Ryan Shafer: Pro Bowler With Type 1

Ryan Shafer is a 44-year-old professional bowler from Elmira, New York, who was 19 when he developed type 1 diabetes. For a couple of weeks, he experienced the usual symptoms of weight loss, lethargy, extreme thirst, and frequent urination, as well as vision problems.  “Being that age,” he says, “I was afraid to go to the doctor. I thought it would just go away.” When he finally saw his family physician and was diagnosed, he says, “I was actually relieved–not that I thought diabetes was a piece of cake, but I was glad to know what was wrong with me.”

Ryan reports that his family doctor did not tell him much at all about the complexities of diabetes control. He says, “It was just ‘Okay, you have diabetes, so you take this amount of insulin in the morning, this amount in the afternoon, and this much before you go to bed.’ My doctor was older, and when he retired, I just got referred to another family doctor. They never referred me to an endocrinologist or a specialist–it just never happened. Nobody told me to go see a diabetic educator, go to support group, or anything like that.”

Ryan adds, “I’m at fault too, because I was complicit with that. Who likes to go to the doctor?  So I was a little lax–I was not a good diabetic. The only time I tested was when I really didn’t feel good. I might test once or twice a day, and now I test about six times a day. I got my A1C tested once a year instead of every three months.”

“It wasn’t until 1997, when I was 30, that a friend put me in touch with a different doctor who was more up to date. The new doctor got me more under control. Now I see the doctor every three months instead of every six months or once a year. I saw a diabetic educator and learned to carb count. And we changed my regimen from Humulin R and Humulin N to Humalog and Lantus. My A1Cs were probably in the high sevens before, but now they’re in the mid-sixes, right where my doctor wants them.”

Eventually, Ryan also moved to a pump, an Animas Ping.  He says, “It was probably the best decision I ever made. It’s just made my life that much easier, especially with the travel and the performing all the time.”

Ryan notes, “On competition days, I test a little more.  When I’m bowling, I’m pretty aware of how I feel, so very rarely do I have to test while competing. My doctor has my basal rates pretty precise, so if everything is working correctly, I should stay within 20 to 30 points of my starting blood sugar when I’m done bowling. Our blocks take up to four-and-a-half hours.”

Regarding his decade of less-than-optimal control, Ryan says, “I got pretty lucky: For having been so lax for ten years, I really have not had a lot of complications. I’ve had one laser treatment on my eyes for a little bit of diabetic retinopathy, but that came out okay. In my right hand, I get a little tingling in my fingers and my thumb. But other than that, knock on wood, I seem to be doing okay.”

Ryan attributes his success as a pro bowler to taking control of his diabetes. He says, “In 1997, when I got my diabetes under control, was really when my career took off. I really think those two things are linked. I didn’t feel as good then as I do now, and my performance showed it. I wasn’t terrible, but I certainly wasn’t as consistently excellent as I became.  Ever since 1997, I’ve always been in the top 16 in the world on tour. So I definitely think there’s a correlation between taking care of myself and my performance.”

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