Meet a champion climber with type 1 diabetes

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August 9, 2022 – Dealing with type 1 diabetes is never easy. But if you ask 16-year-old rock-climbing star Katie Bone, she’ll tell you she’ll never let this disease stop her from achieving her goals.

“My motto is the same as that of Bethany Hamilton – the surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack: ‘I don’t need easy, I just need possible’,” says Bone, who lives in Albuquerque, NM, and has been a competitive climber since the age of 8. “That really stuck with me.”

Just watch her compete on NBC’s hit reality show American ninja warrior in June is proof of that. Not only did the nationally-ranked climber navigate the obstacles with grace and courage, but she proudly showed off her two monitoring devices: a glucose monitor on one arm and a tubeless insulin pump on the other.

“I specifically decided to keep my devices visible when I went on the show,” she says. “It’s part of my life and I wanted to show that I’m not ashamed to wear medical devices.”

Still, it’s been a long road since Bone was diagnosed in 2017. She was just 11 at the time and had recently competed in a rock climbing competition when she started feeling ill.

“I didn’t perform well,” she said. “I needed to go to the bathroom often and was really nauseous. Three days later we ended up in the emergency room.

When her doctor first told her she had diabetes, she started crying.

“My grandmother had type 1 and was extremely ill and died of complications,” she says. “That was all I knew about diabetes, and it was scary to think my life could be like this.”

But her outlook brightened when her doctor assured her she could keep climbing.

“When I was told I could keep competing, a switch flipped for me and I decided nothing was going to hold me back,” she says.

But every day is not easy.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to manage my diabetes during competitions,” she says. “When we climb, for example, we are not allowed to have our phones, and I manage my [glucose monitor] through my phone. This means that accommodations have to be made for me.

And managing your diabetes can sometimes be unpredictable.

“If my blood sugar is low or high, I could be placed last in a competition,” she says. “It ruins my warm-up and my mental game. It’s a never-ending fight.”

Ultimately, Bone’s goal is to inspire others and advocate for diabetes awareness. She says she was overwhelmed by viewers’ reactions to her appearance on the show.

“I’ve heard from so many parents and children,” she says. “I want the world to know that wearing a pump on your arm only makes you more amazing.”

She also draws inspiration from other people with diabetes.

“Anyone with this disease is a role model for me, because everyone has their own battles,” she says. “Diabetes is different for everyone, and seeing how people can do what they do despite being diagnosed has been incredibly inspiring.”

For now, the rising high school junior plans to continue training and competing.

“My goal is to be part of the 2024 Olympic climbing team in Paris,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to participate in the Olympics since I was little. Nothing can stop me.

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