Team Novo Nordisk

(Cyclist Stephen Clancy. Image copyright of VeloImages, courtesy of Team Novo Nordisk.)

I am a runner, and every four years I get reinspired about running when I watch the Olympics. The athlete’s bodies are a marvel, and the way they run or swim or dive is a thing of beauty. So this week, in the spirit of the Olympics, I’ve decided to write about athletes with diabetes. People who push their bodies to perform at a professional level. The perfect place to begin is Team Novo Nordisk (formerly Team Type 1), an organization whose mission is “to inspire, educate, and empower people around the world affected by diabetes.”

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Team Novo Nordisk is a “global all-diabetes sports team of cyclists, triathletes, and runners, spearheaded by the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team.” Let’s stop for a minute a reread that phrase: “the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team.” How cool is that? Try to imagine yourself on a bicycle racing among a group of people who also have diabetes. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that. When I run, I run alone. I run with a pack of glucose tabs in my pocket, and on long runs, I carry my meter. What would it be like if I was running in a group of people who had diabetes? Runners who would have to stop and test their blood sugar or swallow a few glucose tabs just like me? It would be weird and it would also be amazing. It would definitely help me feel less alone in my pursuit to be a healthy woman with diabetes.

One of the men who came up with the concept of connecting athletes with diabetes is Phil Southerland, author of the memoir Not Dead Yet: My Race Against Disease: From Diagnosis to Dominance. Southerland and fellow cyclist Joe Eldridge created Team Type 1 and assembled a group of cyclists to race in the 3,000-plus-mile Race Across America and raise diabetes awareness. The team won the event in 2007, 2009, and 2010 and became a destination for top athletes with diabetes. After several years Southerland partnered with Novo Nordisk, and today the team competes around the world. I spoke with Justine Bode Lyons, RN, CDE, with Team Novo Nordisk, who said every rider on the team wears a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that can be easily accessed during the race. “The medical staff uses a holistic approach to monitor the individual riders throughout the race because ‘what works for one might not work for another.'”

I also had the opportunity to talk to Irish cyclist Stephen Clancy, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2011. He was 19 years old at the time and an amateur cyclist with a team in Ireland when he started feeling sick and losing weight. He had all the telltale signs of diabetes and was devastated when the doctors told him that he wouldn’t be able to race more than a mile at a time with diabetes. “They told me I would have to give up my dream.” Clancy remembered seeing Team Novo Nordisk on TV, and soon after his diagnosis, he joined up with their Development Team. (According to the Team Novo Nordisk website, the Development Team, part of the talent “pipeline” program, “train and race with diabetes around the globe, aiming to one day reach the ranks of the Pro Cycling Team.”) Within six months, he signed a contract with the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team

Clancy is now in his fourth year cycling with the professional team, and when I talked with him he was in the middle of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah race. The race was especially challenging because temperatures hovered at 100 degrees, but when I talked to Clancy he was in great spirits and riding strong. He said cycling is one of the hardest sports because sessions can last up to six hours in varied climates and altitudes, with nonstop travel. “It’s quite demanding on the body.” Yet race after race he continues to prove his doctors wrong. As the Olympics move into the second half at Rio, Stephen Clancy and the rest of Team Novo Nordisk prepare for September races in Italy and China where they continue to demonstrate that diabetes won’t stop you from pursuing your dream.

How are snoring and diabetes related? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to find out from nurse David Spero.