Diagnosed just a little over seven years ago, diabetes has become “the norm”. By now, the carb counting, injecting in public, and answering looks and questions from strangers when I stab a needle in my stomach, is all second nature; it doesn’t phase me anymore. But, when I was first diagnosed, at age thirteen, it did. I did not want the world to see me as “disabled”. I thought that if people were aware of my disease, they would see me as weak. Seven years later, I am still the same girl, with the same autoimmune disease, but now, I show the world I am stronger than ever because I am a diabetic.
I was practically born with a tennis racket in my hand. Growing up, there wasn’t a day where I wasn’t in a gym, on a court, or in a field for at least an hour or two. Sports made sense to me, and I thrived on the heat of competition. When I was taken to the doctor on the morning of January 28, 2010, and soon told I had an autoimmune disease that would potentially hinder my ability to compete at a high level, my earth shattered. My immediate family had no history or real knowledge of T1D, but now I would be surviving on multiple daily injections and religious carbohydrate counting. Cool.
My mother, a tennis coach, urged me to consider “just playing local tennis and volleyball tournaments”, and to not stress if I couldn’t become a Division 1 athlete, my lifelong dream. Her comments and the lack of knowledge my doctor had around competitive athletics and diabetes were my driving force. I realized I would have to train harder and smarter than my competitors, but I didn’t need easy– I needed doable.
Four years later, I ended up graduating high school a year early, at age 17, to accept a tennis scholarship at Seattle University. Since coming to college, in the fall of 2015, I have made diabetes my life. I started the first College Diabetes Network Chapter in the state of Washington, at Seattle University. I started volunteering at my local JDRF chapter, and even babysitting diabetic children. I began experimenting with dietary changes to help negate the highs and lows that can come with poor diet choices. The transition to Division 1 athletics required more of me physically and mentally, and I soon realized optimal diabetes care was more important than ever. By embracing my disease, and advocating as a type 1 diabetic and division 1 athlete, I truly embraced that I was a diabetic, not just someone with diabetes.
I used to hate being associated with the disease and all of the negative impacts it had on my life, but now I rejoice the person diabetes has made me. I realized I cannot change the fact that I am a type 1 diabetic, but I can change how I let diabetes influence my life. I can set a positive example by participating in clinical research, by making healthy dietary decisions, by being active, and by teaching the public about type 1 diabetes and its implications. I can show the world that I am more than diabetes– I am a strong, capable, passionate diabetic.
Yes, diabetes can be grueling, and tiresome, and I would never wish it upon anyone. But, the diabetic community, the friends and connections I’ve made through my broken pancreas, are invaluable. Being a diabetic is the most rewarding, demanding, empowering roller-coaster I’ve ever been on, but I learned how to embrace the ride.