#dblogweek – Day 7 – Diabetes Hero

Well, I’m back from my short vacation.  In four days, I’ve wasted four infusion sets, three reservoirs (one used twice), a CGM sensor, a half-full bottle of Novolog, seventy or so One Touch Ultra strips, a thrice-used syringe, a bright-purple ketone test-strip, and a hot-tub-drenched cell phone.  I never even broke the safety-seal on my massive supply of glucose tabs.  If I have the courage to write about it, I’ll write more next week.

The moral of the story: when traveling, pack spares.  Then pack more spares . Cause you never know.  Now on with today’s topic.

For the next week, I’ll be participating in the 3rd Annual Diabetes Blog Week (for more info, click on the banner above). Each day, D-Bloggers will be (mostly) blogging about a common topic but offering their own perspectives.

My diabetes Hero.

As I write this article, I’m torn by who to pick.  Should it be someone, like Dr. Banting, who discovered the magic potion that keeps me alive?  Someone like Manny or Kerri, who first gave me the setting and the confidence in which to openly discuss this?  Maybe Sonia Sotomayor, who pushed through the social and physical challenges of being an ethnic-minority-woman-with-Type-1-raised-in-poverty to become a Supreme Court Justice.  All of the above reached their goals based on hard work, perseverance, and a real passion for what they were trying to achieve.

There are so many heroes out there, and the word “hero” is a word that often gets tossed around indiscriminately.  In general, I feel like sports figures are most often described as heroes when they shouldn’t be, but in this case I’m going to go with one, because this gentleman (term used loosely) fits the “I have no idea how he did it” category.  I’ve mentioned him before.  He a former player, captain, and later General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, Bobby Clarke.

A young Bobby Clarke
Image credit: dLife

Clarke started playing hockey at age eight, five years before his diagnosis.  According to dLife, Clarke never really took care of his diabetes early on, and didn’t learn how to handle it until one of his coaches developed a “complete dietary plan” (I believe this was in the fall of 1969).  Sounds like an old-fashioned exchange dietto me, only stricter.

Clarke was an intense, gritty, sort of player, having led the then-Broad Street Bullies to two Stanley Cups during the 70s.  What impresses me is that he did this using a now-archaic diabetes treatment regimen.   I don’t know if he had blood glucose meters available to him.  They certainly weren’t available for home use during his heyday, and I’m not sure if even professional athletes could be afforded the privilege of having a hospital model.

No doubt, he didn’t have access to the rapid-acting insulin analogs we have today.  I’m sure he used a combination of “short” (peak in 2-3 hours) and intermediate (peak in 4-10 hours) insulin.  As we all know these days, intermediate-to-long acting insulin has the potential to cause trouble, especially when bursts of physical activity are introduced during that period.

In the 70s, prior to DCCT, the primary objective of diabetes care was to avoid low blood sugars (NOTE: my interpretation, not necessarily medical fact).  Clarke certainly did that during his games.  Again, from dLife:

He would drink two cans of Coca-Cola with three spoonfuls of sugar before a game. Between periods, he downed half a glass of orange juice with sugar added, and a whole glass after the game. He packed chocolate bars and glucose gum in his uniform pockets to prevent his sugar from going down from all the physical activity during the sixty-minute games.

Bobby Clarke, age 63 in the 2012 Winter Classic.
Image credit: Wikipedia

Wow!  What a boatload of carbs!  I’ve played hockey when by blood sugar is low.  It’s not easy.  In fact, it’s near impossible for me to differentiate fatigue from hypoglycemia, especially when a heavy dose of natural adrenaline is thrown in the mix.  But playing when high is no picnic either.  For me, it feels like I’m towing the weight of a Volkswagen around the ice, all the while breathing in its exhaust.  It is, quite accurately, exhausting.

How Bobby Clarke was able to keep up his energy level for three periods a game and to play with the intensity that other players would envy is something that I just can’t imagine.
During this year’s Winter Classic, Bobby Clarke once again donned the skates for the ceremonial “Alumni Game”.  While there was no real intensity, in seeing a bunch of old-timers playing hockey, I still kept my eyes more focused on a now 63-year-old Clarke.  He seemed to be just like the others, diabetes not holding him back.

So, because he – somehow – endured diabetes without the luxury of today’s technology and played one of the most physical sports at such a high level, I’ve selected him as my diabetes hero.

Posted on May 20, 2012, in D-blog Week, D-blog week 2012, Diabetes, Inspiration, Type 1 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. when diagnosed in 1974, my dad used to tell me that “if Bobby Clarke can do it, you can do it!”. and i took that to heart and have never let diabetes stop me from doing whatever i want to do.


    • It’s nice to see that he is in inspiration to someone other than myself! I sometimes wish he was a bit more vocal in discussing diabetes — I haven’t seen nor read any interviews (I’ve searched) where he really talked about it. Of course, he’s under no obligation to do so, but it would be nice.


  2. candyheartsblog

    Wow! What an amazing tribute! I love that 2012 picture … still doing what he loves, looks healthy, and living life without regret. Awesome.


    • Well, he doesn’t really play anymore (except for that “novelty game”), but he is still part of the Flyers’ team management. But you’re right, he’s still involved in what he loves and seems to enjoy every minute.


  3. Wow! That’s a ton of carbs! I guess when you play hockey for 60 minutes, you need them! Love you post!


    • Well, it does take a lot out of you, and it’s why most athletes eat carb-rich meals (often pasta) before games. But that does seem like an unusually high amount of carbs. By today’s standards, I’m sure they’d say either his basals were too high or he was being overly cautious. I just couldn’t imagine skating with that much glucose flowing through my veins… like I said before, it’s almost crippling.



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