Somehow, the seasons have changed. The rain has taken the last of the leaves and it’s almost Thanksgiving. I’m six weeks away from starting with my coach for 70.3 training—or what I lovingly refer to as boarding the crazy train.
When I talk about this adventure, the most common question I hear is why. Why do I want to invest this sort of time, money and commitment to train for the next two years? That’s easy: because I have type 1 diabetes and because I can do this despite that diagnosis.
I was diagnosed 22 years ago at the age of 11. My world (and my family’s world) was flipped upside down. Destined to a life of finger pricks, counting carbohydrates, measuring and weighing food, (at the time) avoiding sugar, countless daily insulin injections, managing lows while staying active and many other guidelines, life as a pre-teen and a teenager was anything but normal. And normal was the only thing I wanted back then. At my diagnosis, the statistics for my future were scary. Thanks to research, many of those fears have since disappeared. Some of them still linger.
I’ve had three seizures from exercise-induced hypoglycemia because physical activity lowers your blood sugar. The thought of participating in endurance sports back then—or anything beyond a soccer game, really—was preposterous. Thanks to research, technology and knowledge, my future looks different now. I’ve completed five century rides (100 miles or more) and Saturday, I run my third half marathon. In 2016, I’ll complete a 70.3 half-Ironman and in 2017, a full. I am excited to begin this journey and without my diagnosis, I likely wouldn’t be on it.
As a brief (and terribly simplified) explanation, type 1 diabetes means my body doesn’t produce insulin. It’s very different than type 2 diabetes. My disease is auto-immune, and there was no way to prevent it from happening.
No action, no lifestyle changes, no diet modifications and no medicine could have prevented my body from killing off the cells that produce insulin.
It was an inevitable diagnosis. Without insulin, a person dies because the body’s blood sugar levels rise too high causing a chain reaction of other problems leading to the body shutting down. I supplement my body’s lack of insulin by taking an expensive synthetic insulin through an insulin pump I wear 24/7. I change it out myself every three days, and it’s tethered to my body at all times with the exception of showering. Exercise makes my blood sugar levels drop, but not enough to be able to live without insulin. (You can learn more here.)
I need insulin any time I eat or drink. Rigorous and endurance exercise requires lots of eating so it’s a giant, ongoing science experiment to find the right balance of food, exercise and insulin to make sure my blood sugars are in a safe and healthy range while I exercise and even after I’m finished. It’s a cyclical process that is a constant balancing act. To compete at this level takes physical training, but with T1D, a lot more detail and effort need to be involved.
Twenty-two years ago, I didn’t know what my future looked like. But today, I know exactly what it looks like thanks to many empowering and motivating people who’ve paved this road ahead of me. Just before my diabetes turns 25 years old, I have plans to become an Ironman. I’m starting the journey close to home with the May 22 Rev 3 70.3 Tri in Knoxville.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from cycling with type 1 diabetes, it’s to always have a Plan B and then always be prepared to throw that out the window, too. This race has a closer date than I originally planned, but it’s in East Tennessee, and that’s home for me. It also allows me the freedom from training during the summer when I’m most active with Tennessee Women’s Cycling Project and JDRF Ride coaching. Plus, the summer is my very favorite time of year, and I’m excited to train hard for a few months, then have the freedom to truly enjoy summer outside on a bike. So, here we go… we have ourselves a 70.3 race date.
I love my life (see above photo for reference), and I love that my desire to be fit and active is a result of my type 1 diabetes diagnosis. I love the good that has come from this disease, and I love how it has shaped my outlook on my future. There’s a verse in Romans that reminds us God uses all things for our good. My life is a tangible example of this verse. I will never fully hate diabetes because of the gifts and the beauty it’s brought into my life, and especially the friendships. My prayer through all of this is to be a light and a testimonial to that. There’s hope. There’s always hope, even if it’s hard to see and comes wrapped in a vial of insulin.