You could say that diabetes and running have been my main extracurricular activities for the past several years. Succeeding in both of these areas demands a lot of hard work, with great rewards as well as disappointments. Sports and chronic illnesses can, on their own, teach individuals about discipline, dedication, and persistence. For me, trying to make distance running and diabetes mix has been the biggest lesson of all.
Type 1 Diabetes is primarily a problem with balance – the balance of food, exercise, and insulin in the body, which is easily maintained in most people with healthy pancreases. It’s sort of like an equation. Actually, having to think about everything I eat, test my blood sugar constantly and fine-tune my insulin doses might not be so bad if only there was some perfect mathematical formula. Unlike equations from algebra class, though, diabetes cannot be solved or balanced. There are tons of variables to throw into this one, and anytime I factor in running, my favorite activity, I end up with an inequality. Different types of workouts require different amounts of insulin; the number of carbs I eat before a workout depends on how many miles I plan to run; for hours after exercise my body might be more or less sensitive to insulin than it usually is.
I will always believe that joining the cross country team as a high school freshman was the best decision I’ve ever made; distance running, while not always easy, is incredibly rewarding. There were many times when I thought that diabetes was a good reason for me to abandon the sport, though. One of my favorite phrases throughout high school was “diabetes and distance running don’t mix!” It’s true that balancing blood sugars and insulin, hard enough on its own, seems to become exponentially more difficult when sports are added to the equation. But finally I have decided that the extra work required to train and race safely with diabetes is worth it. There will be no more questioning or wavering on this issue for me, mainly because of the many amateur and professional diabetic athletes I have come to know and admire over the past few years.
I’ve met diabetics who’ve climbed Mount Everest and diabetics who’ve completed Ironman triathlons. I’ve met a whole community of people with Type 1 who not only refuse to let this disease stop them from being active, but actually encourage regular exercise and outdoor adventuring as a way to make life with diabetes better. This is where Insulindependence comes in. Insulindependence, or "iD," facilitates and strengthens this community of athletes with diabetes, and this community inspires me in a way that my high school running coach never could: it acknowledges my everyday struggles with diabetes but insists that it is possible to achieve peak performance as an athlete if I just struggle a little harder sometimes. Insulindependence has pioneered the concept of “experiential diabetes education,” which is learning and practicing diabetes management skills through sport. The idea that sport can actually improve the quality of life with diabetes, and can be an important educational tool for individuals with diabetes, is truly revolutionary.
Insulindependence is, I guess, the reason I started this blog. Being selected as a 2011-2012 Captain for iD's Testing Limits program has given me a year-long task through which I will have the opportunity to help others in a meaningful way and learn more about myself at the same time. Seeing how many other iD Captains maintain blogs made me realize that this experience is something worth chronicling. This blog may only last until next summer, when my formal assignment as a TL Captain ends, but we'll see... maybe I'll enjoy blogging so much that I'll stick with it long afterward.
Thanks for reading!