We all have goals we want to accomplish, both short- and long-term: improving diabetes management, losing weight, traveling more, earning a higher degree, reconnecting with family and friends.
For some lucky and talented people, it’s being awarded an Olympic medal.
Most people won’t ever get the chance to compete in the Olympics—and to do so while living with diabetes may seem downright impossible. However, diabetes hasn’t stopped many athletes from competing in sports and extreme competitions. And with the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil on our minds, it turns out there’s no shortage of professional athletes and Olympians living with the disease.
“I truly believe that people with diabetes can do anything,” says cross-country skiing star Kris Freeman. “I’m not sure that would have been possible decades ago. With the medical advances we’ve had, anything is possible. As much as diabetes stinks to have, we are by far in the best time in history to have the disease.”
Freeman, who lives with type 1 diabetes, has competed in every Olympic Winter Games since 2002.
“Being an Olympic athlete with diabetes is similar to being a diabetic in normal life,” he says. “Everything is a little more complicated. [For example,] you have to time your meals.”
Freeman recently traveled across the country as part of the Lilly Camp Care Program, inspiring adults and kids alike with his positive outlook. “Diabetes only gets in the way when you let it. It can be very difficult at times, but you’ve got to push through the hard times. It’s not always going to go right, but if it doesn’t go right, you can learn better for next time.”
Support from the diabetes community, family and friends is important to success. Matheus Santana, who’s been living with type 1 diabetes since he was 8 years old, was released from the Brazil men’s swimming team in 2013 due to fear that his diabetes would interfere with his swims. But he didn’t let this moment be the downfall of his swimming career.
After he was let go by his local team, Santana’s swimming club, family and friends helped raise his spirits. His family also helped find the best doctors to treat his diabetes. Santana was able to rejoin the team, and now he has his heart set on a gold medal in the 4x100m relay during the Olympics in Brazil.
While every year brings new advances in diabetes care, high performers aren’t a new phenomenon. Billy Mills was running with type 2 diabetes when he won the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Summer Olympics. And he hasn’t stopped running!
There are also many young athletes who have dreams of competing in future Olympic Games, marathons and other high-intensity events. Seventeen-year-old Leeann Hewitt, who also lives with type 2, won first place in the 2016 Florida state girls’ weight-lifting tournament. She has also competed with the USA Powerlifting world team and holds six world records for her age group. She’s got her eye on the prize: A spot in the 2020 Olympic Games.
So again, we ask, what are your goals in life? If you want to become a high-performance or even professional athlete, don’t let diabetes get in the way. Pro athletes with diabetes like Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, NASCAR driver Ryan Reed, LPGA golfer Michelle McGann, former Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Jr., marathoner Missy Foy and Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sam Fuld will agree: Diabetes shouldn’t stop you.