Diabetes has always been a part of my life. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1959 when I was two years old, and my older brother was diagnosed with type 1 when he was 24 years old. I joke that he’s an amateur and I’m an expert because I have more experience dealing with it.
My eye health became an issue in 1982, 23 years after being diagnosed with type 1. At this time in my life, I was very health conscious and enjoyed lifting ridiculously heavy weights several days a week. One day, I suddenly had black cloudy vision in my left eye, which I discovered was a ruptured blood vessel. After calling my eye doctor, I was able to get into emergency surgery quickly, but unfortunately after that surgery and several more that followed to get it under control, most of my vision was unable to be saved. The surgeries had destroyed 90-95% of my functional retina space. I adjusted to this and now I refer to myself as a VIP—a Visually Impaired Person.
For several years during and after my surgeries, I was unable to continue heavy lifting and instead took up daily walks (sometimes up to 16 miles) which led to biking up to 100 miles. Some people assumed I biked as part of a healthy lifestyle living with diabetes, but the truth is, I just love it. However, about 12 years after my first set of surgeries, the retina in my right eye spontaneously detached, and following 3 surgeries to reattach it, it was determined that it could not be saved. I eventually accepted that I was no longer able to drive, which made biking and walking my primary modes of transportation. Luckily, my favorite grocery store and my job are only 12 miles from home and are accessible by bike. I get good exercise doing this, which does have the added benefit of helping me manage my diabetes and keeping the doctors off my back. I’m proud to say that I’ve biked about 75,000 miles in the past 30 years – being active and naturally defiant keeps me young—I tell people I’m 65 going on 28!
If I could give a person newly diagnosed with diabetes advice, it would be to take care of your health and utilize your health care team. You can do this by staying in touch with your doctors, showing up for appointments, and notifying them if anything changes. If you are not comfortable talking to your doctors, or if your doctors don’t value your input, get different doctors. And NEVER believe that diabetes can stop you from pursuing any athletic or intellectual goal. I also would encourage anyone living with diabetes to evaluate some of the newer, high-tech tools that are out there—they’ve really changed the game for how I manage my diabetes.
In closing, I’d like to note that having diabetes should never limit setting goals for yourself. I’m currently planning a fitness-based fundraising event that will pit my leg strength against 1,000 pounds of resistance. Having diabetes hasn’t made me stop setting goals for myself, and it shouldn’t stop you either!