I grew up playing soccer. I’ve hit a few softballs around, I ran track for a year or two, and in high school I was a 3 season varsity athlete with field hockey, swim and lacrosse. In college I continued team sports by rowing crew. Those were the best years of my life. But they were also the most challenging… especially with diabetes.
At practice, some days would be slow long distance runs or rows, other days would be quick, 2k, sprints or fast drills with short bursts of energy. Not to mention game days, swim meets or regattas. Every day at practice would be something different, a little unpredictable and always a guessing game. I struggled to keep my blood sugar within range during this time in my life, even off the field, and no matter the elaborate plan we made and executed, I could just not get my blood sugars to do what I wanted them to do.
I think every diabetic athlete knows the feeling of disappointment that comes with having to admit to your coach you are low and need to take yourself out of the game or practice. Every diabetic athlete knows the shame that comes from the looks of your teammates when you sit on the side of the field watching them play the game you love. You can’t help but think to yourself that they perceive you as weak and incapable of keeping up. No matter how supportive your coaches and teammates are you never feel like anyone ever understands that your 16 minute mile is because your blood sugar is 300, not because you aren’t strong enough. And your inability to sprint up the field is because your blood sugar is 60 and crashing not because you don’t have the endurance. You can’t help but feel guilty when your bow pair has to stop rowing as well because you can’t finish the set. You feel like your diabetes is not only taking you down, but your whole team as well.
I have now strayed from the team sports life but I frequently run, bike, lift or visit the gym multiple times a week. I plan my workouts at the beginning of the day. I plan what I will eat before hand, what I am doing after my work out, how long it will last and how intense it will be. All of these decisions are in my control and I have been more successful than ever at gaining strength, not having to stop for juice boxes, sustaining an in range blood sugar post workout and even dropping pounds (yay).
So why this difference? Why can I now workout harder and longer than any field hockey, lacrosse and swim practice and feel empowered instead of guilty? Feel strong instead of weak? Feel like I am in control? Well the difference is that I am in control. I control the intensity, the time of day and my diet. I am my coach, I am my teammates and I am an athlete.
Coaches, I understand that you like to keep me on my toes and train me to be ready for anything, but going into a practice blind is also my worst nightmare. Sometimes it can be easy to forget but not only am I trying to be a high performing athlete but I am also trying to keep myself alive. But to all sports coaches, if you have an athlete with diabetes, think about giving them the weekly practice plan in advance. You aren’t cheating them of their work out. You are actually enabling them to be the fastest, strongest and best athlete they can be. You have no idea how much of a difference planning their diet and insulin before hand will have on their performance. The athlete with diabetes will be less burdened with trying to keep up with everyone even though their body is slowly quitting out on them. Giving the athlete with diabetes this information shows that you care and want them to succeed.
To all sports coaches that I have had, thank you for always being supportive no matter how slow I was because my blood sugar was out of range, getting me a third water bottle because I downed the other two and for asking me if I was okay when I drank my fourth juice box that practice. Thank you for not giving unwanted attention when I was sluggish during an important game because I was battling diabetes the entire day leading up to it. And thank you for carrying my glucagon in your pocket, your bag and launch boat… I’m glad we never had to use it.