Q: Our 11-year-old had such high hopes of becoming a professional athlete someday. Since being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I don't hear him talking about this anymore. How do I help him see that he can still have dreams?
A: I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was nineteen. I can tell you that, if anything, it has made me more aware of things that can affect my performance, including being responsible for eating the right foods, making sure my blood sugar levels are steady, and staying "tuned in" at all times to how my body is feeling and responding.
Maybe your son has gotten the wrong message along the way (even if it's unspoken) that type 1 diabetes and sports somehow don't mix. When kids with type 1 diabetes come to our snowboard camps, one of the first things I like to do is explain to them that type 1 diabetes is a little like family. Type 1 diabetes is always going to be there with you, and you want to take good care of it -- that way, when you do things together, like sports, you are going to have the time of your life! On the flip side, if you ignore your type 1 diabetes, it's like getting into a fight with your family. Suddenly, the things you enjoy might not be so fun anymore. We teach kids that solving any "arguments" they're having with their type 1 diabetes is what can make them into stronger athletes.
Despite the challenges, I find that children with chronic diseases are incredibly resilient. Perhaps your son just needs to hear direct reassurance that taking care of his type 1 diabetes means that his dreams of becoming an athlete are still very much within reach. (Editor's note: Aspiring athletes might find inspiration in one of two new ESPN-branded novels from the Disney/Lilly collaboration behind this website -- Up for the Challenge by Leigh Olsen and Power Forward by Tracey West -- each about a star middle-school athlete coping with a new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Ask your healthcare provider for a free copy.) When it comes to professional sports for anyone, with type 1 diabetes or without, it really is about believing in yourself. If after talking to your son, you get the sense that he may be depressed or burned out about caring for his diabetes, reach out to your diabetes care team for the appropriate help.
Sports camps for kids with type 1 diabetes can be incredibly empowering experiences and might be a great way to give your son's confidence a boost. To find one in your area, I encourage you to check in with your local chapter of the American Diabetes Association or JDRF. Finally, there is no shortage of professional athletes with type 1 diabetes, from Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to cross-country skier Kris Freeman to NBA forward Adam Morrison. Many, including me, are very receptive to hearing from children about their hopes and dreams -- and the realities of managing type 1 diabetes. Making that connection with someone in the world of pro sports can be a strong motivator to keep dribbling, lacing up, or pushing off down the slopes no matter what comes your son's way.
--Sean Busby is a professional snowboarder and cofounder of nonprofit ski and snowboard camps around the world for children with diabetes. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2004 while training for the 2010 Olympics.
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