We had the chance to connect recently with country singer Ben Rue, who broke through on the Billboard Country Charts with his 14-Week Top 60 debut single. Did you know he's also a fellow D-peep living with type 1 since age 14?
The 31-year-old grew on a family farm in Oregon and eventually made his way to Nashville to pursue his country music dream, hitting the music scene about four years ago. Ben has just released a new song called Let 'Em Loose, and in conjunction with that he's partnered with Roche Diabetes Care to launch a new campaign combining country music with diabetes advocacy -- specifically, promoting a cost-savings program that also supports donations to diabetes nonprofits.
Here's our interview with Ben, about his life with diabetes as well as his music career and working with a diabetes device company to raise awareness and advocate. Also look for his "Good Morning America" appearance on May 1, 2018!
Country Singer Ben Rue Talks Diabetes
DM) Ben, let's start with your your diagnosis story...
Ben Rue) I was 14 years old. My mother is a nurse and used to bring home stuff to test on her kids for fun. I have two brothers. So one day she brought home a blood glucose meter and tested me and my brothers, and my brothers were normal at 80-120, but my reading was 555. Initially I thought I had won a prize for getting the highest number, but then I saw my mom well up and I knew everything was about to change.
Any diabetes history in your family?
Nope, no family history. I’m the only one to start the trend. It definitely made me mature and become more in tune with my body because managing diabetes is something that affects you every single day.
Can you talk about your experience at diabetes camp?
I’m a huge fan of diabetes youth camps. I first went as a camper a few months after I was initially diagnosed and that was a really important time for me in figuring out how to live life with diabetes.
I was diagnosed right after entering high school and going to these camps was so pivotal in becoming more confident in myself, as I didn’t know anyone else who had diabetes. I went to the Chris Dudley Basketball Camp for kids with diabetes -- three years as a camper and then 10 years as a counselor. There were kids from all over the country, something like 20-30 states. That experience gave me the opportunity to meet and be around so many more type 1 kids. It also helped me become more confident in who I am and the fact that I had diabetes, especially the first year, and then I continued to learn more each summer even as a counselor -- especially because there are kids there who are much younger than me when I was diagnosed who were so mature and responsible, using pumps and managing their condition, which absolutely humbles me.
How did you get started in music?
My mother plays 6-7 instruments and always wanted to get me and my brothers to play piano or guitar or sing, but we were always into playing sports.
In college, it finally happened. My older brother had learned to play before me, and I picked up a guitar and started learning from YouTube videos. Once I did that I got into writing songs. I even formed a band and started playing in a few local coffee shops. That's when I started to have these dreams of where I wanted to be.
When did you start pursuing a career in music?
I was working on my family farm in Oregon filling up the combine with some diesel fluid -- which takes about 20 minutes or so. I was looking out at the field, singing, imagining I was performing at Madison Square Garden. My dad was looking at me mid-chorus, shaking his head. But then he looked at me and said, “You need to go out there and do what you need to do and pursue your dreams before you come back to the farm.” So when he said that, I knew then it was time to go see what was out there.
I successfully auditioned and was on the first season of The X-Factor on TV and made it through the first couple rounds. That gave me the confidence to take the next step and spurred me to move to Nashville, and I made the cross-country drive in 38 hours in February 2012.
You almost became a professional baseball player rather than a musician, right?
Yes, I played baseball and sports my whole life. I did play baseball at Concordia University and then played for a season of independent ball in Michigan, but unfortunately I got injured. But in the end, it opened up other doors for me. Having to check my blood sugar multiple times during sports was a little bit of an adjustment at first. I had to let my players and coach know that occasionally I would have to sit out. They would sometimes give me a hard time if it happened to happen during a conditioning if they thought I was wimping out, but really everyone was super supportive.
If you could've played pro baseball, what team would you want to be a part of?
It would probably be the Seattle Mariners so I could stay on the West Coast, but honestly I would play on any team that would take me.
Does any of your music have a diabetes component or theme?
I just released a brand new single on Friday, April 27, called Let 'Em Loose, and I’m super excited about that. It means a lot to me to get new music out to my fans, and particularly the message behind this song which is all about living without fences and dreaming as high as you want to. I would certainly say that's a theme, for those with diabetes and so much in life beyond that.
How would you say diabetes has influenced your music career?
The social media part of being a musician has allowed me to connect to fans and with so many people with diabetes. It’s given me a platform to share my story and interact with other people, whether my age or even parents of kids with diabetes have reached out to me to express their appreciation for empowering and encouraging others.
It seems there's almost "something in the water" as far as musicians and country singers with diabetes... have you noticed that, and have you had a chance to meet fellow musicians in the D-Community?
I’ve done a couple shows with and met some other country singers on the road, and we’ve talked about our experiences with diabetes. There's also been the chance to meet-up at events like the CWD Friends For Life conference in Orlando. As mentioned before, I love connecting with my fans and touring is a really great way to connect with them directly.
OK, so now let's talk about this new "Buck Off Diabetes" campaign you are launching with Roche...
Of course. The #BuckOffDiabetes campaign is a national awareness program that embodies the bold new attitude for taking on diabetes. I’m teaming up with the Accu-Chek Guide team to help spread the word about how people with diabetes can not only save a buck, but donate a buck to a good cause. With the Accu-Chek Guide SimplePay program, you can save more than a few bucks by always paying the same low price with every test strip refill.
For everyone who shares a photo on social media with the #BuckOffDiabetes hashtag, it will spark a charitable donation from Roche Diabetes Care to nonprofits Beyond Type 1, the College Diabetes Network and Taking Control of Your Diabetes to help support diabetes education and awareness.
I would encourage everyone to get involved in this program because it’s so easy to make difference. Just share a photo of yourself making the #BuckOffDiabetes bullhorns with your fingers, and with every post, Roche will donate a buck to these great diabetes-related organizations. It’s really that simple and all the info is on the website, www.BuckOffDiabetes.com
Can you talk more about your partnership with Roche?
I’ve been working with Roche Diabetes Care and Accu-Chek Guide for the past couple years. We have a similar vision on how we want to help people living with diabetes. We also share the same goal of helping educate people on how to live with and manage their diabetes, similar to the motto of my new single, Let 'Em Loose.
Access and affordability are such big issues these days. How might you use your celebrity to advocate for say, more reasonable insulin pricing?
No one can argue that diabetes is expensive. That’s why this campaign really helps people with diabetes because it allows them to save a few bucks. No matter where they are or where they go, it’s the same low price for test strips every single time. We want people to be able to focus on their health, not the cost.
What would your key takeaway message be for the Diabetes Community?
Overall, I would say it’s important to stay on top of your diabetes and manage it every single day. I want everyone to participate in the campaign and share their picture with the bullhorns.
Thanks for taking the time and doing all you do, Ben. Still hoping you'll address insulin pricing at some point, but we do appreciate a buck off wherever we can get it!