Four Athletes Living with Type I Diabetes

Living with Type I diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from experiencing a full, productive life, even if your dream is to become a professional athlete. 

Type I diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to permit sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy.

You cannot live long without it, but you can manage it with either insulin shots or an insulin pump, blood glucose testing, exercise and diet. 

I’ve been living with the disease for almost 40 years running, and it hasn’t stopped me from enjoying an active life.  I was once a competitive runner who ran a sub-five-minute mile, and used to be a personal trainer. 

Here is a list of athletes who manage(d) Type I diabetes while playing their respective sport. 

Kelli Kuehne

Kelli Kuehne

The doctors diagnosed Kuehne with Type I diabetes at ten years old. But that didn’t thwart her efforts of entering the world of competitive golfing.

In fact, she was the Texas UIL 4A Girls Individual State Champion four consecutive years, in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995 while attending Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas. 

Kuehne played collegiate golf at the University of Texas, where she earned All-American honors. 

In 1995, Kuehne won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship and in 1996 she repeated the feat, while also winning the British Ladies Amateur that same year.

She turned pro in 1996 and joined the LPGA Tour in 1998, capturing the 1999 LPGA Corning Classic. 

Kuehne controls her diabetes by wearing an insulin pump with a subcutaneous port at her waist that automatically supplies her with insulin when she requires it. Plus, she engages in various forms of cardiovascular disciplines and core strengthening exercises. 

Charlie Kimball

Charlie Kimball
Charlie Kimball

When NTT IndyCar driver Kimball gets behind the wheel of his open-wheel racecar, he has to make sure his blood glucose level is balanced due to his Type I diabetes.

That’s not the time to contend with blood glucose problems. Otherwise, if it’s too low, confusion could set in and render decision making a nightmare. If it’s too high, on the other hand, the likelihood of Kimball making the wrong choice increases as well. 

Fortunately for Kimball, he has refused to let Type I diabetes’ pitfalls stop him from performing well on the track. He was the first winning NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver with Type 1 diabetes, which doctors diagnosed in 2007.

Kimball uses a bit of technology to aid his competitive driving pursuits. He races with a continuous glucose monitor that wirelessly transmits data to his steering wheel dash; if his glucose level falls during the race, he can drink sugar water to raise it to a functional level.

Kimball’s best season result was ninth in 2013 and 2016, winning the 2013 24 Hours of Daytona, and drove to maiden NTT IndyCar Series victory at Mid-Ohio in 2013.

Additionally, the 35-year-old scored his first pole at Texas in 2017.

Furthermore, Kimball has teamed up with Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company dedicated to diabetes care, to raise awareness of the importance of properly managing blood glucose levels and to demonstrate that diabetes can be successfully injected into your life and your ambitions, above all. 

Gary Hall Jr.
Gary Hall Jr.

Gary Hall Jr.

Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Jr., diagnosed with Type I diabetes in March of 1999, is a three-time Olympian, representing the United States at the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympics and captured ten Olympic medals (five gold, three silver, two bronze) in the process. 

Known for his offbeat pre-swim entertainment routine, liken to a professional wrestler, Hall Jr. is a role model to children with and without Type I diabetes. He serves on the Sanford International Children’s Board, JDRF Government Relations Committee, National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute Leadership Board, UA Dept. of Surgery Advisory Board and the International Diabetes Federation.

Sean Busby

Sean Busby (Twitter)

Professional snowboarder Sean Busby has battled multiple medical conditions, including Type I diabetes.  

Firstly, doctors misdiagnosed him with Type 2 diabetes and he went through three months of constant diabetic ketoacidosis, a buildup of acids in your blood due to high blood sugar levels for too long. It could be life-threatening. 

Eventually given the correct diagnosis of Type I diabetes, Busby still struggled with his health, however. 

Busby’s rheumatologist diagnosed him with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease, with systemic manifestations including skin rash, erosion of joints or even kidney failure.

But Busby said living with Type I diabetes has taught him how to manage a major disease, which helped him cope with SLE. 

Busby has backcountry snowboarded on all seven continents and he and his wife, Mollie, live off the grid with their flock of chickens, ducks, turkeys, and dogs. Together, the two have had their homestead, The Busby Hive, featured internationally, in addition to the HGTV and DIY channels, for their sustainable off-grid building and living methods.

Busby is also the founder of an international nonprofit called Riding On Insulin, which hosts action sports camps for 500 plus kids and adults living with Type 1 diabetes across multiple countries each year.

So, these four athletes haven’t let medical adversity thwart their active lifestyles, and neither should you!! 

— Jerry Del Priore 


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