Diabetes. Nearly 24 million Americans have it. A quarter of them don’t even know it. If it is ignored, diabetes can be serious. Very serious. Kris Freeman knows just how serious.
An incredible athlete, an Olympian cross-country skier, Freeman took excellent care of himself and was in top shape. In fact, the Andover, New Hampshire native is believed to be the first athlete with Type 1 diabetes to compete in an Olympics endurance event and was a favorite to win a grueling 30- kilometer race. During that race at the 2010 games in Vancouver, Freeman started out strong. In fact he was in the lead pack of twenty cross-country skiers when his blood sugar literally crashed. Freeman was on the fourth lap and when he knew something was wrong, terribly wrong. His blood sugar had dipped so low that he couldn’t continue. Freeman told Sports Illustrated, “I got a twinge that something was wrong, and then a few minutes later I came to a standstill and went to the side of the trail.” Freeman adds that he cried out for someone to give him sugar to help. One of the coaches in the crowd, a man from Germany, realized what was happening to Freeman and rushed to his aid armed with a Powerade and an energy gel. Slowly Freeman began to recover and his energy level started to rise. He knew his chances of finishing among the elite cross-country skiers were over and, for a moment, he considered walking back to the finish line. But Freeman was resilient and hadn’t trained as hard as he did to just give up. He told a reporter with ESPN, “I’ve been gearing toward this for four years and in my worst nightmares I couldn’t imagine these races going any worse. It was just all of a sudden lights out, all of a sudden my body wasn’t working. I thought that was going to be it. If the coach hadn’t come up and given me some sugar, I would have had to walk back to the finish line.” Instead, the sugar allowed him to get his legs moving again and Freeman cross-country skied the rest of the 30 -kilometers. And while he didn’t even finish among the top forty cross-country skiers, the fact that Freeman didn’t give up, that he did finish the race was proof that he had what it takes to be a winner.
Kris Freeman learned an invaluable lesson that day. As a cross-country skier with diabetes, he knew the insulin rate he had calculated had been too high, which is why he had low blood sugar. In an interview with the media outlet Diabetes Health, Freeman explained his condition as he races, “A normal blood sugar level ranges from 70-120 in a non-diabetic athlete. From my own testing I have found that I have no ill effects from my blood sugar from about 70-200 so I try to keep it in that range. If my blood sugar gets much over 200 my lactate levels actually start to increase with the higher blood sugar. The range I have to keep it in is 70-200. That is not that big of a window in reality.”
While Freeman’s blood sugar of 200 during a race seems high, it is acceptable for him because he is able to burn off the sugar so rapidly. When he is not racing, he keeps his blood sugar in tighter control. There are many people with diabetes, like Freeman, who refuse to allow diabetes to destroy their lives. They face many of the same challenges: they must eat healthy foods, exercise, reduce stress, and check their blood glucose levels. And while they try to strike a perfect balance with their medication, they realize there will be days when their blood sugar is variable, despite their best efforts.
Family Practice physician Jeff Maher agrees it can be a very difficult tightrope for many. “We need balance to lead healthy lives. But something like diabetes throws the body completely out of balance. It is not just metabolic. People with diabetes must change the way they eat, exercise and live their lives.” The Parkview Adventist Medical Center physician says that when that recipe is perfected, “the results are amazing. Patients lead more balanced lives. I’ve seen some dramatic improvements!”
Chris Sherrer of Brunswick is that kind of patient. He discovered he had diabetes in the spring of 2010. “I was devastated and didn’t know what it all meant. That’s when Dr. Maher told me about the Living with Diabetes Program at Parkview.” A Certified Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietitian worked directly with Sherrer to develop “parameters for me, teaching me how to cut down on sweets, eat better and to get more exercise. I feel back in control.” The Living with Diabetes Program has instructors who understand how confusing and overwhelming diabetes can be. They have developed individual programs to help people with diabetes manage their way to better health by zeroing in on the WHOLE person: mind, body and spirit.
And, as both Freeman and Sherrer have demonstrated, people who have control of diabetes have the persistence to go on with their care. Control gives them the courage to face every day, as a new day, filled with hope that even unknown hurdles and challenges can be conquered. Freeman summed it up in his interview with Sports Illustrated, “I want to show the country how I can ski, and more than anything, I want to show the diabetes community what’s possible.”
The Living with Diabetes Program is currently accepting patients. For information, call Alice Willard-Michaels, RN, and Certified Diabetes Educator at (207) 373-2214.