I’m always in awe when I read about athletes who have type 1 diabetes! I’m in awe because it’s a full time job having type 1, add sports and your working double time!
I belong to a group on Facebook called Proud Parents of Athletes With Type 1 Diabetes. It’s a great resource for parents of kids with type 1, who are athletes to share their experiences, ask questions, or quite frankly brag about their kids accomplishments. Recently a parent posted an article (included at the end of this post) that was given to her 13 year old son from his coach. The mom’s words: “Aside from it being a very fair account of what it’s like to be a diabetic athlete it really warmed up both of our hearts to know that he (the coach) was thinking of my son while reading this and relating it to him and trying to deeper understand what he is going through.”
In the Facebook group, as parents of high school athletes with type 1 we often discuss how critical it is for the coach to have an understanding of type 1, if he does our kids will be more successful, because they will know that if my son asks to sit out for a few minutes to manage his diabetes, it’s not because he’s being lazy, or doesn’t want to do the drill, he REALLY needs to manage his diabetes. It also brings a lot of relief to the athlete to know that his coach understands. In fact it can be the difference between good management and NO management. No kid wants to be called out for sitting on the sidelines, especially due to taking time out of practice to manage blood sugar.
It’s also important for the coach to know that if a player’s blood sugar is high, he is NOT going to perform well on the field/court. High blood sugar leads to confusion, which leads to sloppy ball handling. The coach really can’t do anything about an athletes blood sugar, other than to understand that type 1 diabetes can sometimes hinder the players performance. It’s up to the athlete to prepare himself ahead of time for the game.
With that being said, type 1 diabetes has no rhyme or reason for its inconsistency. The thing is, a player can do everything right, and things can still happen. At Joey’s last game, he could feel that his blood sugar was high, even though he did everything right during the day to be in good shape for the game. He checked his blood sugar every couple of hours, he drank a lot of water, he made the necessary corrections. During the game he felt high, at half time he took his blood sugar measurement: 400! Whoa! He knew immediately that during the game his insulin pod (holds and delivers insulin to his body) had been hit and the cannula came out. This means no insulin was being delivered to Joey’s body, so his blood sugar went up! He wasn’t happy because now this means he has to give himself a SHOT! He said “I had to give myself a shot in the leg! The old fashioned way! And it hurt!” 😀
So with high blood sugar, insulin is the only way to lower it to a good range for playing sports, on the flip side, low blood sugar is gonna lead to sitting on the sidelines as well, at least until it is within a good range to play. When Joey’s blood sugar is low he might be sweaty (which they usually are anyway with sports) he will feel dizzy, confused, shake, become irritable, all things NOT conducive to playing. Plus if it drops to low he can pass out or go into a coma. Luckily a Gatorade or juice will increase his blood sugar very quickly.
So monitoring blood sugar is a key component to being a successful athlete. It also applies to his academics, and life in general. Athletes with type 1 also dehydrate faster than a player without T1D, so they have to plan ahead before practice or a game, and stay hydrated.
Here’s the thing, so you’re feeling crappy because your blood sugar is low. You start drinking Gatorade to bring it up. You don’t want to cover the carbs in the Gatorade because that would defeat the purpose. So ultimately you run the risk of your blood sugar going to high, and feeling like crap all over again. It’s a constant battle. Another reason I am in awe of people that play sports who have type 1 diabetes. It’s a lot of work.
Joey’s friend Jake Byrne played football for the WI Badgers and then went on to the NFL. His coaches didn’t know he had type 1, or if they did they didn’t concern themselves with it because Jake relied on the trainers to help him. In football Joey relies on his trainer to assist him blood sugar issues. His trainer keeps tabs on him throughout the game. His football coach didn’t understand type 1, but he was aware of it and knew that if Joey wasn’t playing or practicing, it had something to do with T1D. Funny story, last season Joey was sitting out at practice due to a low blood sugar. Coach comes over and says “Bali, you ok? You have your EpiPen?” Joey: “Yes sir!” 😖 In coaches defense, he knows Joey carries Glucagon, which like the EpiPen is used in an emergency! 😀
In life and sports there aren’t any free passes, if you put yourself out there you need to work hard. With type 1 diabetes you need to work harder. Your coach doesn’t know that you set your alarm for 2:00 AM EVERY morning to monitor your blood sugar, your coach doesn’t know that you may have been up numerous times during the night because your blood sugar was to high or to low. Coach doesn’t know that you may feel like crap because you’ve been fighting lows all day at school so you’ve had 6 juice pouches or other pure sugary foods to bring up your blood sugar. Coach doesn’t know that your blood sugar goes high every morning because of dawn phenomenon so you start your day with extra insulin. So you have to work harder. This is why I am in AWE of athletes who have type 1 diabetes.
Last November during our football teams STATE CHAMPIONSHIP game, I was asked to do an interview during halftime with ESPN radio. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, so we talked about Joey, and what challenges he faces playing football and basketball with type 1 diabetes. Here he is, a freshman in high school, suiting up for the State Championship game! Playing at Camp Randall – where his mentor and friend Jake Byrne played for 4 years as a WI Badger football player, also with type 1 diabetes, what a thrill. The interview was awesome, and it was eye-opening for a lot of people who didn’t realize what goes into being an athlete who has type 1 diabetes.
Jake Byrne wrote a book about his life in football, with type 1 diabetes. Check it out at: http://www.amazon.com/First-Goal-Football-Taught-Giving/dp/0736961895 Check out page 64, he writes a devotional dedicated to our Joey!
Here is a copy of the article that I referenced earlier.