I first met Team Type 1 in 2006, when I was 17 years old. They were competing in the Race Across America (RAAM), a 3,000-mile race from California to New Jersey, for the first time. When I signed up to be part of the support team for Team Type 1, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was just happy to be getting a trip to California and to be away from my parents for a week. I had no idea how much work it would take.
I had never actually met anyone from Team Type 1 when I arrived at the hotel in California because all of our communication had been through email. I was so excited to meet the elite athletes with type 1 in person! At first, I was surprised by how many times they checked their blood glucose. It seemed like every time I would see them, they would be sticking themselves.
Checking their blood glucose was a competition for everyone there with diabetes. What your number was, what your average was, and how many times you had checked that day were ways of measuring who was the “better” type 1 and winning the diabetes game. Because I am so competitive, I needed to get in on the competition, so I began checking any time I saw one of them checking. I wanted to win!
The first two days of the race were just exhausting. The team consisted of eight type 1s who had been divided into two four-person teams. The two groups would exchange about every eight to ten hours. (The following years, they changed their strategy and did shorter shifts of about six hours, which increased the average speed.)
The shifts varied in distance depending on the terrain and weather conditions. Sometimes one person would be out there climbing some mountain alone, while the other riders were driving ahead in a minivan to make an exchange. Then the relief rider would take off for his shift while the van drove ahead with the other riders.
The team did this leapfrog style of exchanges for the entire length of their shift. Then the other group of four riders, who had been “resting,” switched with the exhausted bunch. The crew was also divided into two groups. Every twelve hours we would exchange and try to rest as much as possible. It’s quite difficult to sleep, however, when you are on a moving RV that never stops.
Five-and-a-half days later, the riders and crew managed to arrive in Atlantic City, New Jersey, only three minutes off the winning time! That year inspired the members of Team Type 1 to train harder and come back stronger so they could win the next year, which they did.
The five-and-a-half days it took the team to complete the race were something you cannot really explain. It’s hard to understand unless you experienced it first-hand. But that trip inspired me to start riding my bicycle as much as I possibly could. The “cycling bug” had officially bitten me.
I came home to Tallahassee, Florida, and started riding every morning before school. I slowly began to figure out what my blood glucose needed to be while riding in order to ride the fastest, and what I needed to do post-ride to avoid a low blood glucose. It was frustrating at times figuring out how to manage my diabetes while doing an endurance sport, but consistency is the key. I kept at it no matter what. If my blood glucose was too low, I would stop and eat something and think about what I did wrong. I also tried to stay positive when my training didn’t go how I wanted because of a diabetes mess-up on my part.
It’s hard sometimes not to compare yourself to the nondiabetic cyclist and think, “Ugh, it’s so easy for them because they don’t have to think about what they are eating and what their blood glucose is.” I just have to remind myself that everyone has their own “diabetes,” something that they have to overcome.