Senior chemistry major Connor Carlson poses with Kevin Bull, a former American Ninja Warrior contestant with alopecia. Carlson will enter the preliminary rounds of ANW on April 24-25. Connor Carlson // Photo Provided
Student hopes to use 'American Ninja Warrior' to inspire others
Preparing to be a contestant on the NBC TV show “American Ninja Warrior” requires discipline, strength and endurance. As if that weren’t enough, senior chemistry major Connor Carlson is adding another element — inspiration.
“I want to use ‘American Ninja Warrior’ as a way to inspire others in the same position that I’m in,” Carlson said.
When Carlson was in middle school he lost all the hair on his body due to alopecia universalis, a stress-induced disorder that causes total body hair loss.
“It was hard,” Carlson said. “There was a couple months where I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t show my face.”
Watching "American Ninja Warrior," an NBC sports entertainment competition where contestants try to advance through physically grueling obstacles, has always been a hobby for Carlson. It was this hobby that introduced Carlson to former ANW contestant Kevin Bull, who also has alopecia.
“At that time I had never really seen anyone with alopecia doing anything awesome,” Carlson said. “It kind of gave me that spark of hope and the thought that I want to go out and do something great too.”
That’s how Carlson got into the workout style of calisthenics — exercises without special equipment — to help prepare him for his ANW premiere.
Because rock climbers design the ANW course, Carlson has been focusing a lot on grip strength and endurance in his training at Indy Warrior, a gym in Noblesville full of obstacles similar to those seen in the show.
“At first it was so hard,” he said. “I tried to do the warped wall, which I thought, ‘Oh, I’m tall, this will be easy.’ But I smashed right into the wall.”
After more training Carlson said he feels ready, but is still nervous to compete. However, no matter the outcome of the competition, Carlson said he wants to use the ANW platform to inspire others.
“Kevin Bull inspired a lot of kids, he inspired me,” he said. “I want to take it even further than Kevin did. I want to use my story to inspire others and take it as far as it can go.”
To help with that inspiration, Carlson created a brand on social media during his sophomore year of college called ‘tall.n.bald,' which he said stands for empowerment and loving yourself.
In addition to his brand, Carlson and former Ball State alumnus Josh Harshman created a more tangible product to help people with alopecia — their company Makou Mea.
“It all started when I was at a restaurant and a server knew me from social media,” Carlson said. “She asked me why I hadn’t created some kind of product to raise awareness for people with alopecia. And then it got me thinking and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! I totally could!’”
Makou Mea means “we matter” in Hawaiian, which Carlson says is an important message to share.
The company runs off a giving-back model. They recently took a four-year-old girl with alopecia to SkyZone. Because of their efforts, the group was recently invited to Malibu for a Children’s Alopecia Project event, where Carlson spoke to 40 kids with alopecia.
“It was life changing,” he said. “It was a pivotal point in my life. Before that, I wasn’t fully confident with myself. I still had lingering affects from alopecia weighing on my mentality. It was the first time that I felt comfortable and confident in myself.”
Carlson plans on carrying that confidence and some nervous energy into the preliminary rounds of “American Ninja Warrior” on April 24-25. If he doesn’t make it, Carlson is already making plans to train harder and try again next year.
While “reaching the red button” on ANW is his current dream, Carlson said his long-term goal is to become a motivational speaker.
“I want to speak in front of thousands,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to inspire people. If there can be a voice telling people to go for more and not settle, then that’s what I want to be.”