Utah boy with type 1 diabetes is American Ninja Warrior Jr. championJul 01, 2019 04:55PM ● By Amy Green
Kai Beckstrand of Utah wins American Ninja Warrior Jr. title. (Universal Kids/courtesy)
By Amy Green | [email protected]
It’s safe to say that Kai Beckstrand of Utah is a real ninja. He’s proved that in a few ways, and at just 12 years old. Regular followers of the City Journals may have read about his talents and exploits, when Kai moved on as a finalist in the American Ninja Warrior Jr. competition last year.
Those watching him compete on television saw Kai’s signature blonde mohawk — a punk style head that kept calm and cool. His stellar focus was fixed strong under that straight-up hairdo. The competition aired on Universal Kids network television, and Kai dominated. He not only overcomes visible obstacles, but also the daily ninja challenges of type 1 diabetes.
To be selected for the competition, Kai explained, “I was chosen to be on the show by submitting a video and written application, and from there we went to LA. Once there, it was round robin style racing. It was head-to-head, winner faces loser, and then the two winners faced off to make it into the top 32 contestants in their age group. After that, it was single elimination. I ended up having seven races and won all of them” Kai said. He finished off with five of the seven fastest times in his age group.
News traveled fast from St. George to Salt Lake City when Kai had made it into the finals. His mother Holly Beckstrand grew up in Sandy and is an Alta High alumna. Kai’s parents now own and operate a training gym in southern Utah called the Grip Ninja, where their whole family trains, practices and has bonding time. Visiting their gym could be a fun destination place when headed for a St. George trip.
Lots of people watched and rooted for this amazing kid with spiked hair, who is also spiked with positive attitude. The type 1 diabetes community heartily cheered for Kai on social media. Being type 1 diabetic and a professional athlete requires vigilance to the extreme — more than an average ninja might bring to the course.
“Kai won $15,000 as the grand prize,” his mom said. “After the show we were able to upgrade the way he manages his diabetes by getting a CGM (continuous glucose monitor).” A CGM is a device a diabetic wears 24/7. A needle attached to a sensor punctures the skin and stays implanted for 10 days before it is replaced with a new one. It reads interstitial fluid to predict blood sugar changes, using Bluetooth to transmit those values to a smartwatch or smartphone. Parents can watch their child’s blood sugar using a follow app.
A CGM is life-saving technology, but can be difficult for diabetics and their families to afford. “We are still working on getting an insulin pump for him too,” Holly said. “They are so expensive, but the CGM itself has been a game-changer for him with his athletics, and has given me some peace of mind. It's a scary, scary thing,” she said. She can now see Kai’s blood sugar in real time, even while he’s training.
People with type 1 diabetes have rigorous medical challenges all day. It is a myth that exercise always makes diabetes easier. Intense exertion can actually make blood sugar quickly rise or fall out of range. So someone with type 1 must work hard for health stability when pursuing athletic hobbies and careers. Kai is a great role model for any diabetic wondering if sports can still be done.
Kai is now patiently waiting to see if he’ll be selected to compete again in season two. If chosen, he will be in the next age group of competitors — ages 13-14. But he might have to up his sass game (like rolling his eyes more, stomping off and slamming doors) if he’s going to compete with real-life teenagers. Actually, according to his mom, he’s much more on the congenial and humorous side.
To see videos of Kai’s races, visit sandyjournal.com.