Interview With Type 1 Diabetic Cyclist Phil Southerland

Ginger Vieira Health Guide
  • This summer, a group of cyclists raced more than 3,000 miles -- from California to New Jersey -- over a span of five days, 15 hours and 43 minutes. The group beat out seven other teams, all vying to win the Race Across America Relay.


    Each of the team members also has type 1 diabetes.


    Phil Southerland, diagnosed with diabetes at only 7 months of age, founded Team Type 1, which has made headlines for its effort to empower those with diabetes to set and reach any goal.


    Here's Phil's take on things:


    Q: Okay, first of all, just how many miles/hours of training do you guys
    do on any given day/week?

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    A: The training ranges from 250-to 750-mile training weeks.

    Q: I just read that you test your blood sugar 12 to 20 times a there a specific testing schedule you tend to follow (before a meal, after a meal, two hours after that meal) or do you just test every time you have a chance?


    A: I usually check before and after each meal. Sometimes two times after a meal at 45 minutes and again at 1:15 after. I also check 3 to 4 times in the hour before exercise and after.

    Q: I've personally found that after hugely increasing the amount I
    exercise, I've had to completely adjust my long-acting dosage (basal rates) and my short-acting carb-ratio (boluses)...after having been biking so rigorously for so long. Have you figured out a clear formula for your dosages, or does it still tend to change from day-to-day or within the seasons?


    A: The amount of insulin changes daily -- that is the reason for the frequent blood glucose testing. Again, every day is different, so I just make lots of adjustments each day.

    Q: When you're "off-season" or taking a few weeks off from biking, do you increase your basal rates?


    A: My basal rates increase by about 30% when I take a few weeks off, but go right back down two days after I start exercising for even 30 minutes a day. Exercise is key to good control for me, even if it just a small amount.

    Q: For someone who really hasn't implemented regular exercise into their life as a diabetic, how would recommend safely going about exercising rigorously without dropping low during the exercise?


    A: I would first tell them to speak to there doc or CDE. I personally run my sugar about 50 points higher than normal during exercise to prevent the lows.

    Q: Have any of you had any severe (seizures or close to it) lows around your training?


    A: I have not. I have a good awareness of lows. That is also the reason for the frequent checks after exercise.

    Q: How do you prevent these kinds of lows while also still keeping your blood sugars in such tight range?


    A: The frequent testing. I also have glucose tablets with me at all times, so if I test and I am starting to go down, I just take one or two and I am usually ok.

    Q: For you or other members of the team, what is the most obnoxious part about having diabetes?


    A: I would say having to be on the team. No, I'm only kidding! Everyone on the team is very positive about the fact that they have diabetes and are able to do all of the things that they have.

  • Q: Last year, you won what has been dubbed the "world's toughest bike race"...did you ever feel like diabetes held you back or got in the way?

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    A: Never. It was the team's strength. It unites us.

    Q: What is your favorite part about having Type 1 diabetes?


    A: That I have been able to do so many things in my life while having and controlling diabetes

    Q: What advice would you give to someone newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?


    A: Welcome to the Team! You're not alone with this disease. You can do anything with it, like ride your bike across the country, if that's what you want to do.

    Q: Do you think there will be a cure?


    A: I am very optimistic about a cure. The advancements in technology in the last 5 years have been huge. I have a tubeless insulin pump (Omni-Pod) and have been on investigational protocols with continuous glucose monitors (Freestyle Navigator) that is almost a cure for me. I love the technology that is out there.

Published On: October 09, 2007