I’m Erika and I’m a Type 1 diabetic. But first and foremost I am an archer. My parents met at archery, my boyfriend is an archer, most of my favourite people are archers and I have been an archer since I was a child. I have shot for Australia since 2003 and recently switched to the Danish Team when I moved to Denmark for the oh so romantic reason that my boyfriend is Danish. The last year has been all about shooting internationally and learning the language of my new home. I spend 20 hours a week in Danish classes and the rest flinging arrows. I shot my first competition as a member of the Danish Team in Slovenia for the Indoor European Championships in March this year, took 4th in the 2nd Stage of the World Cup (Antalya) in Women’s Teams with Tanja Jensen and Sarah Sönnichsen, and finished off the year winning Gold with team mate Stephan Hansen at the World Cup Finals in Mexico.
My diabetes is a relatively new beast.
I was in the middle of finishing post grad, training for a World Championships and trying to scrape enough scratch together so I could afford more than tuna and rice for dinner without sacrificing the caffeine fix that glued my sleep deprived self together. I was getting skinnier by the day, but I was also working crazy hours and living on caffeine and wishes so hadn’t thought more of it. A consultation with my doctor established I should get more sleep and probably rediscover regular eating habits – like food. Within six months I was too tired to walk up a stair case, without a nap to recover, and a random blood test raised questions about my blood glucose levels. They made me take a glucose tolerance test, which I failed in a spectacular fashion. I went from finishing 8th in a World Cup, and shooting hundreds of arrows a day, to being to being too weak to draw my bow back and learning how to give myself injections. So this year has been a sort of come back.
Life on the Archery World Cup circuit is awesome,
but maybe less romantic than it sounds.
You live and breathe airports, hotels, bad food and jet lag. In one year I saw Iceland, France, USA, Slovenia, China, Turkey, Poland, Colombia, Mexico, Netherlands, Germany and Spain (Belgium and Italy if you count drive throughs). As a diabetic, no two days run the same for me. My diabetic challenges on the go have included high altitude, jet lag, broken meters, faulty pens, lost and runaway kits. I have bought new kits in Turkey and Colombia, had insulin express posted to New Zealand, and had a bus drive off with my insulin and without me in Fiji! Every competition is a new experience and I tend to combat all issues with aggressive blood testing and needs-based tweaking of my insulin and food. I try to avoid eating carbs less than 3 hours before a shoot. I usually run with a high protein/low carb breakfast and then keep to small snacks or low carb meals unless I know the break time will allow me to see my blood sugar in a good place again before shooting. Blood sugars can spike in the stress of competition regardless of what you eat. Even when your brain is feeling unstressed, sometimes your body has a mini freak out without you. So I often adjust my insulin to counter stress on top of food corrections and to counter jet lag and changes in altitude too. I tend to run my sugars slightly on the high side for competitions because hypos are impossible to fix once they happen! Your competition is pretty much over as soon as you drop too low.
In the Netherlands, last week, it was the complete opposite. I ate conservatively, tested and retested, and went into the competition running on the high but safe side. Half an hour later my heart was racing, my hands were shaking and I was shooting like a broken toaster. I was also uncomfortably warm. Understand that there are team jokes about the Australian freezing her butt off. They’ve seen me standing on a heated floor in snow boots, and a snow jacket, while I stood in front of the hot oven cooking dinner. I wear more thermals in a single day than the rest of the team owns. So at the uncomfortably warm point (that never happens this side of the equator), I listened to my inner doc and checked my blood despite being sure of where it was. Only it wasn’t. It was sky high and climbing. It took a month of training, and a 9 hour drive from Denmark, to get to the Kings of Archery Tournament and it was all crashing because I got smacked with the diabetes stick and something was drastically wrong. An ocean of insulin and day later and I managed to drag my sorry butt back from 19th to 12th and then won a spot in the finals with 3 perfect shots.
But perhaps the worst of diabetes isn’t when my own body lets me down. It’s the ignorance and insensitivity of the world we walk through.
I remember a moment when I was taken aside at a World Cup and asked not to inject insulin in public because it makes people uncomfortable. And being criticised for my poor performance as an athlete because ‘it’s been six months, isn’t she used to it?”. And staring at the phone in astonishment as an individual from the anti-doping authority told me to find another treatment because insulin is a banned substance in sport. It’s the sort of thing that gives me homicidal eye twitches and the urge to start picketing about discrimination. A friend (recently diagnosed with another illness) asked me about how to cope with chronic illness and she mentioned the stigma and then another friend killed himself because he was depressed and ‘we don’t talk about those sorts of things’. Then I recall growing up in a diabetic household and the whole family rolling eyes when my dad had his ups and downs and never thinking it was a big deal because no one ever said it was. I got sick and got educated and now I know better and I wonder how it is for people who are less bull-headed than dad and me. So maybe diabetes isn’t all the laughs and giggles it’s cracked up to be, but maybe it’s made me a better person and given me the words I didn’t have before to speak up when ignorance is bringing us all down.
Diabetes doesn’t define me.
I am an archer first and foremost and the coolest thing I’ve ever seen is watching the latest James Bond movie and recognising the square in Mexico City where we had stood just the week before, shooting the World Cup Finals, in front of a crowd of thousands. Not too bad for a girl with a lazy pancreas.
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