Life as a Diabetic Athlete and Cycling for Diabetes

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • I have always loved athletics. In my family, playing sports was as natural as breathing.  My grandfather was an Olympic medalist in the 1920 Olympics, my mother was an all American hockey player, my father was a swimmer and for my brothers and myself participating in sports was just part of our lives.  None of us equaled the weight of my grandfather's success, but we all embraced competition, and now well into our 40s and 50s, we still love being active and competitive.  


    So when I became a massage therapist, 20 + years ago, it made sense for me to work with athletes.  I understood so much about the demands on their bodies.  Often I would dabble with a sport to understand the movement of the body.  I loved watching the finite movement and effort that makes the difference between the winner and second place. 

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    I worked extensively with world class runners, triathletes, wrestlers, swimmers and cyclists. I had a crew of Olympic and world class runners living in Philadelphia.  It should be no surprise that while working at an event, I met a guy who worked for Nike and was an accomplished runner himself, and eventually we married.  At the time we met, Mike left Nike to work for Reebok and I went with him to Boston.  To keep our working relationship clear of conflict, Reebok offered me a contract to work on their athletes.


    To know what clients would need for their best performance at the games, I visited venues to watch my clients in action.  Olympic level athletes have such awareness of their bodies and they can feel the slightest change! My job sitting in the stands was to watch for muscle fatigue, or momentary loss of control, which would create a weakness or injury.


    In reality, this is how people living with diabetes should approach their own bodies. Eating well, giving the body lots of hydration, sleep for recovery and a healthy amount of exercise. Not feeling inspired yet?  Then let's try this:


    On June 26th , teams of 2, 4 and 8 cyclists rode from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD. The event is called Race Across America.  RAAM, started in 1982, is one of longest running annual events in cycling.  RAAM is a unique race.  Unlike Tour de France, where cycling is done in stages, meaning athletes get to rest overnight and begin again the next day riding in a pack, RAAM is live to the very end. Each team must continue to cycle with one racer on the road at all times through the night and day in competition with other teams.  RAAM is 30% longer than Tour de France.  


    Obviously, this is not a race for the faint of heart.  But add to that the necessity for blood sugar testing, continuous glucose monitors and endless glucose tabs!  Snacks, the need to calculate food requirements and how much insulin reduction is required during those days of exertion - all while maintaining a steady pace to finish.  Wow! How do you keep that all organized!? 


    Now lets just add a few more diabetics to throw in more variables, so there's not just one guy with diabetes, but 8.  Meet Team Type 1, who not only completed the race, but won it overall!  Every member had diabetes!  The NYTimes thought so much of the endeavor, that it made the health section, Sunday edition, following the race! And, one more thing, they set a new course record; meaning, they were the fastest team EVER to cycle through Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD in 5 days, 9 hours and 5 minutes!  


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    So this story gets even better. Team Type 1 sat waiting for their friends and training companions, members of the newly formed team: Team Type 2. This was their first competition and they came in 7th overall! Team Type 2 was created this year, so for a rookie team of 8 guys with type 2, it was just amazing! I can only imagine they will squash that time next year and give Team Type 1 a run for their money!


    I think this is a great teachable moment: regardless of type 1 or type 2, we are all in this together and the more we can support all of us living with diabetes, we will all feel like champions of our cause!  Thanks to Teams Type 1 and Type 2 for proving that people living with diabetes can compete with anyone, with or without diabetes! 


Published On: July 14, 2009