Aaron: Tell me about when you were diagnosed.
Chris: I was 19, a bit older than most Type 1 Diabetics when they’re diagnosed. I went to Colgate University, beyond excited to play Division 1 lacrosse. My first day of school, my first ever half an hour of my first ever college lacrosse practice, looking over my shoulder, I got blindsided and tore my ACL. I had to get ACL surgery right after that, which is obviously disappointing to have to start your college career like that. After I got that surgery, I had an unquenchable thirst and lost 20 pounds in two weeks. Weirdly, my eyesight got perfect. My contacts made me dizzy, and if I didn’t wear them I could see perfectly. I knew something was wrong with me. I kept going to the nurse to try and figure it out. They kept telling me, “You’ve got the flu”. Eventually, I went down there again and I was like “Guys this is way too consistent”. They pricked my finger, and I was around 900 which is unimaginable today because I feel crappy right now and I’m only 213. I don’t know how I existed for any period of time at 900. I was rushed to the hospital at Syracuse and thankfully one of my best friends went to Cuse and showed me the ways. He was like “Hey bud, you ready to go? This sucks but we’re going to have to learn how to do it together and let me help you out”. So yeah, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy to learn how to do everything at the age of 19, especially thinking about college and all the experiences that come with that. It was how things started, but in a weird way I think it’s helped me more than it's hurt me. I’ve turned it into a superpower given the discipline that Diabetes has to teach you and I’ve been able to kind of take that to a lot of other things.
Aaron: When you played, were you on a pump, CGM, injections, etc.?
Chris: I took Lantus during the mornings and Humalog for my different meals. So basically fingersticks and a lot of pens. For the most part though, I tested about every 30 minutes at practices, and about every quarter in games. My trainer had a special pocket in his cargo pants just for my tester so I always knew where it was. If I knew where Adam was, I knew where my tester was. That was basically how I maintained it. I would adjust a little bit here and there on how much Lantus I would give myself depending on timezone,game time, and stuff like that. But for a long time I was on pens. I recently switched to a CGM and a pump which thank god, they’ve completely changed my life. It would’ve been difficult, especially being a faceoff guy, having to wear both those while I was playing. But Callum Robinson in the PLL (Premier Lacrosse League) is Type One Diabetic and he figures out a way to do it so I’m sure I would’ve been able to figure that out too. I actually played against him in 2014, he was on Team Australia. He came up to me after the game and was like “Hey bud, I’m diabetic too” and I was like “Holy crap!”.
Aaron: Did your teammates ever see you checking your blood sugar? Did you tell them that you had Diabetes?
Chris: That was definitely a mixed bag. I’m sure you’ve been there before. Teammates can be relentless. A lot of times you make fun of the people you love the most. I had a couple guys that really checked on me. They’d be like, “Hey dude, you good? How can I help you? Can I carry that extra gatorade for you to make sure that you’re good to go?”. I had some guys who were aware of it and would look after me if anything were to ever happen. I usually didn’t have too many issues. And some people were scared of needles and said “I can’t do that, I can’t see that” and I’d be like “Hey man you just gotta do it when you’re in this situation”. It definitely varied but I always encourage everyone to let people know. If you go down, you want to make sure people are aware of what may be happening. And there’s no reason to ever be embarrassed about it. Yes, we’re different, in some fashion or another, but what makes you different ultimately will make you stronger. I tend to embrace it and overshare and I think it’s important for people to understand what’s going on.
Aaron: Did you have to officially tell your teammates? Personally, that was and still is kind of a challenge for me. I’ve found myself telling the whole team before the season starts, and it just created a lot of anxiety and stress for me and it still does. Afterwards, I’m always glad that I did it and I think it’s the right thing to do. As soon as I told them, everybody was always cool about it and some even asked me questions, and would always check in on me. So did you have to make that an official thing or how did you let them know?
Chris: Obviously I told my coach and some of the other staff. I don’t think that I did a sit down and said “Hey guys, I’m Type One Diabetic now”. And I think that’s probably because I was just open about it. I always try to let them know that there are serious complications but also that this is what I have to do in order to live, just as you have to tape your ankles. This is just another thing that I have to handle and that’s always how I approached it in college. In the pros and in other leagues that I would play in, I would always tell the coach and I would always tell the trainer just so they knew immediately. I usually didn’t make too big of a deal out of it, but I usually had some friends on the team that would know and either tell other people or look out for me in the grand scheme of things. I always made sure at least one person around me knew what was going on.
Aaron: Can you walk through your game day routine?
