Andrew (right) did not let diabetes stop him from realizing his dream of playing college basketball. (Photo courtesy of: Patrick Shanahan/Cornell Sports Information)
I recently graduated from Cornell University where I played college basketball. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on January 1, 2006, when I was 16. All my life I have loved basketball and tried to play as much as possible. I had no real idea about what diabetes was when I was diagnosed, but my biggest fear was how it would impact my future with basketball.
Lessons from Diabetes Management
Today, nearly seven and a half years later, I am proud to say that my diabetes diagnosis did not inhibit my dreams and chances of playing college basketball. In fact, I believe it actually helped me! As we know, effectively managing diabetes can be a full-time task. Having to commit myself daily to managing my health, this “forced” discipline rubbed off into different areas of my life, including basketball training. I firmly believe I became a better basketball player (and even student!) because of the lessons managing diabetes taught me.
Managing Diabetes as a College Athlete
I would like to share with you all how I managed my diabetes while being a college athlete. First off, I would like to express how thankful I am for the opportunity I had to play basketball at all. Competing at Cornell University has been one of the great highlights of my life. That being said, the commitment level to a collegiate sport is quite demanding. In the off-season, you have individual workouts with coaches, weights, conditioning and extra practice on your own. During the season, we still would have weight lifting, team practice (usually consuming at least a three-hour time block), individual skill work, film sessions, travel and games throughout the week and weekends. And that’s on top of homework, eating, sleeping, and of course, whatever social life is possible. It is a packed day! In order to be able to compete and perform at my best each day, managing diabetes amidst all the other commitments was extremely crucial.
Creating a Routine with Diabetes
For me, managing my diabetes with a busy schedule was about a routine. In my seven years of having diabetes, my blood glucose numbers are far better when I have a plan and schedule to follow. It is when I don’t think ahead that I end up in trouble. Each day, I would try and map out my schedule, especially my meals, so that my blood glucose levels would be at the right spot when it was time to practice or play. I would usually practice on my own in the mornings and then again with the full team in the afternoon. This meant checking my levels often. I estimate during the season I checked maybe 12-15 times per day! That may be a little over the top, but I never wanted to miss a workout or chance to play.
It seems to have worked, as I can only recall having to sit out portions of maybe two practices and never missing any parts of a game for diabetes-related reasons. Planning ahead, eating low-carb meals and checking my blood glucose often was the key for me. I also always had my Omnipod insulin pump on during practices and games to help me manage my diabetes. Ideally, I liked to place the Pod on my legs where it could be protected by "armored" compression shorts.
Planning Ahead with Diabetes
I think no matter what you like to do each day, thinking ahead is one of the most crucial ways to manage diabetes. Of course, we cannot predict everything that will happen in our day and will sometimes have to make adjustments on the fly, but staying one step ahead of diabetes is the best way to live freely, happily and in control to the point where you never have to miss out on anything you love to do!