Waking up at an hour that reminds me of high school, I roll out of bed and slip on the appropriate clothes for the day. The JDRF D.C. team invited me down to speak about being a type 1 diabetic endurance athlete at their OneNationSummit. Count me in.
No business suit today. All black Under Armour athletic sweats, Cole Haan shoes with Nike Air technology, and the La Habana Triathlon t-shirt fits the part.
The doors of the Prius automatically unlock as I reach for the handle. The morning dew still rests on the windshield as I drive out to the Marriott Conference Center in Maryland.
An important pit stop along the way is to the Grant's supermarket to pick up healthy snacks: blackberries, raspberries, two apples, and three bananas.
The hardest part about being healthy is being prepared.
Can someone with Type 1 Diabetes be an athlete?
The panel discussion started with a teenager girl asking if she could become an athlete: “I do not know my sport. I like to play with my friends though. Can I ever become an athlete?”
I have battled the word athlete my entire life. This word athlete gets designated for those that are “great” in physical challenges – the varsity athletes, the professionals on T.V., those completing extreme races.
“Are you an athlete?” I struggle to say yes. Even after completing a marathon, triathlons, and hiking for over a month in the backcountry, I struggle to say yes.
And this needs to change. WE ARE ALL ATHLETES.
“If you have a body, you are an athlete,” Nike Co-founder.
That is why time and pace are not the values I hold close to my heart for a race. Who I crossed the finish line with and the adventure of training are the magic of being an athlete.
Question and Answer for T1D Athletes
Sitting to my right and left are type 1 athletes that show we can compete in any sport:
- There is Courtney Duckworth, a professional cheerleader and marathon runner
- Two members of Diabetes Destiny, one of which ran 21 marathons while the other is an Ironman finisher
- Kelly Weaver, a college ice hockey player who now works with JDRF
- A T1D woman powerlifter that crushed the competition
Q: My continuous glucose monitor (CGM) keeps falling off during lacrosse games. What are any tips or tricks to help keep it on?
A: Check out SkinTac, GrifTape, and IV prep pads. I also recommended using a compression sleeve to help secure down the CGM. Another recommendation is to place the CGM or pump site in a place where you are not getting hit.
Kelly also chuckles at the amount of times her site got ripped out during hockey games, “It is part of the experience. You get better at learning where to place the site to keep it on.”
Q: My coach gets upset when my blood sugar goes low during tennis practice. I go low at the same time during practice. What should I do?
A: There are strategies to use to prevent going low.
1. Before practice set a temporary basal rate to keep your blood sugar from going low i.e. 20%-50% reduced basal rate two hours before practice.
2. Next, consider eating a mix of protein and long-lasting carbs before exercise i.e. 20 carbs for every 30 minutes of exercise. The high protein or fat gives you fuel over a longer period. Quick carbs act like gas on a fire – it may burn bright but only for a short period.
3. Have a mixture of liquids and carb choices to have throughout practice. I discussed during triathlons using water, Gatorade, and power bars to manage blood sugar based on CGM results. Place these options along the court and take what is appropriate between sets or breaks.
4. Journal or log your blood sugar patterns. If you notice a consistent problem take 4 days or a week to journal and discover that pattern. Consistently go low at the same time? Reduce your basal rates further or take in more carbs.
Q: Are there any books you recommend reading for T1D athletes?
A: Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook details the impact specific sports have on blood sugar levels.
A: Sugar Surfing is written by Stephen Ponder, a T1D and endocrinologist, who provides a dynamic blood sugar management style using your continuous glucose monitor
A: Think Like a Pancreas is considered by many T1Ds as the book that changed their perspective in blood sugar management
Talking about managing blood sugar with exercise can be a life saving conversation. Bill King, from Diabetes Destiny, shared that during a half-Ironman competition he came out of the water with BG over 400 mg/dl. His vision soon became spotty and soon he was headed to the hospital with blood sugars over 800 mg/dl. His body was deprived of insulin and going into DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis.)
Proper planning and management can prevent these situations, even for the most experienced athletes.
How do you compete as a type 1 diabetic athlete? Leave us a comment and question to help build out this resource for the community!
-Michael Jordon on Twitter
And thank you to all the volunteers and JDRF staff. Plus a special shout out to Alex for finding my Prius keys.
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