For a young American with a rare autoimmune disorder that leads to total hair loss on the head and body, one of the toughest fitness challenges on TV has provided him with the chance to push himself like never before.
Connor Carlson, a 23-year-old student at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, has Alopecia Universalis, an extreme form of the autoimmune disease Alopecia Areata. Whereas Alopecia Areata typically leads to sudden, patchy hair loss on the scalp, Alopecia Universalis causes all of the hairs on the entire body to shed from head to toe.
Carlson’s hair started falling out while he was still in middle school, and talking to America’s Star Press newspaper, he said such a dramatic and rapid change in appearance robbed him of his sense of identity. His salvation, it turns out, is the popular TV show Ninja Warrior or American Ninja Warrior as it is called in the US.
The student explains to the Star Press that his life started to change for the better after seeing a contestant named Kevin Bull on the show. Bull has appeared on American Ninja Warrior several times and is one of its best-known competitors; he also happens to have Alopecia Universalis.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t I do this?’” said Carlson after seeing Bull on television. “I had to find my identity, personality and things I liked.” Continues below...
Both Bull and Carlson have drawn the short straw when it comes to their hair-related issues, as Alopecia Universalis is the most difficult variant of Alopecia Areata to treat. Unlike Alopecia Areata treatment, which has seen many success stories (customised courses typically includes recommended formulations of high strength minoxidil combined with appropriate hair growth boosters), the same products are unsuitable for use on the more extreme cases including Alopecia Universalis or the marginally less severe Alopecia Totalis.
Already fit thanks to a focused approach to calisthenics, Carlson set about trying to get into even better shape to try and land a slot on the TV show. After submitting a video of himself training, the producers gave him a yes, and he is due to head off to Kansas City for filming at the end of April.
Carlson’s Alopecia Universalis appears to have helped him find direction in more ways than one. As well as signing up for American Ninja Warrior, he has also teamed up with several university friends to form a company named Makou Mea, which sells beanie hats and other items to raise funds for charity, including the US' National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF).
On his profile page on the website, Carlson writes: “Rumours constantly arose in school falsely naming me ‘the cancer kid’. While I lost my sense of security and confidence, I also gained a lot from this change. I wholeheartedly believe I am who I am today because I had to go pick up the pieces and learn to love myself again. If Makou Mea can inspire or uplift just one person, I feel it will have done what it was intended to do.”
There is even more to Carlson than fitness and a business mind: a possible third string to the young man’s bow is that he is currently majoring in chemistry and, according to the Star Press, is starting to wonder if there is a career in trying to better understand Alopecia Areata and its related conditions. On top of all this, he has dreams of being a motivational speaker, helping children to make the most of what they have and raise alopecia awareness.
“I can say I mentally started from the bottom to be where I’m at now,” he says.
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