How Riding With Team Type 1 Helped Me Stay In The Army filed under Tips for Diabetics.
From Elite Team member Jason Cyr
A little over a year ago, while on deployment in Africa with the U.S. Army, I began to feel sick. I lost around 20lbs and felt lethargic. I thought the reason I was feeling so bad could be the fact that I was living in a less-developed country, at about 8,000ft altitude, and eating strange foods. But instead of feeling better, I just kept getting worse.
As a former paramedic, I paid close attention to my symptoms, and I noticed that I was constantly thirsty yet constantly had to pee. An Army physician sent me to a local hospital (we both suspected diabetes), and when they tested my blood sugar it was an alarming 837. They had no insulin at the African hospital, and it took five long days for the military to medevac me to Germany. In Germany I met with an endocrinologist and diabetes educator and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. While my blood sugar was so high, luckily it had not been that way for very long, so there was no long-term eye or nerve damage from uncontrolled levels.
While still in Germany, I had my first hypoglycemic incident. I was walking around the mall, and suddenly my vision started to go black. I recognized the symptoms and shoved some of the candy I had taken to carrying into my mouth and sat down. I was close to passing out. It was a bit of a reality check. Before being diagnosed, I held a UCI pro license in mountain biking and enjoyed Cyclocross racing in the fall; and though I was still confident I could live a normal life with this disease, if I couldn’t even walk around a mall, how was I going to be able to ride my bike for two hours?
With my medical training I knew what diabetes was and that it was unlikely that the military would not let me serve as a type 1 diabetic. After 18 plus years of active duty that was hard to hear. So I gave myself about a 15-minute “pity party” and then decided I was going to own this disease, life would go on, and I would figure out how to manage it and still do the things I love.
When I was first diagnosed, one of the things that probably helped save my life was the fact that I enjoyed cycling and exercising. I knew that exercise could be a tool to help control my blood sugar, but in Africa, I didn’t have my bike– so I ran everyday I could. I went running after being on insulin for about 48 hours. Now that my blood sugar was going down, I started to feel better, so I went for a jog. I monitored my blood sugar before, during, and after the run. I watched my numbers and kept meticulous notes of what I was eating, how many carbs and when I worked out. I went though a lot of test strips– sometimes I tested as much as 20 times a day. I knew I had a battle on my hands: I was not going to let this disease write my narrative– and that included my job.
Eventually, the Army sent me back to the U.S. and close enough to home that I was able to get my road bike and begin cycling again. I follow the sport, and I had heard of Team Type 1, so I went out and bought a copy of Phil Southerland’s book “Not Dead Yet”. Team Type 1 gave me hope that I could continue my racing, and I was interested in hearing stories from other diabetic athletes and how they manage the disease while working out.
I started riding and testing. I wanted to see what happened 10 minutes into a ride, 30 minutes, an hour into a ride, and so on. I ended up using a lot more strips. I also started paying a lot more attention to nutrition, and I gained back the weight I had lost. But my new attention to diet also meant I was leaner than before. And about three months after my diagnosis, I decided to start racing again. I really loved racing and missed seeing my friends in the local mountain biking community. I was also determined to prove to myself that this disease would not dictate my life.
My first race was in a local mountain bike series. After having been deployed, I was not in peak racing shape, but I needed to see where I was at both fitness-wise and with my diabetes. It was a 2-hour race, and with about ten minutes left I started feeling bad. I decided to pull over and test– I was in the 50s. I ate a gel and got back on my bike and slowly pedaled my way to the finish line. People I had never lost to before had beaten me, but in the end, I gained something far more valuable: I knew I could race. I knew I could figure this out. I knew this disease was going to be a part of my life, but not rule my life.
I kept cycling and monitoring, and I fought to keep my job in the military. I tried to keep tight control over my blood sugar, and I was rewarded for my efforts when my 6 month A1C came back as 6.0. In a little over six months, I had been able to get my blood sugar down from an A1C of 14.7 to 6.0.
Today, after a long fight, I am back to full duty with the military and serve as a Battalion Executive Officer. I am also back to racing and winning, and in January 2012, I joined the Team Type 1 Elite squad. I realize that the insight this disease has given me about my body and proper nutrition has actually made me stronger. I am a faster cyclist than I was before diagnosis, and I am proud to be a member of Team Type 1. Now I have the opportunity to be a part of something that can help inspire others and show that this disease won’t stop you. And as I meet more and more type 1 diabetics, I am constantly inspired by their stories, and I continue to race, train and test– as well live the life I want to lead.