A stick-tap to athletes with diabetes
I’m generally not a fan of professional bowling. But after reading an article about my favorite hockey team in the sports section of today’s paper, another headline caught my eye.
The article is about Ryan Shafer, bowler extraordinaire, whose achievements at the lanes has netted him much fame (and prize money!) throughout his professional career. He also has Type 1 diabetes and, according to the PBA website, he’s also a spokesperson for Animas.
I admire professional athletes who play at the top of their game with diabetes. Heck, I admire any athlete, even at the recreational level, who doesn’t allow the disease to stand in their way. But I’ll be honest, when I think of sports where diabetes poses a challenge, bowling is not at the top of my list. It’s not physically taxing, there is sufficient “time-out” to attend to needs, and no linebacker is going to plow you into the ball-return and unknowingly rip out a cannula. But diabetes, and the ways it manifests itself, is not all physical. As Shafer describes, “when your blood sugar gets a little low, you get a little shaky, you’re not steady on your feet. Then after you eat, you want to make up for it and you feel that spike and all of a sudden you feel lethargic and you’re going from one feeling to another.”
This is true. In a game where concentration and precision are paramount, any bit of sweaty palms, blurred vision, physical imbalance, or lapse of concentration can be the difference between a strike and a gutter-ball. In this game, no teammate can save you from your mistakes.
Yet, as Shafer cranks his basal rate way down to keep the adrenaline and anxiety from causing his blood sugar to plummet, he openly admires another professional athlete with Type 1, Jay Cutler, quarterback for the NFL’s Chicago Bears. “He’s diabetic and I don’t know how he does it,” says Shafer. Of course, Cutler thinks he’s got it easier than other athletes with diabetes. To him, volleyball would be much more difficult than football to someone with diabetes.
I’m a hockey fan, myself. Actually, I used to play, too, but that was before my pumping days. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn’t have much time to dedicate to the sport anymore. (I also didn’t know how to work a pump into the game). But I could tell you this: diabetes and hockey wasn’t easy. If my BG was high, my chest would feel ten times heavier and I’d be out of breath halfway through the first period. If I was low, I really couldn’t tell because those feelings were the same as those of exhaustion, and in the rink, all my meter could tell me was that it was too cold to be useful. Well into the night: five, six, seven hours after the game, my blood sugar would continue to drop. After the competition got more difficult and I struggled more and more to keep up, I decided to take a brief hiatus. That hiatus is now in its seventh season.
I’ve laced up the skates many times since my last game for public skating sessions, I just haven’t donned all the gear. But I’m preparing myself – mentally – to do it again. If rugged, physical team-captain Bobby Clarke could compete with T1D and 1970s medical technology at the highest level, lead his team to win the most coveted trophy in pro sports – twice – I certainly should be able to join a local adult rec league, right? People always tell me, “Scott, You can Do This.” Perhaps I can, but it’s easier said than done. I’ve got to try.