GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes shouldn't be an obstacle to athletics. And Team Type 1 cyclist Kerry White said she uses it as "a big motivating drive to exercise." White is a member of the Sanofi Elite Team, and she competes in events across the country."If you use current technologies to manage your diabetes, you can be an athlete," White said. "Diabetes used to be seen as a sport ender. These days, the message is very different. Pick a sport. You can be as active as you want to be. The only obstacles are in your head."To prove this point at a local level, White led five Grand Junction kids, ages 6-14, in a group ride at the 24th annual Tour of the Valley Aug. 26. This locals-favorite cycling event offers a variety of long-distance options through Mesa County's unique landscape, and it also raises funds for the Community Hospital Foundation.All five children are members of Diabetes Counts, a local kids support group promoting diabetes management through healthy measures like athletics. This was the group's second year doing the long-distance ride - four children rode the 30-mile distance and one 13-year-old girl, Caid Turner, completed the 50-mile ride. Whole families came out to participate - moms and dads, brothers and sisters, plus dietitians and support staff. "I wanted to push myself and see what happens when I get really involved in exercise," Caid said. "My dad did it with me, which I really enjoyed. He's really interested in learning more and more about diabetes. I think that's really cool."Having Type 1 diabetes means Caid is insulin dependent (her body doesn't make the insulin needed to process sugars and starches ingested while eating). She doesn't see it as a limitation to her many interests, however. And she said meeting with White was an inspiration.White, an avid endurance cyclist from Avon, not only rode with the kids; she also spoke about her experiences as a Type 1 athlete with the group last weekend. White was diagnosed with diabetes in 1981 at age 11, and athletics has long been an important outlet for her. She's also been an active member of Team Type 1 since 2007. This national team of elite athletes spans a variety of sports, and all members are diabetic. White is additionally a mom as well as an athlete, and she said achieving a healthy, active pregnancy was a rewarding accomplishment for her."I thought it was very inspiring (to meet White) because diabetes isn't something that should ground you or worry you," Caid said. "It's not going to control my life. I'm going to control my life. Diabetes is a bully, but you have to tell it 'no, I'm going to take control.' You can do it as long as you're motivated to do it."
Caid, along with her mom Summer Turner, started Diabetes Counts not long after her diagnosis two years ago, in conjunction with Community Hospital. It serves Grand Valley children who have Type 1 - from kindergarten through high school - with education, recreation opportunities, social events and mentoring. Right now, it has 30 regular members."These kids have to take insulin via syringe or a pump, and they have to take it all day long to keep their blood glucose in a certain range," Summer said. "If it's too high or low, it makes them sick."According to Summer, a group like this is important because there's "no wiggle room" when it comes to diabetes management, and it provides support and camaraderie for kids dealing with the same types of things."The Diabetes Counts group helps me because I get to meet many kids that have the same challenge I do and learn from their experiences," 14-year-old Bryce Morse said.Bryce and his 7-year-old brother Jacob both have Type 1 diabetes, and they rode 30 miles with the group. They additionally play lots of sports, something their mother, Kelly Morse, said is always encouraged. Bryce is currently on the freshman football team at Grand Junction High School, and he's also played basketball, soccer and lacrosse. Other favorite activities include snowboarding, hiking and biking. "Exercise helps manage my diabetes because it gives me a chance to use my energy and burn the carbs I build up during the day," Bryce said. "My blood-glucose level tends to run high when I sit around and do nothing all day, but when I get up and move I have much better levels."Bryce noted that he loved participating in the Tour of the Valley, and that he'd definitely ride again next year.
While good, old-fashioned fun was the main goal for Type 1 kids in this year's Tour of the Valley, another big component of participation was education and mentorship - to teach Diabetes Counts families that they can do anything with the proper tools and knowledge.This hasn't always been the message for people living with Type 1, however. Terri Thompson, a nurse with Community Hospital's Diabetes Education Center, said doctors once used to recommend less physical activity in daily Type 1 management, as exercise could result in low blood sugar (which can be associated with diabetic coma and death)."This is not the case now," Thompson said. "There's better tools and better insulins now. Everyone can have the benefits of exercise. You still can do extreme activity, too. It's all about figuring out how to do it, learning how to overcome some of the bumps in the road. You just need someone to help you get the tools. You can adapt your treatment to do rock climbing, tennis or be a mom."Joe Lansing - a Fruita resident, a Type 1 diabetic and a non-competitive endurance cyclist - rode with Diabetes Counts kids throughout the summer to help them train and give them tips on food and insulin-intake management. He also raises funds for and rides in American Diabetes Association cycling events across the nation.According to Lansing, there's been a "paradigm shift" in how diabetes management and athletics is approached. And this happened "over the past 10 years or so.""There's new medical methodology allowing Type 1 athletes to participate in endurance events through careful training and preparation," Lansing said. "It takes a good deal of trial and error to formulate plans, and the outcome - if you don't have a good plan - could be dangerous if your blood sugar crashes. So, it's incredibly critical to formulate a plan."Lansing does 100-mile rides each month as part of his training process, and he imparted his learned experiences to Diabetes Counts kids and their parents. By showing them how to make small changes in their treatment plans for athletics, endurance activities become possible and lots of fun."Find something you love, and make sure that you find time to participate in it," Lansing said. "It's part of your job to stay healthy. If you can do it through recreation, that's great. You can't neglect your overall health plan. Don't slack off. Do it year-round."