We are excited to feature the stories of 12-year-old Wisconsin American Diabetes Association Youth Ambassador Joey Balistrieri and professional football player Jake Byrne. In this four-part “Tackling Diabetes” series, you will learn about their individual journeys and discover the bond they formed through football and diabetes. In the series opener, Joey shares his inspirational story.
Joey with his friend and role model, professional football player Jake Byrne.
It was clear to me when I was in 4th grade that I had a lot of convincing to do if I was going to play football for the Jr. Crusader’s youth football team. My brother Tony started when he was in 4th grade. He was bigger than all the other kids, so it was easy for him. I am normal size and a good athlete, but I have type 1 diabetes. My mom always encourages me to play sports and stay active, but she made it clear that she didn't want me to play football. She would say things like, “What if your Pod gets knocked off?” or “What if you go low when you are out on the field?” All I could say to her was that it wouldn't happen, but that didn't change her mind.
My brother was on my side and he wanted me to play football. He told me that there were a lot of professional and college football players who have type 1 diabetes. So, I looked online and found that Jake Byrne played for the Wisconsin Badgers, my favorite team. I saw that he was diagnosed with diabetes when he was in high school and still went on to play college football. I looked him up on Facebook and sent him a private message saying that I wanted to play football so badly, but my mom wouldn't let me. I couldn't believe it when I checked my Facebook later on and saw that I actually had a message back from Jake.
My New Diabetes Role Model
Jake told me that he took very good care of himself in order to play football and that he kept his blood sugar numbers in control by eating the right kinds of food to nourish his body. He also used the same type of insulin pump that I use, the Omnipod tubeless insulin pump, and even sent me pictures of how he protects his Pod when he plays. Jake is such a nice guy and I really look up to him. He helped me a lot and convinced my mom to let me play football.
Now Jake is playing professional football with the Houston Texans and I’m in the 6th grade and just finished my second season of football. My team has been undefeated for two seasons in a row. I play DE, Linebacker and Center. I love football and have even been called a beast on the field.
Playing Football with an Insulin Pump
I love my insulin pump, because it allows me to be free of tubing. If I wore an insulin pump that has tubes while playing football, I would be afraid that my opponents would grab the tubes and rip them out. I also don't like the idea of having to wear something on my belt - that would be annoying to me. The Omnipod insulin pump works best for my lifestyle. As a 12 year old, I don't like bringing attention to the fact that I have diabetes and that is what I love the most about my Omnipod. No one has to know that my pump is on me, because they don't see anything.
With my mom on board with me playing football, we have turned into a true football family. My brother Tony just finished his sophomore year in high school and he is the starting center for his high school’s varsity football team. They just won the STATE championship in November! The State game was played at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, where my friend Jake played. It was awesome to see my brother playing on that same field. I hope one day that I will be down there playing with my team also.