin pump] made him feel different, and he didn't like it," shares Katie with Shape. "That marked the point where I decided to be open about [type 1 diabetes] on the show and make it part of my narrative." Throughout her participation in American Ninja Warrior, Katie chose to visibly display her tubeless insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor.
"I didn't wish to conceal it, leading others with type 1 diabetes to think they should be ashamed or hide it too," she continues. "I want them to understand that it's perfectly fine to have it visible… There's no need for embarrassment."

Since her appearance on the show, Bone has received an abundance of positive responses, particularly from parents whose children also live with type 1 diabetes. "The impact my story and accomplishments have had on the community is overwhelming," she shares. A particular message that resonates with her came from a mother whose four-year-old daughter, also living with type 1 diabetes, was moved to tears by Bone's episode. The little girl told her mom, "I can do anything," evoking gratitude from the mother towards Bone, she recalls.

Bone's journey with type 1 diabetes began at the age of 11, which was three years after her passion for rock climbing ignited - the very passion that paved her way into the Ninja Warrior universe. In individuals with this chronic condition, their pancreas produces little or no insulin, the hormone required for glucose (sugar) to enter cells for energy production, as per Mayo Clinic's explanation. While it typically manifests during childhood or adolescence, adults can develop it too. Although there is no cure for type 1 diabetes at present, it can be managed by controlling blood sugar levels through insulin usage and making appropriate lifestyle and dietary decisions to avoid complications, as suggested by Mayo Clinic.

At the tender age of 11, Bone was already participating in rock climbing contests, and her diagnosis with type 1 diabetes significantly affected her performance. She describes how everything seemed to change and it took nearly a year for her to regain her competitive spirit post-diagnosis. "It felt like a new normal," she confesses. "While it plays a significant role in my life, I'm still able to compete, train, and pursue all my ambitions, despite living with type 1."

Ever since being diagnosed, Katie Bone has been a strong contender in numerous competitions such as the USA Climbing Youth National Championships and American Ninja Warrior Junior. Recently, she took her skills to the adult stage of American Ninja Warrior - a platform that invites competitors aged 15 and above. Amidst her sporting pursuits, the 13-year-old also found time for advocacy work with JDRF, a non-profit foundation committed to finding a cure for type 1 diabetes. Today, Bone manages her insulin levels with an Omnipod insulin pump and Dexcom (a continuous glucose monitor), whilst working closely with an endocrinology team to ensure optimal nutrition for peak performance.

In preparation for her debut on American Ninja Warrior, Bone underwent rigorous strength and conditioning training twice weekly, along with frequent climbing sessions and workouts at the Ninja gym. These specialized gyms cater to Ninja Warrior trainees worldwide, equipped with practice obstacles mimicking those in the actual show. You can watch Bone compete in the American Ninja Warrior semifinals airing tonight.

However, Bone's ambitions extend beyond this competition. She aspires to join the USA Climbing team and participate in the Olympics, where sport climbing was officially introduced as a medal sport in the 2020 Summer Olympics. "I've always dreamt of participating in the Olympics ever since I understood what they represented," Bone remarks, adding that it's "been a huge objective" of hers when sport climbing was recognized as an Olympic sport. Bone even hints at a potential "Ninja" Olympic run, considering discussions about incorporating an obstacle course-style competition in the 2028 Olympics.

Certainly, Bone's achievements are a testament to her hard work and dedication. But how would the 16-year-old athlete spend her time off from training or competing? "I would definitely sleep — no question about it," says the young sportswoman.

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