Lancer student-athletes conquering Type 1 Diabetes

By: Lauren Breadner

The daily grind of a student-athlete comes with challenges of balancing academics with busy practice schedules. It is hard for most people but it’s especially difficult for people with a life-changing disease, Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin for their body. Insulin allows your body to regulate the amount of glucose, or blood sugar, in your body. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the body instead of being used for energy. People with Type 1 diabetes are in a constant battle of regulating food, physical activity levels, stress, and emotions that can all play a factor in an individual’s blood sugar levels.

Trying to control these factors while competing on a varsity team at the University of Windsor is no easy task. David Stoute, an athletic therapist at the University of Windsor, thinks that generally, the Lancer athletes with diabetes do an outstanding job of taking care of themselves.

“Based on my observations, one to three of our 400 athletes, each year, are diabetic,” Stoute said. “I suspect that being high-achieving athletes helps them control their diabetes better than non-athletic diabetics.”

For third-year women’s volleyball player Jade Ziebarth, balancing her blood sugar levels as a Type 1 diabetic has become easier over time.

“I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 11 and before I got my insulin pump in 2012, I literally had to count every single calorie that went into my body and it was hard for me,” Ziebarth reflected. “The transition from being on injections [of insulin] to a pump is definitely a lot easier for living a varsity athlete life.”

Insulin pumps are portable and rapidly deliver insulin to an individual when necessary. During excessive exercise, blood sugar levels can change, and it’s important that athletes have access to their insulin pumps at all times during practices, games and workouts. Kyle Haas, varsity men’s hockey player with Type 1 diabetes, thinks that his hockey routine has not changed a lot since being diagnosed.

“My routine is pretty much the same besides testing my blood sugar levels pretty frequently before the game to make sure my blood sugar levels aren’t too high and aren’t too low,” Haas said.

There is a common misconception that athletes with diabetes require extra care during games and practices compared to their non-diabetic teammates.  Ziebarth only notices one minor difference between her and teammates and it’s during timeouts.

“Every time we have a timeout I am spending the minute checking my blood sugar,” Ziebarth said. “I am taking the time that we talk about the game to check and adjust my blood sugar levels. That is the only thing that differs between me and my teammates. My coach, Lucas Hodgson, has been really supportive, which I appreciate.”

The University of Windsor Athletic Department provides a number of resources for their athletes with diabetes. Ziebarth added that she was able to speak to a dietician to properly prepare for games. The student athletic therapists take extra precautions on varsity teams as well.

“These athletes need to have snack (sugar) foods readily accessible in case their blood glucose levels drop,” Stoute noted. “If we know of diabetic athletes on particular teams we will keep sugar packets or other sugary foods in team medical bags just in case.”

Most importantly, athletes with diabetes want you to know that they are no different than athletes without diabetes. Haas sees the silver lining in his affliction.

“I have met a lot of great people that support me since I’ve been diagnosed,” Haas reflects. “I’ve been blessed with these people and I’m very thankful to have them in my life. In a weird way, I’m thankful I got diabetes because I wouldn’t have met these amazing people.”

The elite student-athletes compete daily in their sports environment despite having to deal with this disease, however, they do not let this diagnosis hinder their performances. Although difficult at times, the support system they have allows for them to feel and compete just like everyone else.

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