Chris: Back when I was in the MLL (Major League Lacrosse) gamedays went like this: we flew in Friday afternoon, had a Friday night practice, 8:00 AM walk through on Saturday morning, and then we had a game around 7:00 PM. That wasn’t always the case, but let’s use that format for this kind of ‘day in the life’. So typically on gameday, I woke up and usually went to practice fasting. I would get a cup of coffee and maybe a small bite to eat. The reason I did that is because in the morning your body releases Cortisol. Cortisol makes your blood sugar rise no matter what (dawn phenomenon), coffee adds to that. I would typically let the natural rise, be the rise that I would need during practice. It was usually about an hour/hour and a half walkthrough, nothing crazy or too hard. I also wouldn’t take my Lantus; I would wait to take it until after because I didn’t want to have a sudden crash in the middle of practice. If I got too high, or if the coffee brought me up too much, I would take a little insulin, but not too much. I would usually eat breakfast after that. My belief on game day was consistency. Especially because I was on pens, I think my mentality was always, “You’ve got to make something consistent. You’ve either got to make your life consistent, so you know how to bolus based off of your activity, or you’ve got to make your food consistent”. It’s really difficult to have a really roller coaster diet, and then have freedom to do whatever you want. My mornings usually included 2 eggs, bacon, spinach, and usually some fat; avocado. I tried to eat pretty low carb. My belief is, the less variables you put into a situation, the easier it will be to maintain consistency day to day. Also, don’t get me wrong, I’m 6 foot, 220 lbs, I absolutely love food, but I really try to see food as fuel as opposed to flavor. If you can almost trick yourself to doing that, for me, it made my Diabetes a lot easier to deal with. So typically, it was breakfast around 10:00. I would usually take a nap during the day and kind of let the blood sugar even out for a period of time. Then I would eat another meal around 4:00, and my pregame meal was very low carb. I would get two or three chicken breasts with spinach at the hotel that we stayed at or something very similar to that. I would go to chipotle or whole foods if we were on the road and get something similar. Then, before the game, on the way there, I would grab another cup of coffee, just because I wanted a little bit of extra energy and adrenaline. And then, checking my blood sugar with fingersticks throughout the day. As I got closer to the game, I think I checked my blood sugar more and more because I really wanted to make sure it was dialed in around 130 as I was about to hit the field. That’s where I liked to be, obviously I wasn’t always there. I would always have bars, gatorade, bananas and more on the sideline, near my locker, near where I sat on the field and with my trainer as a ‘just in case’. The main reason for that is when I got into big games, especially when I was playing at Outlaws Stadium which was the Denver Broncos stadium, it got a little crazy. There were something like 50,000 people there, which is absurd for a lacrosse game. The only downside is that your adrenaline goes flying. Cortisol goes up, I would have blood sugars at 300-400 sometimes when I was playing. Which was unfortunate but the way I tended to treat it was recognizing that that was a synthetic high because I knew I would crash the second the game finished. If I finished the game at 300, a half hour later I would be around 125. It was all adrenaline. I would usually eat a meal afterwards. I had a lot of lows after games, so I would need to have some carbs in my hotel room. My thesis was always to have a high protein, high fat diet and introduce carbs only when I need to because coffee, cortisol and adrenaline were going to bring my blood sugar up.
Aaron: Right, like you said, I’m usually on the high side right after games, around 220. It was always an instinct to bolus, and I would just crash and come right back down.
Chris: I used to bolus fully sometimes, but I had nights where I was up until 3 in the morning because I was at 60 and just staying there. For me, it’s trial and error but just know that adrenaline can really mess with you on that front. That’s why I usually try not to start too high. If I could start around 100 or 130, I knew that I would rise up.
Aaron: What kinds of snacks or drinks do you specifically use to treat your lows?
Chris: I never kept it too complex. For games and practices, I would always have Gatorades or Powerades around me. That was my main go-to. Right now, my tandem T-Slim with the Dexcom cuts off the insulin fast enough so I don’t have a ton of lows anymore. Which is life-changing and takes away a ton of stress I used to have. Other than that, I try to keep it super healthy. Fruits, I always have berries in my fridge. They sometimes go bad or get moldy before I get a chance to eat them. But again, back to eating consistent meals and making sure I’m eating healthy, if I’m going to give myself fuel, I think a lot of people get in panic mode when they go low and just start eating everything in sight. What I always try to do is, try not to get on that roller coaster, try to keep it as even as possible. The more I can keep it even because of eating, the better.
Aaron: What would you say Diabetes has taught you?
