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Team Type 1 Elite, Embracing Dreams

September 23, 2011

When it comes to reaching for our dreams, we’re often our own worst enemies. We allow obstacles beyond our control as well as those we create ourselves to hold us back. Last night in Denver I met four athletes who embody the opposite mentality. Each has type 1 diabetes. All of them have discovered how to soar with a diagnosis that many define as life-limiting.

The four Team Type 1 Elite athletes – Kerry White, Dan Schneider, Dan Cunkelman, and Dustin Folger – exchanged stories and insights into living and competing with diabetes in the company of about thirty people at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. All cyclists, they race in different types of events. The audience included teens and adults who compete or aspire to compete in cycling, triathlon, and running events, many diagnosed with diabetes. They received detailed answers from the athletes to questions about what to eat and when during a race and for recovery.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million Americans have diabetes, and this includes 7 million who don’t know they have the disease. Five percent of those with diabetes have type 1; others have type 2. People with type 1 do not produce any insulin. Left unmanaged, diabetes can result in neurological, cardiovascular, ocular, and renal dysfunction, even death.

“I’ve done everything I shouldn’t do,” Kerry White said, while describing her efforts to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. White and four other women started the solo Ride Across America in 2007. Imagine pedaling a bike 3,000 miles in 13 days. Kerry covered that distance on a sleep schedule that began as four hours a day and dwindled to five power naps lasting ten minutes each in the last few days. Even when it became clear she would be classified as DNF for not making the time cut-off, she rode on. She was the only woman in the solo category that finished the entire race.

Dan Cunkelman, Kerry White, Dustin Folger, Dan Schneider (l to r), Team Type 1 Elite Athletes (Mary Topping)

My respect and awe for these athletes peaked as Kerry, Dan, Dustin, and Dan explained that physical effort and the stress of competition can wreak havoc on blood sugar – and hence performance – for people with diabetes. The effect as well as methods to address this physiological response varies by individual and even type of competition for an individual. Kerry outlined years of trial and error to arrive at the combination of nutrition, insulin, and exercise that works best for her as an endurance athlete.

The passion and honesty of these four athletes infused the audience facing them with something beyond hope. It was confidence. Confidence in the ability to find personal solutions to live and compete optimally. Kerry, Dan, Dustin, and Dan are outstanding examples of doing the best you can with what you’ve got. They also epitomize the mission of Team Type 1: instill hope and inspiration for people around the world affected by diabetes.

At the end of the evening’s session, I asked Kerry if having type 1 diabetes made it harder to be a successful athlete. She thought for a minute. “Maybe if I didn’t spend time testing and monitoring during [the 2007] RAAM,” she said, “I might have made the time cut-off. But who knows.” She thinks it’s an advantage because her understanding of her body and what she needs nutritionally to excel in endurance competitions gives her an edge.

Dan Schneider, who recently won at Starcrossed, responded to the same question. “There are things I can’t do. Like walk into the woods for two weeks with a backpack,” he said. “But I don’t feel held back. After competing, I don’t think about the fact that I had diabetes and I did this. I just think, ‘I did it.’”

Below, find more on this foursome, Team Type 1, and diabetes.

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Dan Schneider, up close and personal:

Dan Schneider's Proud New Arm Expression (Mary Topping)

Dan Schneider's Above the Sock-line Bike (Mary Topping)

Phil Southerland, CEO and Founder of Team Type 1

Phil recently authored a book about his passion for cycling and his life-affirming experience with type 1 diabetes, Not Dead Yet.

About Team Type 1

Team Type 1, a world class athletic program that includes professional, development, and elite athletes in cycling, triathlon, and running, started when Phil Southerland met Joe Eldridge at a bike race. Both took insulin before the race. As their friendship grew, so did Southerland’s belief that anyone can be a competitive athlete when they manage their diabetes successfully. Their passion grew into founding Team Type 1 in 2004 to compete in the 2005 Race Across America. Today 115 athletes compete under Team Type 1.  Team Type 1 also participates in research related to diabetes and exercise.

Team Type 1’s mission: “We strive to instill hope and inspiration for people around the world affected by diabetes. With the appropriate diet, exercise, treatment, and technology we believe anyone with diabetes can achieve their dreams.”

Find profiles on Kerry White, Dan Schneider, Dan Cunkelman, and Dustin Folger, members of the Team Type 1 Elite Team, here.  Each member of the Elite Team lives with type 1 diabetes.

About Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When you eat food, the body breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can lead to diabetes complications.

You can take a less than one minute survey to see if you are at risk for diabetes. Go ahead, be a hero.

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