Today I had a very interesting conversation with a manager who is doing an internal journal club discussion on athletics in people living with type 1 diabetes and how this condition does not limit athletes from achieving greatness. Obviously, this is a topic near and dear to me as I am constantly thinking about my diabetes as I play squash on a highly competitive division 1 team. And after 18 years, I am still going through trial and error situations, testing the waters, seeing what works and what doesn’t for me to be able to perform at my peak without worrying about low or high blood sugars.
I found it interesting he was deciding to use 2 swimmers with diabetes who had won many gold medals at the Olympics in his argument about type 1 diabetes and athletics. However, these 2 athletes were diagnosed with their diabetes while they were already at the top of their sport, something unique and different to me where my squash skills grew with my diabetes. His basic argument is that diabetes should not limit athletes at all. I agree with him- it shouldn’t. I’ve met athletes at the top of their sport as well with diabetes, and even a man who has climbed Everest and ran grueling marathons in the Sahara, and yet I felt frustrated after our meeting. And I choose to live my life with the mindset that diabetes won’t come in the way. Probably I was frustrated because my whole life isn’t dedicated to squash and diabetes management, therefore I can’t cookie cut and have the power to manipulate my life like these athletes can. I think I felt defensive to his argument because in some respects I believe, diabetes HAS limited me and my athletic ability. When I think of the reality, sometimes my diabetes does take precedent in my life. I can think of multiple squash matches that I would love to have back and prepare my blood sugars differently. Or for whatever reason my blood sugars just weren’t cooperating with me that day and it wasn’t something I did incorrectly. Or my coach at the last second sprung on me that we are running sprints before practice instead of usually after. But, it’s ok. I’m still achieving my goals, athletically, academically, and in life. I don’t know many other chronic conditions that you can compete athletically at a high collegiate level with, and this in itself is a huge accomplishment that not many people are able to have in their lives.
A big portion of his talk is going to discuss energy cycles, interactions with hormone levels, and how athletes with diabetes go through trial and error situations to learn more about how their body reacts to different levels intensity of exercise. Every time I exercise, I feel like I am going through trial and error. Did I give insulin at a different time today? Did I try a new granola bar? How about lowering my basal dose while sitting in lecture? Did I leave 10 minutes early so I could walk to practice and not run and preserve my blood sugar? Is this a normal practice or challenge matches- is there stress and what will that do to me? Am I sipping Gatorade or water? Do I even have enough juice and snacks in the locker, I can’t remember? Did I immediately add back all my insulin right after? How about dinner- did I stick to salad or have some pasta tonight? ….just an idea of the filtering system of questions that I think about every day. I think that the take away message is that these big time athletes have found the perfect equation for them in terms of how they set up their body not only just in general, but their “diabetes body”. They have to- they can’t afford to perform with low or high blood sugars. I still feel like I am finding my equation, and instead of getting upset with myself about that, I realize that this is ok. My life at college is constantly changing, it’s not “cookie cutter” like these professional athletes. I’ve also had diabetes my whole life and sometimes it’s hard to change your routine when you think that is the best you can do because it’s the only option you know. My conversation with this manager reminded and encouraged me to keep experimenting now, during my off season, to perfect my diabetes management with athletics, and showed me that if I continue to work hard at managing it well, I can work to cut out those instances when I’m playing at 300 or dropping fast from 100 doing court sprints. I have a hard time putting into words what it feels like to be playing squash at 350 to others and it’s frustrating when the months and months of training to get in peak fitness shape can’t even be utilized because your head is in your blood sugars and you’re so thirsty from the high sugar that you can’t even think about what shot you are going to hit next. Or when you think you are crashing on court and all you can think about is getting off court to chug Gatorade and honey to stop feeling heavy and tingly on court and start refocusing on beating your opponent. This mental tug of war contest is the limitation of diabetes that I work to eliminate everyday so I can enter the court just like all of my teammates and opponents do.Finally, I tried to enforce in my conversation with the manager about the advantages these athletes have over other athletes because of their diabetes. Often, people don’t think of this, and I wanted him to be aware. Often the discipline, maturity, forced knowledge on health and nutrition, and the ability to push through adversity outweigh the limitations that diabetes can cause athletically. Although these are intangible advantages and often hard to describe as well, but I have seen the benefits from them and am confident that I have achieved my goal of playing collegiate squash due in part to living with type 1, and for that I am strangely thankful.