You Can Have Type 1 Diabetes And Still Be A Great Athlete
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Health and Wellness

Yes, I Have Type 1 Diabetes, And Yes, I'm Still A Top Athlete

This disease will not stop me from excelling.

Yes, I Have Type 1 Diabetes, And Yes, I'm Still A Top Athlete
Kai Parlett

In the summer of 2017, 20 type 1 diabetics completed a 10-week 4,000+ mile bike ride from New York to California. They biked against the advice of doctors, family, and friends. Many were skeptical that people with diabetes could complete such a physically challenging trip without putting themselves in danger due to their disease.

These 20 diabetics proved that high-level athletics are in fact possible for people living with Type 1.

Many people commonly mistake type 1 diabetes with type 2. While type 2 is generally caused by weight and inactivity, type 1 is a genetic condition that people have no control over. Type 1 is also more challenging to control, as unlike type 2 diabetes, exercise and healthy eating play no role in the treatment

As a diabetic athlete, I was excited to read about the bike trip. Several of my experiences involve coaches not understanding my illness — as a result, I was struggling to maintain a healthy blood sugar level on the soccer field, the lacrosse field, and the ski slopes without the support to make it easier.

Playing sports as a diabetic requires more awareness from both me and my coaches, but it is by no means impossible.

Many people have preconceived notions about diabetes and are unwilling to listen when I try to explain my disease to them. Coaches have told me I am wrong about something I live with every day, and I have been reprimanded for following my doctor's instructions.

At times, people view my diabetes as something I am using as an excuse to not work as hard as the other players.

A good friend of mine, who is also a type 1 diabetic, was at a championship ski race in Vermont when her coach refused to listen to what she needed for her diabetes, and thus, jeopardized her health. She was one of the later racers, but her coach asked her to take her jacket off at the start of the race.

Insulin can't go below a certain temperature or it freezes and ceases to be functional. Since her insulin was stored in a pod attached to her arm, taking her jacket off that early was not a good idea. My friend tried to explain this to her coach, but he wrote it off as her simply being cold and coming up with excuses to put her jacket back on.

In the end, her insulin froze, but her pod continued to inject frozen insulin into her body, which was both painful and not beneficial to her health.

It is these situations that are challenging for athletes with type 1 diabetes.

As I write about all the struggles diabetics face when playing sports, I feel as though I am neglecting the moments when coaches and fellow athletes are extremely supportive. At the beginning of a lacrosse game last spring, the referee was giving me a hard time because my insulin pump was on my leg and not covered by my uniform. The referee was angry because my pump counted as exposed plastic and was not allowed during the game.

My coach and I spoke briefly, and I explained to her that if I removed the catheter from my thigh before the game, I would not be able to give myself insulin for dinner later. My blood sugar would soar. My coach was very understanding and helped me explain the situation to the referee.

Moments like that are examples of what should happen.

Type 1 diabetes does not prevent me or anyone else from playing sports. I take every opportunity I can to educate people about diabetes because I think sports will be a lot easier when people simply understand. The biggest thing is that some people don't listen when diabetics try to explain the disease — they assume they are right.

The truth is, each diabetic's body responds to treatment differently. It's a very individual disease. I need to be able to make decisions about my health without being second-guessed and questioned. I can play sports, and I can excel at them with the support of my coaches, just like any other athlete.

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