By David Weingard - I began running at the age of 13 and have been privileged to enjoy the sport for the quarter century since then. I completed my first marathon at age 17 and haven't looked back (well, until two and a half years ago). About six years ago, I also began racing triathlons of various distances including an "Ironman". Like most every other triathlete, I was concerned with race pace and fast transition times. That changed less than two years ago when I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes.
Type I diabetes, previously known as "juvenile diabetes", is a chronic condition characterized by high blood-glucose levels. The disease occurs when the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The pancreas then produces little or no insulin. The disease, which develops most often in young people, can appear in adults, too. There is no cure for Type I diabetes today; however, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is working to find a cure.
Being a Type I diabetic creates multiple new challenges. Instead of worrying about fast transition times, I must monitor my sugar level and make certain that the sugar and insulin levels are balanced. If not, I am at risk for serious medical conditions such as insulin shock and diabetic coma, both of which can result in death.
Despite my diagnosis, I was determined to continue my athletic endeavors and serve as an inspiration for other diabetics – as well as people who face other health challenges. I believe that it is critical that we remember that within us is the ability to do things that may seem impossible and on most days feel insurmountable.
A year after my diagnosis, I tried my first set of triathlons as a diabetic. I completed a few local races and then completed the famous "Escape from Alcatraz" triathlon in San Francisco Bay.
I felt a reprieve from diabetes when I competed in the Blackwater Eagleman Half Ironman Triathlon in June 2002. On that day, the sun was relentless and the bike course quite windy. While I had completed this distance before I had diabetes, this race was different; I was proving to myself that diabetes would not stop me. In this race, I was more concerned with blood glucose levels and maintaining consistency – not with a fast race time. That day had its challenges – my blood glucose was too low prior to the start of the race, and I had to make some adjustments in my eating/insulin regimen. I ate the appropriate amount of carbohydrates to raise my blood glucose levels. In order to monitor my sugar levels during the race, I had to prick my finger with a small lancet and test my blood using a blood glucose testing kit - which I taped to my bicycle aero bars. I tested myself 17 times during the race with 8 times on the bike and 7 on the run using a glucose monitor that fit in my running belt. When my blood sugar was low, I elevated it by eating a sports gel loaded with carbohydrates and other rich carbohydrate foods (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches work like a charm). Unfortunately, the best laid plans don't always work out. I needed to eat much more food than I originally calculated to keep my blood glucose levels from going too low. I think I weighed more after the race than before! The story has a happy ending as I finished the race in 6 hours and 22 minutes and felt great!
This year my goals are bigger. I will be competing in Ironman Lake Placid. The Ironman race consists of a 2.4 miles swim, a 112 miles bike and a 26.2 miles run. My reasons for doing this race are three fold – first, to prove to myself that diabetes will not stop me; second, to be an inspiration to other Type I diabetics; and third, to raise $40,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Please feel free to share this story with other people who may gain inspiration from it and/or might want to support the fundraising effort via the Juvenile Diabetes web site. I hope my story has generated positive energy for all of us to show us that we can all achieve our dreams.