Sebastián Uprimny at the Winter Olympics

WRITTEN BY: Mila Ferrer

A few months ago I came across Sebastián Uprimny in a diabetes technology group. I remember we were the only ones who spoke Spanish in the group and we talked a little about the benefits of diabetes technology. Sebastián told me that he was a high-performance athlete and that he was interested in getting the most out of the technology because he was training to be part of the Olympic team that would represent Colombia in the Winter Olympics in February 2018, competing as a cross-country skiing athlete.

A few months since that first conversation, Sebastián announced that with great pride he would be one of the athletes who would represent his country Colombia in Winter Olympics hosted in South Korea. Whenever we see these achievements in our community, it gives us a lot of joy to see how one of us achieves what many dream and only a few realize, and it makes it a bit more challenging when living with Type 1 diabetes.

In the interim of his training and preparation, we had planned to do an interview where he would tell us more about him and his life with Type 1 diabetes and to hear how the Olympics were. We are happy to share it with you and remember, type 1 diabetes will NOT limit us.

BT1: At what age were you diagnosed with diabetes?

SU: I was diagnosed at 32, exactly 10 years ago.

BT1: When diagnosed as an adult, what were your most significant challenges?

SU: Learning that I was not invincible and understanding that this health condition will be with me all my life. But at the same time, it led me to value other things that we take for granted and to evaluate my priorities.

BT1: Do you use diabetes technology?

SU: I have been using Omnipod for almost eight years and Dexcom for just six months. Now that we are very close to the ‘closed loop,’ I am sure that this will change my life and the lives of athletes with Type 1 diabetes.

BT1: What are the most significant challenges in being a high-performance athlete?

SU: Maintaining my blood sugar in the desired range during training and competitions, not too high not to low. We know that both extremes affect performance and can be dangerous. When I’m skiing it requires a lot of balance, and there is a lot of speed involved, and I need to be in my highest alert state.

BT1: What does a day of training and diabetes management look like for you?

SU: I try to anticipate the level of effort, and from there, plan the training. The balance between carbohydrates consumption before, during, and after, also knowing or trying to figure out the precise amount of insulin needed before and during, is the biggest challenges. And when you achieve that balance, you notice it in performance!

BT1: Who are your primary sources of support?

SU: My immediate family starting with my wife who supported this crazy idea. Also, I am very excited to be a source of inspiration for my children and for many other people who can identify.

BT1: Tell us, what were the biggest challenges to represent your country Colombia in these Olympic Games as a cross-country ski athlete?

SU: The challenges were many; I am the father of four children. I’m married and have my own company that demands me to be present. I had to learn to manage everything at the same time to achieve my goal. Also, we know how complicated it can be to manage Type 1 diabetes. I have always been a healthy and very sporty person and my Type 1, although it was not an impediment, brings challenges when training and competing.

And finally, if we talk about sporting challenges, imagine learning a new sport at an adult age, in a short period of three years. Crazy, right!

BT1: How was your physical and mental preparation for this competition?

SU: The power of our mind is fascinating. I had to ‘believe the story,’ visualize everything and self-convince myself that despite all the factors that told me it was not possible (age, lack of experience, T1D, etc.), I knew that I had to be mentally prepared and that I could achieve it. Without forgetting that it is a hard sport, in which sometimes the body tells you it no longer wants to compete, and your mind has to help you!

Physically in the summer, I had a lot of physical conditioning in the gym and dry-land, I practiced using roller skis to improve the technique. In the winter, skiing as much as possible. This training also served as experience to manage my diabetes.

BT1: Where does Sebastian’s athletic career go after the Olympics?

SU: I will continue skiing and inspiring future generations of winter skiers from Colombia and Latin America, both in the USA and in the world. And I will try to stay involved in the development of the sport and sharing my Olympic story.

BT1: What message would you give to the diabetes community?

SU: My message is a short and compelling one: EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Read other interviews from people who have Type 1!

Mila Ferrer

Mila is the Director of Programs at Beyond Type 1. She's a tireless advocate for more and better diabetes education for the Hispanic community. Her youngest son, Jaime, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 3. Recognized as a “Diabetes Leader” by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), and as a Top Influential Latina Blogger by LATISM.