Chris: Yeah, I’d say this. I mentioned before, I try to take the lessons learned and the positives out of Diabetes. Playing sports with Diabetes is hard. It’s not an easy thing, but it doesn’t need to get in the way of your dreams. I’m a big believer that Diabetes taught me the importance of eating well early on, back when I was a freshman in college. That’s when people are eating pizza, going out, first time away from their parents and they just go crazy. There’s a saying, the freshman 15, it’s a real thing because people usually gain 15 pounds. Diabetes taught me that I can’t do that to myself or else I’ll feel crappy and everything will be wrong with me. It also not only taught me to eat well but it taught me the importance of consistency and showing up every day in the same way. That’s what I have to do. You heard about my routine earlier with my blood sugar, but that’s also what you have to do if you want to be successful in life. At school, in athletics, and anything else in life. I think the last thing Diabetes taught me is that we’re all different. Ours is more explicit, our difference, because we have a thing hanging off of our side and unfortunately our pancreas doesn’t work. I think it taught me empathy too. That everyone else does have something going on below the skin. I share all that to say yes, Diabetes does make it harder to play sports. I can’t just run outside right now and go play because I want to. Especially as a kid, you have to be a lot more thoughtful. I would try to look at it as an opportunity to learn and almost be more mature than your peers. You do need to think about a few more things, and Diabetes has made it hard at times, I’ve had highs, I’ve had lows where it’s been hard. In a weird way, my coach said to me “Eck, no one cares you got Diabetes you know that right?”. And I looked at that with a different perspective until about my sophomore year. “If anything, the other teams see you as an advantage for them. So don’t feel bad for yourself, suck it up and you have to figure out a way through it and I have full confidence that you’ll be able to do it”. That was one of the better lessons that Coach Nagle taught me back in the day. That I can’t be complacent, I can’t feel bad for myself, and I have to find a way to make this a positive, not necessarily a negative. That’s just how I approach it because it shouldn’t hold anyone back, there’s no reason. The technology is there, and the willpower is there if you really want to tap into it.
Aaron: That’s awesome that your coach said that. I love that.
Chris: Well, I was kind of pissed at him when he first said it. At first I was like, “Dude, come on man I have Diabetes”. And then I realized, he doesn’t give a shit, my teammates ultimately care about me but they don’t give a shit, they still want me to perform. And the other team really doesn’t care, they want to go after me no matter what. They want to do anything they can to win. So, it was a good lesson learned.
Aaron: Awesome. I don’t think I have any other questions. You’ve shared more than enough, but do you have any other advice for newly diagnosed athletes?
Chris: Embrace the diabetic community as much as you can. I’ve had this since I was in college. I went to business school at Duke, and one of my closest friends has Celiac and Type One. When he told me, we weren’t super close, we were friendly. We knew who each other were, but we started exchanging stories about it. He was a triathlete, so he’s significantly a better athlete than I’ll ever be. Some of the stuff that he shared with me were about how to eat, what I should be drinking, how I should be thinking about the process of a day, and how adrenaline, cortisol and all these other things and factors can impact you. I think everyone should find a community as fast as they can. Share as much as you can. Share who you are, and that you’re Diabetic. Most people probably know someone who has Type 1 and they can make an introduction and you can learn from them. The last thing is, don’t be ashamed. So what, your pancreas doesn’t work. The world is continuing to advance its technology, the world is continuing to try to find a cure for guys like us. I say this a lot, I would never wish Type 1 on anyone, even my worst enemy, but I do think that it’s my superpower. I think the lessons that I’ve learned from Type 1, that I’ve been able to apply both academically back in the day, athletically, and now in my professional life, have made me who I am. It hasn’t all been easy, in fact I think a lot of us go through those “why me” moments, those breakdowns. I’ve been in tears before when I couldn’t get my blood sugar up or down. But look, those are micro-examples of your ability to be strong and get through something. The more you share, the more you look to lean on other people, the more you’ll get back. If I didn’t have my friends from day one, there’s no way I would have played college sports. So again, I’d say lean on other people but also make sure you’re offering a hand because you’re not going to be the last person to have Diabetes. Someone’s going to be diagnosed and they’re going to need help and support. I’m curious though, what about you man? Are there any words of advice or wisdom that you can give me? I know I’m at least twice your age, and it sounds like you’ve gone through the wringer as well. Anything you want to share to help me out or help out the rest of the community?
Aaron: Well, you’ve really been an inspiration to me for a while, and like you said, it’s great to know that there’s someone out there that has faced the things that I’ve been through. A lot of the things, in fact, almost all of the things that you mentioned, I’ve been through. That’s one of the reasons I’ve wanted to do this, because it’s great to know that someone out there has gone through the same things, and succeeded.
Chris: I love that you’re doing this man, this is really cool and I appreciate you making the time for me.
Aaron: Of course, thank you again. Thanks so much, you’re awesome.