The Highs and Lows (literally!) of Competitive Sports + Diabetes
Diabetes has been a part of my life since age five; sports have been a part of my life for nearly as long! I started gymnastics at the age of four, but by age seven, when I had reached the point of being considered for the traveling gymnastics teams, my parents decided that with my diabetes, it would not be safe for me to be on the road and out of their care for many weekends throughout the year. They switched me to ice hockey, where my dad could coach while keeping an eye on me and my blood sugars. I was devastated to no longer be a gymnast and angry that it was because of illness. This was the first of many hard lessons Diabetes taught me. Hockey has always been a big part of my family, my grandpa played for the Minnesota Gophers and later for the US Olympic team. My four older siblings all played hockey, as well as my dad when he was younger. Growing up, each practice and game was a struggle to keep my Diabetes managed-I would have many lows, resulting in the need to sit on the bench for long stretches, eating and waiting for my blood sugar to bounce back. During these times, I'd feel so different and isolated from the group, unsure and uncomfortable with the idea that others probably didn't understand why I had to sit out. So, I started keeping my blood glucose elevated to limit the time I'd need to sit on the bench. It took me many years to realize how my high blood sugars affected the way that I played hockey; I was slower, both physically and mentally and more fatigued in general. It wasn't until my senior year of high school, that I realized how much better I was when my blood sugar was completely under control. Despite recognizing this, I still struggled to maintain good numbers during practice, never mind during games, when adrenaline surges would cause my numbers to rise and remain elevated throughout the competition. I went on to play four years of college hockey at Ohio State University, where I saw improvements in my overall Diabetes management. But still, I struggled with the highs and lows while playing my sport. I finally hit my stride with balancing my Diabetes and sports when I started CrossFit after college. I was instantly hooked and viewed it as an opportunity to start fresh with a new sport, and hopefully get closer to reaching my athletic potential. The correlations between performance and blood sugar control had never been clearer to me. I started watching what I was eating more closely, planning out my days better, and being more okay with having and treating low blood sugars during workouts. In my five years of CrossFit, I've competed at five CrossFit Regionals, and three CrossFit Games. It’s a balancing act trying to manage highs and lows, one that requires patience and the ability to forgive yourself when your numbers aren't on point. I've learned that the discipline required to manage Diabetes in order to compete at any level and in any sport, while extremely challenging and frustrating at times, is worth the extra effort in order to succeed to the best of your abilities. Like any chronic condition, Diabetes is a daily challenge-with some days being better than others. It is easy to get wrapped up in feeling bad for yourself, knowing that most others do not face the same daily struggle. I try to remind myself that although Diabetes is a challenging, frustrating, dynamic disease, it is not one that is out of my control. When I think of it this way, I consider myself lucky to have access to the tools that can help me manage my Diabetes, as well as access to people like you guys, who provide amazing support along this crazy journey.