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Before brushing his teeth and getting dressed, senior Derek Hilliard wakes up and pricks his index finger to check his blood sugar level. Hilliard does this first thing in the morning because the machine will determine what foods he will be able to eat that day. After eating his usual cereal containing 60 grams of carbohydrates, Hilliard gathers his soccer equipment and grabs a pack of fruit snacks for practice later in the day. Hilliard is just one of many other East athletes who live with type one diabetes.
Hilliard, a varsity soccer player, was diagnosed Nov. 7 of last year and has been learning to cope with his condition. In the weeks leading up to his diagnosis, Hilliard would drink up to eight water bottles an hour and still be thirsty. He rapidly lost weight and he realized that his frequent trips to the restroom were not something most people had to deal with. The day his doctor explained to him that he had type one diabetes, his mother burst into tears. While it made him sad to see how it affected his mother, he didn’t comprehend how much it would affect his lifestyle.
“It’s still difficult to wrap my head around the fact that I have diabetes and it’s hard to give myself insulin shots,” Hilliard said.
According to JDRF, an organization dedicated to type one diabetes research, type one––unlike type two––is unpreventable and occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. Insulin helps people get energy from the food they eat, so those with type one diabetes often need to give themselves insulin injections or manage their insulin levels by way of a pump that they wear on a belt.
Senior varsity basketball player Henry Sullivan, was diagnosed with type one diabetes when he was six years old. Like Hilliard, he couldn’t stop drinking soda or going to the restroom. His mother also started to notice how irritable Sullivan would get and how he couldn’t seem to control his mood changes. She decided to take him to see her friend who has diabetes so they could check his blood sugar. It was hundreds of points above the normal level for a six-year-old boy.
“I spent two days in the hospital learning about it and how to deal with it,” Sullivan said. “It was really scary at the time because I didn’t realize it would affect me for the rest of my life.”
Sullivan says he can usually tell when his blood sugar gets low because he starts to feel dizzy and shaky, almost disoriented. During a game, both athletes usually have to come out at least once to take a break, but sometimes they say they would rather deal with the symptoms of having low blood sugar than not play.
In order to alleviate symptoms, Hilliard and Sullivan had to make changes to their eating and exercise habits. In an interview with Men’s Fitness, Sheri Colberg-Ochs, Ph.D. and author of “The Diabetic Athlete,” says a diet that includes higher fiber, complex carbohydrates, whole fruits and vegetables will reduce symptoms associated with diabetes.
Before every meal, both athletes have to dose, which means matching a specific ratio of insulin to carbohydrates. They are also required to eat some form of carbohydrates before games and practices so that their blood sugar doesn’t drop. Dr. Colberg-Ochs also credits exercise as being one of the most important things for managing blood sugar levels and reducing diabetic complications because it helps break insulin resistance.
Hilliard and Sullivan try not to let their condition affect them in their sports or in everyday life. They both agree that being involved in a sport gives them an outlet for the stress that comes along with dealing with diabetes. Staying active reminds them that they are able to do everything a person without diabetes does, just with more precaution.
“Playing basketball lets me know that diabetes isn’t holding me back from anything,” Sullivan said.