16-Year-Old 'American Ninja Warrior' Competitor Katie Bone Hopes to Inspire 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.

Katie Bone
Photo: Brooke Michiels

Katie Bone makes racing through the American Ninja Warrior obstacle course look easy. The 16-year-old seemingly breezed through her initial qualifying run on episode four of season 14 of NBC's hit show, which aired on June 27. While she set out with a goal of conquering the course, she's mostly focused on using her platform to prove that people living with type 1 diabetes can do anything.

"A kid that I babysit had told me once that he didn't want to wear his Omnipod [a tubeless insulin pump] on his arm because he didn't want it to make him feel weird," Bone tells Shape. "That was the moment in which I knew that I wanted to openly talk about [type 1 diabetes] on the show and make that my story." While competing on American Ninja Warrior, Bone wore her tubeless insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor, making sure they were visible on camera.

"I didn't want to hide it and make other people with type 1 diabetes feel like they should be ashamed of it or they should hide it too," she says. "I want them to know that it is okay to wear it visible…It's not something you need to be embarrassed about."

Since her episode aired, Bone has received positive feedback from viewers, especially parents of children with type 1 diabetes. "It is crazy that what my story did and what I have been able to do has been able to make an impact in the community," she says. Of all the comments and messages of support she's gotten recently, one stands out from the rest, says Bone. A mom shared that her four-year-old daughter with type 1 diabetes cried while watching the episode featuring Bone. "She said, 'I can do anything, Mommy,' so thank you for that," the mother told Bone, she recalls.

Bone was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 11, three years after she discovered and fell in love with rock climbing, which would eventually propel her into the Ninja Warrior world. When people have the chronic condition, their pancreas make little or no insulin, a hormone the body uses to allow glucose (aka sugar) to enter cells and produce energy, according to the Mayo Clinic. It commonly appears during childhood or adolescence, but it can develop in adults too. Type 1 diabetes is treatable by managing the amount of sugar in the blood by using insulin and making diet and lifestyle choices to prevent complications, but there's currently no cure, notes the Mayo Clinic.

Although Bone was just 11, she'd already begun entering rock climbing competitions and her type 1 diabetes impacted her performance. "It felt like everything changed," she says, explaining that she went from competing a high level to not being able to perform like she used to after the diagnosis. It took about a year for her to feel like herself again while competing. "It was just a new normal," she says. "Now it's just part of my life. It's a big part of it, but I can still compete and train and do all the things I want to do, even with type 1." (Related: How Rock Climbing Helped Me Let Go of My Perfectionism)

Since her diagnosis, Bone has competed in USA Climbing Youth National Championships, American Ninja Warrior Junior, and most recently the adult version of American Ninja Warrior, which allows people as young as 15 to qualify to run the course. In between her athletic feats, she also paid a visit to Congress when she was 13 to do advocacy work for JDRF, a non-profit research foundation searching for a cure for type 1 diabetes. (Related: The 10 Diabetes Symptoms Women Need to Know About)

Bone now manages her insulin with an Omnipod insulin pump and Dexcom (a continuous glucose monitor) and works with an endocrinology team to make sure she's fueling her body with the right nutrition she needs to perform. Leading up to her appearance on American Ninja Warrior, Bone focused on strength and conditioning twice a week as well as climbing and hitting the Ninja gym multiple times a week. (FYI, there are special gyms for Ninja Warrior training around the world that are built for practicing obstacles like those featured on the show.)

You can catch Bone in the American Ninja Warrior semifinals, which begin airing tonight, but her dreams don't stop there. She has her sights set on making the USA Climbing team and competing in the Olympics, where sport climbing recently became a medal sport as of the 2020 Summer Olympics. "I've wanted to go to the Olympics ever since I basically knew what they were," says Bone, adding that it's "been a huge goal" of hers ever since sport climbing officially became an Olympic sport. Bone also teases a possible "Ninja" Olympic run as there's talk of adding an obstacle course-style competition to the 2028 Olympics.

There's no doubt Bone puts in a lot of hard work, but how would the 16-year-old athlete spend a day that's she's not busy competing or training? "I would one hundred percent sleep — without a doubt," says the teenager.

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