I believe the hardest part of having diabetes and skating on a team wasn’t as much the managing of glucose levels, but worrying that you are letting your teammates down.
Tuesday, May 29, 2001, my life changed forever. I was in fourth grade working on a math problem when the phone in my classroom rang and my teacher said my mom was here to pick me up. I was instantly excited, because I got to leave school early! When I got in the car my mom said we were going to go to the doctor because she thought I had something called “diabetes.” My sister had worked at a day camp and had a camper who was diabetic and therefore was able to recognize some of the symptoms of diabetes I was exhibiting. While my family was pondering over what the diagnosis of diabetes meant, I was just concerned about getting to my play date later that day.
Just a few hours later I was rushed to the hospital and admitted to the pediatric unit where I got poked and prodded all day and night. Little did I know that this day would just be the beginning of my new lifestyle. Fourteen and a half years ago, I never imagined that having Type 1 diabetes would shape me into the person I am today. I have become more responsible, determined and appreciative. I never have ever let Type 1 diabetes stop me, and I never will.
I began my ice skating career with the Starlights Synchronized Skating Team in Buffalo Grove, IL in 2001. The Starlights were my second family; the rink was my second home, and my teammates were my best friends. When I say I am a synchronized ice skater many people ask me: “So is synchronized skating like synchronized swimming?” “Can you do a triple axel?” “Are you going to the Olympics?” Synchronized Ice Skating is an upcoming discipline of figure skating and not widely known. It combines all areas of figure skating where a team of 16 individuals step out on the ice and perform a short and long choreographed program in synch. I skated with the Starlights until I graduated from high school. Then I went to Western Michigan University to continue synchronized ice skating with the Bronco Skating team where I made the senior level, (the highest level of synchronized skating), and cross-skated (skating on two different levels) to the collegiate level as well. During graduate school I joined back up with the Starlights and for the 2014-2015, my last competitive skating season, I cross-skated for the Starlights on their senior and adult teams.
Skating was always my passion growing up. It was a sport I loved and continually wanted to work hard at. I was diagnosed with diabetes during my second season team tryouts. My mom was too stressed and overwhelmed to worry about anything other than my health but did finally agree to let me skate on one of the less competitive teams while we figured out how to manage living with diabetes. I was just grateful that I would be able to skate! During that season, 6 months after being diagnosed, I got my first MiniMed insulin pump. Having an insulin pump made skating with Type 1 diabetes more manageable. Throughout the next few years, skating got more competitive and managing diabetes with skating got more difficult.
When I was young, my mom was the skating team manager, which meant she was the only parent allowed to come with the team during competitions into the locker rooms and to the different practices. While my mom loved working for the team and helping the coaches during competitions, she was grateful to have the responsibility of making sure I was okay before stepping on the ice. My mom would be at the sidelines with multiple bottles of blue Gatorade, crackers and my insulin pump, just in case. The day of competitions, I would usually try to keep my blood sugar on the high side because I never wanted to risk getting low right before stepping on the ice. However, keeping a high blood sugar meant I constantly needed to use the bathroom, which was definitely annoying. Although competition schedules were chaotic and unpredictable, regular season practices were more challenging for managing my diabetes. It wasn’t until college when I started cross-skating that diabetes really “got in the way.”
Cross-skating at the senior and collegiate levels meant double the practice. I would be on the ice 6-7 days a week, multiple times a day, and at weird hours. Some practices would be easier, meaning being without my pump for 2 and a half hours would result in extra high blood sugars after practice, while other practices would be more intense, resulting in low blood sugars during practice. There was no perfect regimen, no right answers and no cure. My doctor would suggest different basal rates and strategies for improved control, but unless you lived in my shoes (or skates) and understood my body and schedule, it was hard to try any of the recommendations.
No matter what was my blood sugar before getting on the ice, after practice, there was never a perfect number.
Traveling for competitions also made skating with diabetes a challenge. As a synchronized ice skater I have traveled all over the United States and the world including Italy and Sweden. While traveling I had to make sure I was extra prepared for anything that could happen. While most of my teammates travel bags held homework, sugary snacks, and activities to keep them busy, my bag was full of needles, pump supplies, batteries, insulin, glucose tabs, testing kits and Gatorade (and my homework, too, of course).
I would also have to adjust for the time changes in the different states or countries, which always affected my blood sugars.
I believe the hardest part of having diabetes and skating on a team wasn’t as much the managing of glucose levels, but the feeling that you are letting your teammates down. In synchronized skating every team member has their specific spot and knows how to make the program work. When one single person is missing from their spot, it makes practicing the program very difficult. During times of low and high blood sugars I would have to be that team member that had to abandon my spot to step off the ice, which made it difficult for the rest of my teammates to practice. Sometimes this was only for a short amount of time when I would step off and take some insulin. Other times it was for longer when I was waiting for my low blood sugar to go up. Although I may have felt like I was letting my team down, my teammates and coaches never wanted me to feel that way. They were the ones that would support me the most, always encouraging me to take care of myself before anything. My teammates would love to “take part” in my diabetes by trying to guess my blood sugar, test their own blood sugars and watch me change my insulin pump site.
My teammates made what I perceived as an annoying part of who I am more acceptable and always made me feel like a “normal” person.
January 2015, my team and I competed at the Leon Lurje Trophy in Gothenburg, Sweden. Walking into the arena in my Team USA warm-ups was what I worked for my whole life. I reminded myself at that time that so many skaters do not have the opportunities that I have had. So many skaters can only dream about being part of Team USA, and I feel so lucky to have had that opportunity. There were many times I could have given up, but I pushed through and did everything I could to stay healthy and achieve my goals. I managed to keep a healthy HgbA1C throughout all my years of skating and fortunately never had any healthy scares.
Although being a Type 1 diabetic and a competitive synchronized ice skater was never an easy task, I have had unbelievable experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. By far my best experience was standing side by side with Team USA looking out to the crowd, seeing red, white and blue, and hearing USA! USA! USA! Out of all my seasons of skating and the hundreds of competitions I competed in, that moment was what made all the injuries, long practices, early mornings, late nights, feelings of discouragement and struggles in managing diabetes all worth it.