Perspectives Blog

Diabetes shouldn’t stop us from going for gold

By Kris Freeman

Olympic skier and triathlete

January 13, 2020

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 and the support of your team of choice, you can work towards making your dreams a reality.