Type 1 Diabetes Camp Changes a Major League Baseball Player’s Life

1/19/16
WRITTEN BY: Sam Fuld
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When I describe to others what having Type 1 diabetes is like, they always marvel at how many finger pokes and insulin injections I give myself (of course they’re also shocked that I actually eat things like carrot cake and mint chocolate chip ice cream, but I could write an entire book about those sorts of comments). As we all know, the challenges presented by having Type 1 diabetes extend far past the physical demands. I think most of us T1Ds would double the number of finger pricks and shots or site changes we have to administer to ourselves if it meant we didn’t have to stress about our glucose levels throughout each and every day.

As emotionally and mentally taxing as T1D can be, I’ve found that surrounding myself by other T1Ds gives me great comfort and relief. As a youngster, I never had a single classmate, teammate or family member who shared my disease. I had my uncle’s cat to confide in, and that was it. Even in college, I encountered just one other Type 1, an athlete at that, but he didn’t seem particularly interested in sharing his experiences with me. It wasn’t until I started my professional baseball career that I learned how powerful the presence of other Type 1s could be.

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While playing for the AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs in Knoxville, TN, I was invited to help out at Camp Cure, a day camp for T1D children. Despite the sweltering, Tennessee summer heat and the chaos of corralling dozens of preteens, I came away feeling exhilarated. Kids, left and right, bombarded me with questions about my own ways of treating the disease. In turn, I discovered that I had much to learn from the very same children. I remember one camper explaining to me how he wore his insulin pump on the upper hip of the leg he didn’t slide on when he played baseball. Hmmm, I thought, maybe I actually can wear an insulin pump while I’m still playing (I would later try wearing one in part because of his and others’ encouragement).
This experience eventually led me to start my own camp. During my first season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, I received an invitation from the folks at the University of South Florida (USF) Diabetes Center to take a tour of their new building. At the time I could only have imagined what that simple email would eventually turn into. After being wowed by the center’s facility and staff, I shared with them my idea of holding a diabetes sports camp. I knew there were plenty of diabetes camps out there, but I wanted one to be centered around sports in order to emphasize just how beneficial physical activity can be in managing Type 1 diabetes. Much to my delight, they loved the idea and felt it would be more than feasible given the school’s incredible resources.
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A few months later we hosted our first annual USF Diabetes Sports Camp. Wow! I can’t think of too many experiences that stack up to that weekend in Tampa. Yes, I felt overwhelming relief and pride from all the hard work we had put in and from the fact that we had kept all of our 100 campers out of the hospital. But I also came away feeling uplifted by the sheer number of T1Ds. A lot of it was very much tangible. Meeting all of our awesome diabetic coaches and sharing stories of our high level competition while dealing with unpredictable stress and sleep schedules is something I’ll always cherish. The seminar we held for campers’ parents brought to light some very real issues and reminded me of some of the fears that my mother and father had endured. And watching the campers delight in each others’ company — and knowing that we were responsible for this — was both exhilarating and humbling.

Beyond that, the mere presence of all those T1Ds in one location empowered me. Much like a sold out baseball stadium or a political rally or even a concert, the power of surrounding yourself by like-minded (or in our case, like-pancreased) people can be very palpable. I remember watching our cheerleading campers perform a cheer at the end of the weekend in front of all the coaches, campers and parents. The cheer was a very cute, touching tribute to me and the whole camp staff, and as I looked around at the bleachers full of kids and saw the smiles on all the cheerleaders’ faces, I felt my eyes watering. How could such a frustrating, horrible, unforgiving disease like Type 1 diabetes possibly bring me such joy and satisfaction?

As I embarked on my fifth diabetes sports camp this past February, those positive feelings had hardly eroded. I have certainly not grown immune to the daily frustrations that T1D evoke, so I rely on weekends like my camp weekend to help cope. Though it’s only a two-day event, the memories and emotions last far beyond. So I encourage all T1Ds to find that connectivity — whether it’s through smaller support groups in your schools and towns, using social media outlets, or attending/volunteering at a local camp. They say misery loves company, but in my case, I’d say the right company shifts my outlook entirely, turning my greatest frustration into a source of pride and an avenue for true camaraderie.


Sam Fuld

Sam Fuld was diagnosed with Type 1 at the age of 10. A native of New Hampshire, he graduated from Stanford University in 2004 and was then drafted by the Chicago Cubs. He has played in parts of eight seasons in the Major Leagues with four different teams — the Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics. He and his wife, Sarah, have three children, Charlie, Jane and William, and are expecting a fourth this March.