Did you have a dream when you were a kid? Mine was to be an Olympian
cross-country skier. Fortunately, training felt like a privilege, not
work and I rose in national ranking, being named to the US National
Ski Team in 2000. But just as my athletic dreams were coming true, a
routine blood test revealed I had type 1 diabetes. I didn’t know
anything about diabetes and was shocked to learn the diagnosis, even
though some signs were there. Odd bouts of hunger and blurry vision
I’d previously attributed to intense training at 7,000 feet were
actually symptoms of diabetes. At that time, no athlete with diabetes
had ever competed in an endurance sport at the Olympics and I was
worried my diagnosis was going to impact my career. I was told it
couldn’t be done, that diabetes was my problem and I needed to figure
it out on my own. So I did.
I continued training and learning as much as I could about diabetes.
I knew the right doctor and healthcare strategy was going to make or
break me. Thankfully, I found a doctor who believed in me AND my
Olympic ambitions. Together, we developed a treatment plan that worked
for me. I made the Olympic team two years later. I went on to compete
in four Olympic Games, win 17 US National Championships, and became
the first American to win a world championship gold medal in cross
country skiing. As the Star-Spangled Banner played at the podium
ceremony, I fought back tears as I thought about everything I had to
overcome to get there. It was a moment of many emotions but most of
all a sense of pure joy because I had proved to myself that diabetes
would never limit my goals.
In 2018, I felt like I’d accomplished all that I could as a ski
racer. I was ready for a new challenge and started training as a
triathlete with a focus on the Ironman distance - that’s a 2.4 mile
swim, a 112 mile bicycle ride, and a 26.2 mile run. After a year of
training, I completed Ironman Lake Placid in 9 hours and 50 minutes -
13 minutes faster than any person with diabetes had ever done before.
Now, I’ve set my sights on qualifying for the Ironman World
Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
It’s not really about the Olympics or even an Ironman competition,
it’s really about believing in yourself, surrounding yourself
with people who support you and going for YOUR gold based on YOUR
goals. My message to anyone with diabetes is that with perseverance
support of your team of choice, you can work towards making your
dreams a reality.