Twenty-five years ago, at the age of seven months, Phil Southerlandwas diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Doctors at the time gave hismother very dismal predictions about his prospects, but he blew allthose right out of the water.
Now an elite distance cyclist in the pink of health, he'sorganized Team Type 1, a group of eight cyclists with type 1diabetes who leave today to race across the country. Thecompetition, known as the Race Across America, is the world'slongest-running endurance race.
It spans the continent from Oceanside, California, to AtlanticCity, New Jersey, a total of 3,052 miles, and the team expects tofinish in less than six days. Furthermore, they expect to win.
Like all his teammates, Phil uses an Omnipod pump, Apidra insulin,and a FreeStyle Lite meter. His basal insulin rate varies from 0.3to 0.8 over a 24-hour period. He notes that by switching to Apidrafrom Novolog, he was able to cut his basal rate by fifteen percent;he also worries less about occlusions with Apidra.
About two weeks ago he started using Symlin, and "it's amazinghow my morning blood sugars just don't go up." His A1c's are usuallyin the low fives. He checks his blood sugar about twenty times aday, upping the count to 25 times a day when he's training. He'sconsidering a continous glucose monitor, but is waiting for theFreeStyle Navigator to be approved.
For breakfast, Phil eats kashi, yogurt, and fruit. For dinner on arecovery day, he eats a salad with steak, salmon, or chicken, but ifit's been a hard training day, he has a burrito. When he's racing,he uses Gatorade or extremely high glycemic index gel packs likeHammer gel, which has more maltodextrin and takes a little longer toact. He eats something with calories every fifteen minutes whenriding or racing, sometimes just a chug of Gatorade.
"I've never said no to anything because of diabetes," says Phil,"and I never plan to." Phil adamantly believes that if you choose tothrive with diabetes, it will help you become a better person inevery walk of life. His glass is always full. "Get excited aboutyour control," says Phil, "because if you take care of it, then it'sjust going to leapfrog you in any endeavor." He believes thathaving diabetes has benefited him more than he could ever havedreamed. "If I can control this," he says," what can't I conquer?"
Seven years from now, Phil sees an all-type 1 team competing in theTour de France and doing for people with diabetes what LanceArmstrong did for people with cancer. Also down the road, heenvisions a group healthcare plan, possibly based on A1c's, so thatpeople with well-controlled diabetes will be able to get healthinsurance and access to the best tools and technology.
"We may be racing across the country with only eight teammates,"says Phil, "but we have a team of twenty million out there. We'renot just competing for ourselves – we're competing for them. Peoplewith diabetes can do anything and everything a person withoutdiabetes can do, except better, but only if you have good control."
To that end, he and his teammate, Joe Eldridge, have introduced the A1c Challenge on their website, www.teamtype1.org. There you'll find tips on howto enter the A1c Challenge and "Strive for 6.5." You can alsofollow the team's progress as they race across America to bringtheir message of good control to everyone with diabetes.