I was diagnosed two weeks before my 18th birthday; I was a high school senior, excited to go to prom, graduate and start college. I had come down with a pretty typical throat infection after a stressful couple of weeks of school, and started getting very dehydrated, lethargic and thin shortly after. I knew it had to be something other than the throat infection – I had lost 15 pounds in two weeks! After falling into DKA and being hospitalized, I was dealt a hand I didn’t care for.
I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for 12.5 years now. At first it was difficult for me to cope with having it, and I went through every stage that typically exists with being diagnosed with a chronic disease – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. I didn’t reach the acceptance stage until about 3 years into having the disease, and after a major bout with depression complete with several hospitalizations for DKA. Once I did finally accept it, I slowly began to test frequently, count carbohydrates and take my insulin, and I honestly wanted to kick myself after discovering how manageable it was – even more so now that I’m on a pump, CGM and am very active!
2. On the insulinDependence site your bio reads:
“I’ve never really been an athlete and wasn’t involved in sports until about two years ago when I discovered triathlon. Since then, I’ve competed in 19 races overall, but more importantly I’ve become passionate about using exercise to control my disease and inspiring others to do the same.”
I find it hard to believe that you were “never really an athlete” because you have accomplished so much in such little time since then! Can you tell me about this experience…how your life has changed as a result of becoming an athlete?
I guess I find it hard, even now, to consider myself much of an athlete because I still feel very new to triathlon and sports in general. Many people I train and race with have been athletes since they could walk! When I open my armoire in my living room filled with all my gear and plastered with all my past race bibs, however, I feel very accomplished. Part of my personal stigma with the word “athlete” is that it implies you are good at sports. I mean, I train and race a lot, but I’m pretty mediocre in my performance so far. My motivation is fun and health far before competition. This has been an eye opening experience that, as cliched as it sounds, if I can do it, anybody can do this stuff! My life has changed considerably since being bitten by this bug. I eat, sleep and manage my time much more efficiently. I’ve become more outgoing and confident, and I’ve even shifted my career goals to becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator and Nutritionist, something I’m currently in school for.
3. How do you keep your blood sugars in check during exercise, on both training and competition days?
Training and competing with diabetes can really be just like eating, sleeping or traveling with diabetes – you just have to experiment with a lot of trial and error, and be prepared for the “what ifs.” I find what works best for me during training and racing is to reduce my basal rate on my pump during, depending on the activity. For example, I typically run much lower running than I do swimming or cycling, so I reduce my basal to 50% while running as opposed to 70% with other activities. Because my insulin sensitivity is higher during and after exercise, I will also cut my correction and meal boluses in half two hours before, and up to six hours after an event. Also, one of the most useful tools I’ve used to date is my Dexcom CGM. For longer distance races, I do check my BG every few hours, but in between checking, and during shorter distance events, I rely entirely on what my CGM tells me, and I take in carbs accordingly. Certain things are always essential for the “oh crap” moments – I always carry glucose tabs, or usually something like an energy gel or two on me just in case of lows. When I cycle, I keep one bottle filled with plain water and the other filled with carbohydrate and electrolyte powder. And for longer distance races, I make sure I have two infusion sets for my pump in two different areas of my body, just in case one should fail, and I usually keep a pre-filled syringe of insulin in transition should I go wildly high (exercise also releases stress hormones which sometimes block the absorption of insulin).
4. What is the biggest challenge to living with diabetes as a woman? What, if any, has been positive about living with diabetes?
Although I’m now married, living with diabetes as a young single woman was a nightmare – the fear or embarrassment of telling the person you’re dating, the fear of being intimate with infusion sets and sensors sticking out of your body and the frustration with not being able to be quite as spontaneous as you would sometimes like! Lucky for me, I met my husband five years ago, who is very supportive and constantly praises me for having the strength to deal with all I do. As much as I would love to do away with this disease, having it has taught me a lot about myself. I’ve become fascinated with health and nutrition, and am now a student nurse aspiring to help others with diabetes. I also appreciate knowing more about my own body and metabolism than the average person and consider myself somewhat of an expert on the subject by now.
5. What has been the greatest piece of advice you’ve received about living with diabetes and what advice would you share with others?
I had a T1 Endocrinologist once tell me “you and this disease are in it for the long haul – it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” I keep reminding myself of this when I get upset over a BG reading or a higher than I would like A1c. We all have our battles with diabetes, but it’s important not to let it consume us. I am a type 1 diabetic, yes, but I’m also a wife, a daughter, a sister, a student and yeah, maybe an athlete as well. 🙂