My body and I have a long history. It’s a story of loyalty and betrayal, of adventures and near misses, of love and awkwardness and everything in between. We’ve been together for 37 years, and during that time, my body has been my most glorious friend.
When I was a teenager facing enormous loss, my body carried me up mountains and through orchards filled with stone fruits for making wine. My family had been fractured by the weight of poverty, and we found ourselves living in a tiny motel in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, miles from the life I had known in the city. I spent years hiding my boyish, boxy frame under baggy sweatshirts and loose-fitting tops but, that summer, I traded my oversized wardrobe for tank tops and cut-offs, and took tremendous pride in my thick calves and powerful quads.
I woke every morning and got on my bicycle, and let the motion of my legs and the gliding of knobby tires over hard-packed dirt take me away from the physical confines of that run-down motel, and the mental and emotional stress of that time in my life. My body was my escape, and the bicycle was my vessel. I crisscrossed the dry river beds of the Rio Grande, passed abandoned uranium mines and craggy volcanic summits and found solace in my head.
My body and I spent the years thereafter chasing dreams. While studying at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I learned to race a bike. My body was a devoted friend during weekly criteriums and long road races, when it wanted desperately to call it quits and yet I forced it on to the finish. Some days it crashed and bled. I had a couple of sets of stitches and one fractured arm, but it never gave up entirely. And then, in 2007, my body started communicating something different.
My belly had stretched and adapted to accommodate my second pregnancy. I was carefully nourishing myself and my baby, eating well and training on the bicycle nearly every day when, without warning, I started feeling weak and exhausted. My body refused to listen to my requests to go faster, work harder, push the pedals forward. It made constant demands for water and sleep, and I wasn’t gaining weight as I had in my previous pregnancy. My body was begging for attention, flooding me with the sensations of disorder. In October of 2007, I called my doctor to talk about the unpleasant messages my body was communicating and, after a quick in-office finger stick, my physician sent me to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
In that moment, I felt betrayed by my body. I wondered when, exactly, it had turned against me. Through the mechanical reactions of anger and disdain, I retreated to the place where I felt best about my physical self and where I had learned to sort through sadness and loss and all the hardest occasions of life. I went home from the hospital and I got on my bicycle. I rode for a long, long time, filled with worry enough to pay attention to every physical sensation and emotion generated in me until, miles later, they no longer seemed like mysterious goings-on.
I found a team of healthcare professionals who helped me continue to ride and, eventually, to race without the nagging fears and constant worry. They gave me the tools and resources to manage diabetes and understand the messages being sent by my body.
All these years later, I stand before myself in the mirror and see the boyish hips that carried my son and my daughter, my absurdly long arms that cradled them when they arrived healthy into the world, my broad shoulders that can haul my bike over fences and stairs, my heavy legs that pedal faster than I ever imagined as a child. I love my body, and it has shown me time and again that it loves me in return. My body and I have been wonderfully resilient and adaptable.
Today, I race my bicycle for Team Novo Nordisk; a global, all-diabetes sports organization spearheaded by the world’s first all-diabetes professional men’s cycling team. I have been given the chance to share my story and compete at a high level while inspiring others affected by diabetes. It has allowed me to see parts of the world I could never have imagined as a 16 year old girl, riding alone along the Dallas Divide.
My body is still doing its job, and we are accomplishing amazing things together. With the support of Team Novo Nordisk, diabetes has provided me with an immense opportunity. Every day, I am filled with gratitude for my body and the ride we get to take together, as we find new adventures and pursue our dreams.
Other stories about Team Novo Nordisk –
“An Irishman’s Cycling Dream Fulfilled with Team Novo Nordisk” by Stephen Clancy