I have lived with Type 1 diabetes for more than 36 years. For many years, however, I didn’t talk about diabetes, because I didn’t want to be perceived as different or less capable than others. I had no diabetic friends and didn’t want to discuss diabetes, blood sugar levels or anything else related to the disease.
In the 1970s, I was fortunate enough to have a pediatrician who recognized that exercise played a role in diabetes management and I have been active throughout my life – swimming, playing basketball, participating in track and field, and playing football in high school and college. My level of physical activity dropped a bit as my family began to grow.
In 2006, I decided to recommit myself to finding new athletic challenges. I completed my first half marathon and decided to take on the task of completing a full marathon. I had difficulty finding information about how a person with diabetes should train, fuel, and recover for such an event due to the necessity for me to administer insulin.
My outlook on diabetes changed when my daughter, then in elementary school, began to show some of the initial signs of diabetes. The two of us attended a conference about diabetes exercise and sports in the summer of 2007. We found a group of people from around the world who were achieving athletic greatness – all while living with diabetes. Meeting these people, hearing their stories and finding other members of the diabetic athlete community were eye-opening, life-changing experiences for me.
To date, I have completed four full marathons and with the help and guidance of the members of Insulindependence, a nonprofit organization created to unite, expand and support the active diabetes community. Through the Triabetes triathlon club I’ve completed a number of sprint and Olympic distance races, finished two half Ironman races, and two full Ironman races, including the 2011 Ironman World Championship race in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The people I meet with diabetes inspire me to complete these races.
When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, there were no insulin pumps, no synthetic insulin, no blood glucose meters, and no continuous glucose monitors (CGM). Today, clinical trials focused on integrated delivery systems (CGM and pump in one device), closed-loop, dual-hormone delivery systems (artificial pancreas), "smart" insulin, longer-lasting insulin, and faster acting insulin are among those that will improve the lives of the continually growing diabetic population. I have all of these tools at my disposal thanks to organizations like PPD that run the critical clinical trials that enable these devices and medications to be more safe and user-friendly.
Especially for my daughter, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 2011, my hope is that there will be a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Clinical research plays a critical role in the search for a cure. Until that happens, people need to realize that having diabetes is not a limiter in terms of what you can accomplish. Limits come from our own assumptions about what’s possible to achieve. Diabetes should be a motivator and exercise should be a critical component of every diabetic’s management strategy.