Why T1D Kids Should Play Sports

WRITTEN BY: Jake Byrne

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

At some point in elementary school every child is asked this question. The teacher will likely get an answer that comes straight from the heart.

My answer to Mrs. Smith in the third grade: “A pro-football player.”

Mrs. Smith’s response: “You can do whatever you want as long as you are willing to work for it.”

Over the years, I worked hard at football. I was a freshman with a starting spot as an offensive tackle on my high school football team when hit with a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. I wondered if I’d reached the end of my dream. Hope returned when my doctor told me I could continue playing football if and only if I did everything right.

To play sports, kids with diabetes need empowerment like I got from Mrs. Smith and from my doctor.

They need to be given hope that they can play sports if they do everything right. Forcing a child to sit in their room and watch their blood sugar all day will only make them grow resentful and they may lose the desire to work toward maintaining diabetes health.

JAKE-TIPSWhile kids shouldn’t be held back from sports because they have diabetes, they also shouldn’t be thrown into any extreme physical activity without a plan.

While playing college football for the University of Wisconsin, I was approached by two young boys with Type 1 diabetes who wanted to play football. Though their parents had a lot of reservations, they allowed their sons to seek out the possibilities of playing football.

Joey and Hunter sought me out, asked questions — from how to protect your insulin pump during games to how playing football affected blood sugar levels. After doing their research, their parents helped them put together a plan.

Having a plan is essential. The elite stars in sports and also in diabetes management, are the kids who have a strategy to achieve their goals on the field and in all areas of their life; spending the night at a friend’s house, going for a job, or any thing a normal kid does.

Parents who help their children with a plan to manage their blood sugar—setting daily and weekly goals— have a huge impact in their diabetic child’s life. Instead of pushing back, their child will feel their parent is on their team.

A smart plan for diabetics includes daily management of diet that includes eating the right foods and knowing how your body will react to certain foods. Parents also need to understand how the child’s body will react during and after a workout.

untitledMy plan included knowing when to eat my first meal, the time of the day I would physically exert my body (morning practice). I had to get my blood sugar stable going in to the practice.

I had to have my meter with me or make sure my trainer had it. I had glucose and insulin with me at all times.

Making sure I was stable after practice was a must as well. I need a meal/snack after any extreme activity to compensate for the crash that comes after high intense physical exertion. End o the day blood sugars are just as important, if not the most. Before I go to bed, I want to make sure I am stable and have been for as much time as possible. The reason I wrote my book, First and Goal – What Football Taught Me About Never Giving Up, was to speak to kids as a diabetic athlete, a member on their team. I want to let kids know that my diabetes isn’t any different than theirs. I want to tell them that I worked hard, found a way to do what I had to do, and they can, too.

I was a kid with big dreams, empowered by a positive teacher who told me I could do anything if I worked for it. Diabetes never stopped me from reaching my goals of playing in the NFL. My hope is to help people with diabetes live out their dreams, reach their goals in ever aspect of life, and never give up.

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Jake Byrne

Jake Byrne grew up in Rogers, Arkansas. A type 1 diabetic since the age of fourteen, he has since been proactive combating the disease and mentoring diabetic youth. He played football for the University of Wisconsin as a tight end, and went on to compete in the NFL. Originally an undrafted free agent who signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2012, he has also been a Houston Texan, Kansas City Chief, and San Diego Charger. Currently, Jake and his wife Emma life in Dallas and have two dogs –Yeti the Great Dane and Duke the Dogo Argentino. Follow Jake's blog at www.typewon.net or find him on Instagram @Jakebyrne81 or Twitter @sugarfreejb8