News and insights brought to you by the International Diabetes Federation
Eli Bell

Eli “Baby Bell” is an American Ninja Warrior with type 1 diabetes. American Ninja Warrior is a US based TV competition show where athletes try to defeat the world’s toughest obstacle course. The course has a series of obstacles that challenge agility, speed, coordination and most of all, upper body strength. Eli was accepted as a competitor for this season. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 11, Eli has never let challenges get in the way of his dreams. A part of his objective is to help raise awareness for his diabetes. This American Ninja Warrior will wear the IDF blue circle for type 1 diabetes (T1D).

“Diabetes has been a difficult part of everyday life ever since my diagnosis, but I haven’t let it get in the way of my training. It’s just like another obstacle and it’s made me stronger as a person and an athlete. I want to show all people with diabetes that nothing can stand in the way from achieving your dreams!”

The $1 million dollar grand prize, which goes to the person who completes the American Ninja course in the fastest time has only been awarded once. We got a chance to talk to Eli about training, the competition and life with type 1 diabetes.

When did you become interested in gymnastics and stunt performance?

I took recreational gymnastics classes from the time I was 4 years old to 16. Being in recreational (as opposed to competitive) gymnastics enabled me to gain a lot of the major skills in the sport. It also allowed me to branch off and try other similar disciplines. During this time, I discovered parkour, stunt performance, and obstacle course training.

What are some of the greatest barriers to your training and competition?

T1D is easily the biggest barrier to my training, but over the years I’ve been able to manage it well enough that it hasn’t held me back from anything. I train a lot these days. I go to the ninja warrior gym, rock climb, parkour/gymnastics and I run. During these activities I have to be really careful about my blood sugar going too low, and having hypoglycemia. When it comes to competition, my blood glucose tends to go high due to adrenaline. Running the course with a high blood glucose is the last thing I want to do. Because of the low and the high risks, I have to be constantly on top of my blood glucose and factor in all of the exercise or adrenaline/excitement.

Eli Bell climbing a wall

How did your diagnosis affect you when you were diagnosed? Who helped you get through that?

When I was first diagnosed, I hardly knew anything about type 1 diabetes. I was scared because I thought there were going to be so many things I couldn’t do anymore. It was also very stressful to think about all of the things I was going to have to deal with to take care of my condition every single day.

One of the biggest supporters I had was my friend Colt Scott, who is also competing on American Ninja Warrior this year. We were both in the same gymnastics class for years. He also has T1D, for nearly his entire life. Seeing that he had been doing all of the same things I was while dealing with diabetes gave me a lot of hope when I was first diagnosed.

In terms of training with type 1 diabetes, can you discuss managing the highs and lows? Do you have a special nutrition plan? A favourite “go to” food?

I do not follow a specific nutrition plan, except for staying away from added sugars and fast food. Simple sugars make it really difficult to manage even with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), and high fat foods leave my blood sugar high for long periods of time. It’s a win-win situation because as an athlete I want to avoid those types of foods anyway!

What is the one diabetes tool you couldn’t live without?

My CGM is the most helpful tool I have. There have been so many times where it will catch my blood glucose going low when I am not aware of it. It also makes it less of a hassle when I’m competing. I don’t have to constantly test during stressful times

Who is your greatest supporter?

My parents have always been my biggest supporters for everything I’ve done in my life. Especially when I was first diagnosed, they never left my side, and they still help me so much to this day.

Managing diabetes is difficult for sure, but in the end, you will come out a harder worker than most other people!

What is the most valuable diabetes tip you could give to anyone involved in sports training?

Don’t let diabetes control you. YOU are in control. Managing diabetes is difficult for sure, but in the end, you will come out a harder worker than most other people!

When you approached the Ninja Warrior producers, were they aware of type 1 diabetes?

There had been a competitor with type 1 diabetes on the show before (Kyle Cochran). Type 1 diabetes isn’t common on the show, but the producers are definitely aware of it at this point. Kyle was one of my inspirations as you might imagine.

What did the producers think about you performing super difficult stunt work on a live stage? Did they have concerns? How did you help them realize you were up to the task?

They did not have any concerns about my run regarding my condition. I just had to make sure to be a little careful because I was running with two devices attached to my body. I was a course tester in Las Vegas last year, and on the course, I fell into the water so hard that the impact ripped my insulin pump off! Once I got out of the water, I realized what happened because I looked down and saw blood running down my abdomen.

You call yourself “Baby Bell”, how come?

I started training for American Ninja Warrior when I was 16. Back then, it was not popular among kids like it is nowadays. When I went to a ninja gym to train or compete in a competition I was often the only kid there. Being the youngest around naturally gave me the title Eli “Baby Bell”.

What inspired you to use the IDF Blue Circle on your t-shirt for the live performance?

I wanted a simple way to visualize and raise awareness for type 1 diabetes on my shirt, and the IDF blue circle was the perfect fit for that.

When can we watch you perform?

You can watch the Baltimore qualifiers which will air in mid-June. There is no guarantee that my run will get air time on TV but I will post a video of it on my social media either way. (Instagram: @baby_bell_ninja).

Thank you, Eli “Baby Bell” – we’re rooting for you!

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