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Lyndsay Riffe, RD, LDN, CDE, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 3 years old and says she couldn’t be happier with working as a diabetes educator. “I find great joy in helping others, and it also helps keep me on my toes with managing my own health!”

Here’s more of my conversation with Lyndsay.

Q: How has diabetes shaped you or impacted your life? Do you ever feel like you are submerged in the diabetes world? Does having diabetes make it easier for you to empathize with patients? And do you think they listen better, knowing you’ve walked in their shoes?

During my senior year of high school, I was at the point of deciding what university and what degree I wanted to pursue. At this time, I had my annual appointment with my dietitian/CDE and it clicked. (At least the dietitian part!) For most of my pursuit of my RD credential, a diabetes focus was not in my plan. I thought living and working diabetes would be an overload for me. However, when I was finishing up my program and had more contact with patients (other people with diabetes) I loved the empathy I could provide. I loved the wall that came down when they too learned I had diabetes (and I was not just another dietitian telling them to watch the bacon, drink skim milk, and eat 1/2 of a banana.)

Q: Exercise and staying fit is an important part of your life, when did you first get involved in sports?

I was active with cross country, track, and softball thru high school; it was fun and I have quite the competitive spirit! However, I was frustrated with managing my blood sugars during exercise. I was clueless and tended to just run myself high to avoid the lows.

At the age of 25, I ran my first 1/2 marathon. Not only did that race open my eyes to the enjoyment of training and racing, it also opened doors to being recognized and involved as an active person living with Type 1. Shortly after that race I became involved with Chicago DESA, Diabetes Exercise and Sports Association (now merged with insulindependence), and was introduced to Matt Corcoran and Diabetes Training Camp.

I had the opportunity to work as a dietitian at Diabetes Training Camp, and that’s when I gained a better understanding of strategies to manage blood sugars during exercise. Strategies that helped me give advise to others, in addition to helping me with my own exercise plan.

I felt inspired by other fellow type 1’s at camp (I attended both as staff and later as a camper), and it was through this camp I found out about a group of women forming, later to be called Team WILD. Team WILD (women inspiring life with diabetes) was planning on training together (virtually) and completing a half Ironman. I didn’t own a bike, and didn’t know how to swim, but signed up for this 70.3 mile race.

I loved the sport of triathlon and finished my first race in 2009. The following year I completed my 2nd half Ironman (both with Team WILD.) The following year I trained and completed a full Ironman (140.6 miles) with 10 other women with diabetes.

Q: What kind of training do you do, how do you manage bg while training for endurance sports?

Team WILD began in 2009 with the design to give people with diabetes an ongoing support system and to have team camaraderie that went into training for the same race. Coaches provided athletic tips and training plans, in addition to a talented RD/CDE who helped with nutrition and diabetes management strategies, in addition to Dr.Matt consulting. Knowing I wasn’t alone was pivotal to helping me reach my personal athletic goals.

(Team WILD has evolved to address the ongoing needs and reach all people with diabetes, now to stand for WE Inspire Life with Diabetes. All coaching is done virtually–conference calls, webinars, etc.)

Knowledge and practice is how one maintains bg’s during an endurance activity.

  • Understanding that training for endurance events requires you to think of yourself as an athlete first
  • Fuel your body (with carbohydrates), and djust insulin to ensure you are able to take in the fuel needed.
  • Try to maintain bg’s between 100-180, and take in 30-60g carb per hour.

 It’s during endurance activities that I feel my best, and can honestly say I don’t feel like I have diabetes!

Q: Do you think it’s important for people with diabetes to have athletic role models (such as yourself), showing the benefits of a healthy lifestyle? Do we have enough, or do we need more?

There are ALOT of everyday people with diabetes that are doing amazing things, not letting diabetes get in the way, and living a healthy lifestyle. I feel inspired by anyone that sets goals, and isn’t afraid to try something new. However, it’s my fellow diabetic teammates (and now dear friends) of all ages that continue to inspire me. Everyday people that keep shooting high, proving they will not let diabetes slow them down.

Social media has also done a great job to reach the diabetic community so they can read ALL aspects of life with diabetes (nutrition/activity/medications/stories) and hear more about others that live with it.

Q: You worked with Diabetes Sisters, I think that’s how we first connected, right? Why do you think support groups like DS are so important for women with diabetes?

Yes! That’s how we first connected (I contribute to the Nutrition Tip of the Month.) Support is so important for living with diabetes. Good support from our healthcare team is needed, but having a family of people that truly “get it” is just a wonderful tool to living well with diabetes. Diabetes Sisters is a great network of people that get it.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to get involved in triathlons? 

Don’t let your concern of managing your blood sugars during the training and race be a fear that prevents you from pursuing. There are a lot of great resources out there specifically for athletes with diabetes. On the same note, you don’t have to do anything alone!