To the athlete with Type 1 Diabetes…
As you may already know, competing with Type 1 Diabetes can be both a frustrating experience and a test of your character on a daily basis. Although I have had very positive experiences while being a Type 1 Diabetic athlete, I need to be honest with myself and especially others that living with this disease is difficult, requires constant monitoring and takes a tremendous amount of perseverance. I’d like to say my diabetes doesn’t bother me while competing, but I can’t. However, I can say that it’s manageable and so worth it in the end in order to play the game I love and to prove to myself that I refuse to let this condition become an excuse to not follow my dreams.
Type 1 Diabetes will test your character every day. Being a student-athlete comes with many responsibilities, whether they are in the classroom, on the field, or in social settings. Adding ‘Type 1 Diabetic’ to the mix adds another layer of personal responsibility to maintain your health in order to contribute and be successful. My preparation for practices and games begins the minute I wake up in the morning and continues until I go to bed, and even throughout the night. Every day you will be faced with tough personal decisions on, and especially off, the field. Only you can manage your health; your friends and teammates will need to understand the real lifestyle choices you have to make and the reason for them. As anybody dealing with Type 1 Diabetes can attest, not every day will be perfect. In fact, it’s uncommon to have a flawless day; your numbers may not always be in perfect range, but it’s how you decide to deal with it that makes the difference.
As I have recently reflected on the challenges inherent in competing with this condition, the most difficult is to recognize and acknowledge that the fluid nature of the condition will undoubtedly impact how you train and perform. It takes maturity and understanding to effectively manage your glucose levels while training or performing because if you don’t, you are not helping yourself or your teammates and placing your personal health and safety at risk. Some days you may find yourself questioning, “is this worth it?” or thinking how much easier this would be without having Type 1 Diabetes, but managing this obstacle successfully makes the reward that much GREATER. I know I would hate to let diabetes become a barrier to ANY of my aspirations and I encourage you to not let it stop you from any ambitions you may have; push yourself to your highest potential and live with no regrets. Don’t say to yourself “I wish I had done that,” instead say “I’m so proud of myself for pushing through and discovering my capabilities while managing this disease.” Do not let Type 1 Diabetes define who you are, use it as a constant reminder that with responsible management and proper motivation you CAN accomplish anything you put your mind to. The journey may be challenging but it’s possible, and most importantly, it’s worth it!
To the coach of a Type 1 Diabetic…
It is because of positive role models like you that students with Type 1 Diabetes compete like any other player on that field, court, track, pool or stage. Your support, understanding and expectations have tremendous influence on their college experience. Awareness of how crucial proper maintenance and treatments are for your athlete to compete safely and effectively will determine the impact that individual can make on your team.
In my personal experience, it makes a big difference when coaches educate themselves on Type 1 Diabetes and familiarize themselves with particular athlete’s triggers and signs; I not only feel supported, I feel safer. My coaches have always been understanding and supportive during practices and games when I have to check my glucose levels during water breaks and between breaks in drills. They view me as any other athlete on the field and have the highest expectations of me. They push me to be my best and expect nothing less. Because they have never treated me any differently from any other member of the team, the process I employ to manage my Type 1 Diabetes has been validated in my eyes and I feel empowered to accomplish anything I set my mind to.
Each Type 1 Diabetic may be affected differently by the disease and may have adopted different routines that work the best for them in order to perform to the best of their ability. It can be good practice to adopt some sort of signal in order to quickly communicate when they need to treat high or low glucose levels during training, warm-ups, or competitions. Simple awareness of the need for extra breaks to test their glucose levels and then taking steps to deal with whatever the readings indicate, may be required and coaches should not hold it against them. It’s important to understand that students who are dealing with Type 1 Diabetes both want and need to be treated and viewed the same way as any other teammate with a normally functioning pancreas.
To the teammate of a Type 1 Diabetic…
Support your fellow teammate on and off the field. Whether it be understanding that they need to take breaks during practices or games to regulate glucose levels or acknowledging that during a team dinner measures with insulin through a pump, shot or pen may need to be taken, your support and understanding makes a big difference in terms of helping us feeling safe and secure. It shows us that we have people who care about us that we can rely upon. Show your interest and ask questions about Type 1 Diabetes and what your teammate needs to monitor as she goes through her day – believe me, we all want you to know and understand what we’re doing on the sidelines to manage our disease. This knowledge can be helpful if you are able to notice times when your teammate needs to take a break because they aren’t playing like themselves because of their glucose levels. Never take it easy on them on the field, push them to be the best they can be. Lastly, you play a huge role in their experience and safety off the field as well. Be understanding in social settings – if they don’t feel well or comfortable with what is happening, find a safe way to remove both of you from the situation. Remember, it’s never a sign of weakness to ask for help in these situations and timely, appropriate action could save a life!