Who’s heard of the new reality TV show “The Titan Games” hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? And did you know that one of our own from the Diabetes Community made an appearance on that show last night (Thursday, Jan. 24), proudly sporting his CGM sensor for all the world to see?
Yep, fellow T1D-peep Chris Ruden from Miami, Florida, is that guy, and if you saw him you may have noticed he also wears a special prosthetic robotic arm, fitted to assist with a birth defect that left him with a shorter left arm and only two fingers on that hand. Chris is probably the only seven-fingered, mechanical-armed, pancreatically-challenged guy around — following his diagnosis with T1D at age 19.
But none of that has stopped him from reaching his dreams, becoming a muscular weight lifter, life coach, and motivational speaker who travels the country spreading inspiration and positivity. Of course, his big moment came recently in being chosen to compete on “The Titan Games,” the new 10-episode series from NBC that “offers everyday people the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in epic head-to-head challenges designed to test the mind, body and heart.”
Chris Ruden, Diabetes Advocate
You can find Chris around our DOC (Diabetes Online Community) at his own website, as @ChrisRuden on Instagram, and sharing his story on diabetes podcasts Diabetes Connections and the Juicebox Podcast in recent months. It’s in those podcasts he’s shared quite a bit of his story, and I’ve enjoyed listening to that.
He’s also made the rounds speaking at various diabetes events in the past few years, from JDRF summits to the big Friends For Life conference in Orlando. I had the chance to meet Chris this past November at a DOC forum hosted by Xeris Pharmaceuticals, where a group of advocates gathered to talk about new forms of glucagon coming to market soon. Chris and I had the chance to chat on breaks casually and he was such a joy to talk to.
I was also thrilled to hear in late 2018 that Chris made an incredible trip to Uganda, working with the NYC-based Sonia Nabeta Foundation (SNF) that hosts type 1 diabetes camps for kids across Africa and partners with other orgs to get much-needed supplies to children there. In December, Chris traveled to Camp Ecora in Arua, Uganda, to help raise awareness and money for that cause.
Awesome stuff there!
Chris says he wasn’t always public about his physical and health limitations. They did stop him for quite a while. In fact, for the first 17 years of his life, Chris says he hid his irregular hand under a glove in the hopes no one would notice. It was until late 2016 that he finally took off the glove, and that led to his getting a special prosthetic arm.
Interestingly, Chris says his arm is designed by the same company that made the prosthetic for the dolphin in the movie, The Dolphin Tale. They worked with Chris to build a special custom arm from carbon fiber that’s a myoelectric device — meaning it picks up signals from his forearm to help open and close the hand, and make 21 different gestures.
Chris says when he was a small boy at home, there weren’t many issues with his arm — but once he started school, that changed. He learned how to adapt and deal with completing tasks, but says he kept his arm and hand hidden as much as possible. Then going into college at age 19 came the T1D diagnosis. Chris was working in a hospital at the time, and had many of the typical symptoms — thirst, urination, fatigue, etc. He was the only one in his family to get diabetes, and the doctors initially diagnosed him incorrectly with type 2 diabetes (!). He went home with Metformin in hand, and later went back to the hospital to get a correct T1D diagnosis.
He had just started working out regularly and was studying political science to go into law, but all of that changed with the diagnosis. When he was in the hospital, Chris says he suddenly knew he needed to do something differently. He recalls being a skinny guy, “as flat as a board” at the time without any muscle, and he decided to start pursuing physical fitness. He says working out has helped him on the mental health front, and that became a focus. He switched to his study focus to exercise science and graduated with that degree.
Eventually, Chris ended up turning to life coaching as a career choice — to help people, while also helping himself at the same time. That’s now his profession, helping people with and without diabetes live their best lives, as well as much traveling to speak and share his own story. He works with dozens of people with diabetes, but they aren’t his only clients.
Chris says he’s always been competitive, even with just himself. He’s done so many things, despite having only one healthy hand — including playing drums for four years in college, and teaching martial arts and hip-hop dance. He jokes that he’s tried everything and the only thing he’s found he can’t do because of his disabilities are: produce his own insulin and monkey bars.
On Being Chosen for “The Titan Games”
Chris shares that he was contacted by the show’s producer wanting to do an interview, and at first he thought it was some sort of scam. But after the interview, the stars aligned a few months later when he received a message that he had been selected. Apparently they were happy to include a power-lifter who uses strength-based training in his workouts.
It was fantastic to watch Chris compete on the show last night (Jan. 24) — even though he wasn’t able to make it to the next round. They didn’t specifically mention type 1 diabetes on the show, but a few times you could see the Dexcom transmitter and sensor on Chris’ arm. And his ending message was quite moving, focused on that mantra of “You Can Do This” no matter what limitations life may deal you.
Chris made a few-minute YouTube video after the show aired, recapping his experience and sending an inspirational message out to the D-Community.
“I’m here for every kid who’s afraid of being different, every kid who’s afraid of how they look or the way they are,” Chris said on TV, immediately after his competition. “I’m here to show it’s possible. I lost, but I feel like I did my job. And I hope every kid in America knows that limitations are self-imposed.”
Chris also says that behind the scenes, he took every chance to educate and raise awareness about diabetes, from producers to other contestants on the show. If he was Low and eating candy, and someone made a comment, he’d let them know what was going on and that it was a medical necessity.
“It was really cool, and I took every opportunity to do that,” he said on the Diabetes Connections podcast, before his competition aired. “On the experience part, I didn’t let it hold me back. That was the most satisfying part of all of this — knowing that I did something that a lot of people couldn’t do, and with a disability, with diabetes, with all of these things that most would consider huge obstacles… I turned that into my own opportunity and made the most of it for myself.”
We’re so impressed by Chris and his story! And even though his run on “The Titan Games” show was short-lived, we definitely love his aura and his message, and we can’t wait to see what he has on tap next.