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Sandy Journal

Utah boy powers through type 1 diabetes to American Ninja Warrior Jr.

Oct 01, 2018 03:04PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Beckstrand kids show their qualifying medals (Beckstrand family/courtesy)

By Amy Green  |  [email protected]

Type 1 diabetes is not the disease Grandpa got because of his “beer belly.” It’s not bestowed by Halloween, junk food or sugar-laden choices. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The trigger causing type 1 onset is still not fully understood by science. To put this perplexing condition simply, a body’s main metabolic function shuts down. A person with type 1 can no longer stabilize glucose — a process vital for life. Blood becomes toxic running through the veins. Life can instantly get really tough. 

Holly Beckstrand, who grew up in the Sandy area and graduated from Alta High School, got difficult news about her son Kai (12) after taking him to the ER in March 2018 —a type 1 diabetes diagnosis came to her pre-teen, ninja-strong boy. The rigors of type 1 care are immediately life altering, physically and emotionally demanding. It never stops. There is no cure yet. No vitamins, magic diet or essential oils, nor even the best daily modern treatments can eliminate it. Tread carefully trying to offer a solution to “cure" a type 1 diabetic, as that could be a dangerous recipe for false hope and a friendship turned awkward. 

There are current medications (intravenous pump and daily insulin injections) to make type 1 diabetes more manageable. Across the Salt Lake Valley, kids, teens and adults with type 1 are working, attending school, playing sports and trying extra hard to have a normal life. One cannot outsmart or outgrow it. To be clear, it is not contagious either.

Beckstrand now lives in St. George, raising her family of five kids, learning more about type 1 diabetes and also fostering additional children. Her son Kai was nearly disqualified due to his recent diagnosis, but will participate in the upcoming American Ninja Warrior Jr. competition. It is set to air Oct. 13 on Universal Kids Network.

Kai not only moves through health obstacles, but hangs from, traverses, jumps, powers sideways and over obstacle courses. His sister Baylee (9) also qualified for the competition, as one of the youngest competitors. Beckstrand and her husband Brian have both been past contenders as adult qualifiers for American Ninja Warrior. 

“We are basically a family of ninjas,” Holly Beckstrand said. “We started watching the show American Ninja Warrior as a family, and one year my oldest said he wanted a ninja warrior birthday party. So about five years ago, my husband built a mini ninja course for the kids and then he started to add a little bit more. Soon, it took over our whole yard. The kids have been training on ninja-type obstacles for a few years now, doing competitions all over the country for the last two years.” 

With good experience, the family decided to partner with a friend to build a training gym in St. George called The Grip Ninja. Holly Beckstrand said, “It has been super busy, full of kids’ classes and birthday parties, and people who just want to come and try out their strength during our open gym time.”

After Kai’s ER diagnosis, the Beckstrands went to their gym for some family bonding. “Kai was determined that his diagnosis wasn’t going to stop him from doing what he loves — and that’s ‘ninja.’ About two hours after submitting his applications for the show, we got a call asking for more footage and that they were really interested in him being on the show,” Holly Beckstrand said. Kai has a great outlook on life, administers his own injections and wears funny shirts that put humor into his daily routine. 

Prizes ranging from $2,500 to $15,000 lay ahead for winners and top finishers of different age groups in the competition. Holly Beckstrand explained how the show works, saying, “There will be 16 qualifying episodes to get the top 16 in each age group, and then semifinals. And then finals. Depending on how they do, they may only be in one episode, or more.” 

The Beckstrands are grateful for extended family and their collective warrior comrades, whom they also consider family. “It’s a great community to belong to, and we have friends all over the country for life, because of ninja,” she said.

October holds an exciting opportunity to see this play out — whether the Beckstrands win huge or succumb to the Ninja Warrior Jr. course. Cheering on this family as a “couch ninja” is commendable too. It could be inspiring to invite a type 1 diabetic friend to tune in, snack and watch for Kai’s signature mohawk.