This post is excerpted from Ginger Vieira's new book, Dealing with Diabetes Burnout, from her chapter on "Being an Athlete with Diabetes". Andy Holder, eight-time Ironman Triathlon finisher, is living with type 1 diabetes. This is a brief account of his challenge of being an athlete with diabetes, in honor of the IronMan Triathlon race in Lake Placid this weekend.
When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 36, I wasn’t a triathlete yet—as a matter of fact, I had never done a triathlon, I didn’t own a bike and I didn’t know how to swim. So there were a few other things I feared would hold me back athletically; diabetes wasn’t atop the list. All kidding aside, I knew I was taking on a lot by striving to finish an Ironman with all the obstacles I had in front of me, but that was exactly why I took on so much—I wanted to do something extraordinary that would inspire and motivate others. That was my main goal. It had nothing to do with winning races or getting medals. Finishing an Ironman in the face of diabetes was a platform, an opportunity, to show people that you can do anything if you have a positive attitude.
Sometimes people around me forget that I have diabetes; they say I make it look so seamless. The irony of making this look seamless and routine is that I am never not thinking about it … and that can wear on you over time. I struggle every day. I struggle to get through workouts without my blood sugar going too low. I struggle to correct a low during a workout, then end up chasing down highs the rest of the day. I struggle during races, when the athletes I am competing with simply have to worry about the hydration, nutrition, and fitness level. All that goes out the window for me if I have a training-induced high blood sugar, or my performance suffers because I’m low. So I do all the things I am supposed to do, I follow the rules, I plan and I prepare, but sometimes, that’s not enough, and diabetes takes over.
When it comes to burnout, in those fleeting moments of feeling sorry for myself, I just wish that I could have a day off. Not a cure, I’ll get to the end of the line on that one, but just a day off—of not thinking about it. No testing, no counting carbs, no fiddling with my pump, and no worrying about highs and lows.
Meanwhile, this may sound cavalier, but the only thing we have to work through this is our attitudes. There are too many things with diabetes, in life, that we can’t control. So I focus all my energy on my attitude … and usually that gets me to the other side. We have to maintain that positive attitude and try our best to be “on” everyday, but realize this is a marathon and not a sprint. You will have bad days, but if they are outweighed by the good days you’re doing okay.
For more stories on overcoming diabetes, or to learn how to recharge and get back on track when you feel frustrated and overwhelmed, purchase Ginger Viera's "Dealing with Diabetes Burnout" at the Demos Health Store today!