Imagine discovering at a young age that you are a gifted athlete—gifted enough to possibly one day represent your country in the Olympics. Imagine training and honing your skills for years and years, until you are among the best at a particular sport. Imagine the Olympics on the horizon and within your reach—so close you can almost taste it.
And then imagine a doctor telling you—”You have type 1 diabetes!”
Would it deter you from your dream? Would you pack up your bags and go home? Would you say to yourself, “Well, it was nice while it lasted?”
Not if you’re Kris Freeman.
Dreams of Olympic Glory
The 21-year-old from Andover, New Hampshire, discovered skiing at the age of 5 when his father introduced him to it. His first love was cross-country skiing, although he dabbled in alpine skiing, jumping and Nordic combined. Through the coaching of Tim Norris, Freeman developed his skills in the grueling endurance sport (imagine running marathons and 10K races on snow skis).
When he was 15, Freeman won his first junior national title. That was when the Olympic dream first blossomed. He later went on to win several more junior national titles, as well as one senior national title when he was 19. He also had a few second and third places at nationals, and a seventh place at the Goodwill Games.
You Have Diabetes
In the fall of 2000, however, Freeman got the shock of his life.
“When you train with the U.S. ski team, you get a blood test every month for cholesterol, hemoglobin, etc.,” Freeman told Diabetes Health during a telephone interview from the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. “With one particular test, they decided to check glucose as well.”
The result was a 240 mg/dl reading.
“They sent me to an endocrinologist, and it took them about five minutes to diagnose me,” he says. “At first I was kind of in denial about the fact that I had diabetes, because I had never been sick or to the hospital in my entire life.”
Looking back, Freeman admits he did experience the common symptoms of diabetes (frequent thirst and urination), but he figured they were a result of training between 20 and 24 hours a week.
“I would wake up and go for a four-hour run some days. So to compensate for that, I was drinking about a gallon and a half of water a day. I figured the frequent urination was because of all the water I was drinking.”
Freeman says he was “pretty much devastated” after his diabetes diagnosis, especially with the 2002 Winter Olympics less than a year and half away.
“I kept asking my doctor if I could continue to train and race, and he said, “Probably’. I really didn’t like that word ‘probably’.”
Freeman’s doctor prescribed a Humalog pen and an NPH pen to start his insulin regimen.
A Crash Course in Diabetes
Soon Freeman began to rationalize that if he was skiing well while having type 1 diabetes but not knowing it, he could do just as well now that he did know and was taking insulin to control it.
He started doing research on other athletes who have type 1—most notably, Olympic gold-medal swimmer Gary Hall Jr.—and saw that they were successful at their respective sports.
“So I figured it was a real possibility that I could continue and possibly be the best in the world some day.”
By quickly learning as much as he could about diabetes, monitoring his blood-glucose levels, taking his insulin doses and adhering to a carefully balanced diet, Freeman gained control and achieved his dream of qualifying for the U.S. cross-country ski team.
“The fact that I am an athlete is one of the big reasons why I never felt sick before I was diagnosed,” says Freeman. “My doctors would say I was probably always around 240 or 270 mg/dl, but I would get it down to 90 by all of the running and training I was doing. When I started taking insulin, I only needed to make some minor adjustments.”
Freeman says that in the short period of time since he was diagnosed, he has met a lot people who have diabetes and that they are glad he is doing what he is doing.
“There really is no reason why someone with diabetes should stop doing what they love to do. With the new insulin and technology available now, there is no reason to change your lifestyle.”
See Ya in 2006
During the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Freeman placed 22nd in the 15-Kilometer Classic, 15th in the Pursuit, fifth in the 40-kilometer relay and 43rd in the qualifying round for the Sprint.
Although he did not walk away with an Olympic medal, Freeman says he will be back at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy and is shooting for the 2010 games as well. He says the U.S. cross-country team is making great strides in a sport that has long been dominated by Europeans.
“I was just a member of the best relay team to ever finish for the United States—a fifth-place finish. We were only a half second behind Austria, who was a world champion in 1999, so I don’t think we’re that far behind right now.”