Diabetes can be a challenge in any person’s life, and it can take a little extra knowledge and effort to keep his or her body healthy. It doesn’t, however, mean that you have to be sidelined and sit out on the exciting and fun action in life. There are many professional athletes past and present who also are diabetics; and all they had to do was learn how to regulate their blood sugar control and diet in coordination with their practice and competition. Want to learn more about some remarkable athletes who shined despite the challenge of diabetes? Check out the list below.
Sean Busby is an extreme athlete. He is an award-winning professional snowboarder, and he also just happens to have type I diabetes. Busby found out about his diabetes when he was training for the 2010 Olympics – and his plans to compete were derailed. He didn’t let that keep him away from his passion, however, and he began to try to find ways to manage his diabetes and also devote his life to professional back country snowboarding. Busby figured out that he could use a tubeless insulin system controlled by a handheld digital device that could keep his insulin from freezing at night altitudes, and he worked to tailor his diet so that he could travel and snowboard all over the world – no matter what the cuisine of the country. Busby relies on a jar of peanut butter, protein bars and bread (since they are available in nearly every country), and he is careful to avoid meat and things that are hard on his stomach.
Jay Cutler is a professional football player, the quarterback for the NFL’s Chicago Bears. Cutler was diagnosed as a type I diabetic in 2008, and since then, he has learned to tailor his diet to match his football playing and practicing schedule. Cutler eats mostly proteins, fruits and natural foods – and he tries to avoid sweets. He says that the most difficult part of having diabetes as a pro athlete is managing the amount he needs to eat to be effective in games and practices with the amount of insulin he has to use to regulate his blood sugar. Cutler has learned to manage his diabetes well, though, and he continues to be a major contributor to the Bears’ success.
Gary Hall, Jr. is one of America’s best swimmers of all time. He competed in the Summer Olympics in 1996, 2000 and 2004, during which he won 10 Olympic medals. Hall’s diagnosis came in 1999, but he didn’t let it stop him. Instead, through trial and error, he learned to get through swim practices by stopping to test his blood sugar and injecting insulin when he needed. Hall’s diet changes depending on how often he’s swimming and how intensely, and he’s gotten the system of checking his blood sugar and injecting himself with insulin down to a science.
Earl Monroe has left a legacy as one of the greatest NBA players ever. He is also remarkable because he made such an impression on the sport while suffering from diabetes. Monroe was diagnosed with type II diabetes after finishing his professional basketball career in 1998, however, he tackled the disease head on – adopting a religious routine of regular exercise and a diet packed with whole grains, lean protein and very little fat or sugar. Monroe has teamed up with Merck to help more athletes tackle diabetes, and he is helping institute Diabetes Restaurant Month around the country – a challenge that asks restaurants to create diabetic-friendly menus that are both delicious and heart-healthy.
He might not be a household name – but in terms of inspiring athletes, David G. Weingard is at the top of the list. Weingard was an extremely fit triathlete before his type I diabetes diagnosis came in 2000. Weingard decided to take control of his body and train for an Ironman triathlon. He was meticulous about the training – practicing at the exact time of day the actual competition would take place so that he could work his eating and insulin injection schedule into his race routine. Weingard has competed in lots of triathlons since then, and he started a company called Fitness4Diabetics.com, whose goal aims to improve the fitness of diabetes sufferers with advice and guidance from nurses and doctors.
David “Boomer” Wells was one of the great professional baseball pitchers of the last century. He pitched for many teams – including the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. Wells found out he had diabetes in 2007, at the same time that he weighed in at 250 pounds and was officially deemed medically obese. After his diagnosis, Wells changed his routine completely – he eliminated refined carbs like rice, pasta, potatoes and white bread. He removed fast food from his diet, and stopped drinking alcohol except the occasional glass of wine.
Jason Johnson is a professional baseball player who currently plays for the Amarillo Sox in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. Johnson has had a long baseball career, and he has played both in the MLB and several minor league teams. He made history as the first professional baseball player to wear on insulin pump on the playing field. He was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 11, so he grew up learning to tailor his insulin and eating schedule around his baseball training. Johnson plays while checking his pump, and knows that he can step away from a game and have a snack or give himself insulin, if necessary.
Scott Verplank has always been passionate about golf, and he began his career on the PGA Tour in 1986. Verplank has had important victories – including the Buick Open and the Reno-Tahoe Open, and he also hit a hole-in-one at the 2006 Ryder Cup. Verplank also has type I diabetes, which he was diagnosed with at age of nine. Verplank has learned to manage his diabetes by testing his blood sugar once an hour, to make sure his body always remains in peak physical shape. Verplank uses an insulin pump, which allows him to have flexibility with his diet, though he is always careful to stay away from junk and unhealthy sweets.
Jo Ann Washam is a professional golfer, and she had years of success on the LPGA Tour. Washam has several LPGA titles – including the Patty Berg Classic, Rail Charity Calss and Portland Ladies Classic. She is one of the few female athletes in the spotlight who suffers from diabetes. Washam has had type I diabetes since she was 11 years old, so she has learned since a young age how to manage her playing and training with her diet and insulin routine. Washam had a health scare in 2002 when she had blockages in several arteries; since then, she has adopted a regular exercise routine and learned to be aware of pain in her body.
Currently a member on the Ottawa Senators in the National Hockey League, Cory Conacher was diagnosed with type I diabetes at the age of eight. He now wears an insulin pump to regulate his blood sugar levels. Conacher says the most important thing about his diet in regards to hockey and diabetes is that he has to eat well after he plays games -- including lots of protein, so that he doesn’t crash from the energy he expended.