Sports nutrition has always been a passion of mine. In order to gain expertise into the fascinating world of exercise and sports, I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Applied Physiology and Nutrition from Columbia University in New York (way back in the 1980s). Much of my practice over the past few decades continues to be devoted to working with athletes of all levels. I’m honored to help share my knowledge with athletes who participate both at the recreational, and competitive levels, and have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
Among the most rewarding experiences of my career was working as a nutritionist (for two seasons), with elite runners (potential Olympians, teenagers who were ranked at the 10% of track and field athletes in the United States) at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York. My friend and colleague, Tracy Stopler, and I were responsible for conducting comprehensive nutritional assessments on all the athletes, and presenting nutrition information sessions and lectures to the athletes and coaches. Nutritional support to athletes and coaches at this level of competition is paramount to each athlete’s success. How an athlete views food, both on and off the field, can be the difference between a gold medal and no medal at all. In track and field, 1/100th of a second can determine whether or not your reach the podium. Keeping the psychological aspects of winning in mind when discussing proper nutrition is a key element, especially when most athletes at this level would do just about anything to win a race or a competition. I was humbled by this unique and life changing experience working with these dedicated young people.
Living life successfully with any form of diabetes requires a unique dedication and commitment, much like an aspiring Olympian. There are so many things that are demanded of an individual living with a chronic illness like diabetes. I had the pleasure of recently being connected with a young woman who, although is not going for the gold in Rio, is dominating the diabetes management game in her own life. Brittany Gilleland is an example of a young woman who is rising to the challenge of not only looking after her diabetes, but is also running a household, pursuing higher education, and has a steadfast commitment to advocacy, awareness, and understanding through her blog, The Diabetic Journey. Recognizing that there are so many similarities, I asked Brittany to share how she feels she as a person living with Type 1 diabetes can be compared to someone competing at the very highest level, the Olympics.
I’d like to think being diabetic is similar to being an athlete in ways. Sure, I may not win medals or have awards to present, but, I’ve put in over a decade of endless work to just simply stay alive. My competition lies within myself to succeed. I never bask in the glory of the daily tasks I’m able to accomplish with being a Type 1 diabetic. But when I take a look around me, I’m in awe of how far I’ve come, and see living proof of achievement.
If you were to tell me years ago that I would be where I am today, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m a wife, a mother, I’m furthering my education, and I’m inspiring those that have diabetes with my blog. I’ve taken diabetes, which I originally thought was my weakness, and turned it into my strength. Everything that I’ve dealt with, all my experiences, the obstacles I’ve overcome, have led me into where I was meant to be and I’m stronger than ever.
I’m the star player and managing diabetes is my playing field. Some days I feel like a winner, while other days I take some losses. Being everything to everyone is overwhelming, but, I’ve learned to just give it my all today and leave the rest until tomorrow. I’ve also learned to listen to my body, for nobody knows me better than myself. Being in tune with my body and my needs, allows me to perform at my best. My team, which is my family, needs me, and that’s what keeps me going. Just as much as they need me, I need them as well.
Believe me, I have days where nothing goes right, my blood sugars are not where I want them to be. I feel fatigued, frustrated, and my spirits are low. Those are the times when all I want to do is sit the bench. I want to take a time out. That’s when I have to take a moment to breath, and realize diabetes is a marathon not a sprint. I would be lying if I said I had it together all the time. But I continue to push forward despite my fears and doubts. I get back up, brush myself off, and I keep going.
Others may not be able to tell physically that I am strong and fight an endless battle. I look like everyone else, I live and breathe the same air, and do things just like everyone else. But psychologically, my mind is conditioned and I’m self-disciplined. Everything I do has a plan of and course of action. I continue to persevere through all setbacks and failures and come out even stronger. My husband and children are my biggest fans and I couldn’t do it without them. All the victory’s and achievements thus far are a reflection of true championship against this disease. That there are no limitations, except the ones placed on one’s’ self.
Being a diabetic has challenged me in more ways than I could imagine. It’s conditioned my mind, in order for my body to reciprocate. My life is all about consistency. Every day is having the same goals in mind, but in this Olympic game there is no finish line, there is no end. I’ve opened myself up to others with my diabetes blog, to show the real life of living with diabetes and what it’s like. I say what others are thinking or feeling, the good and the bad, and I relate to others in that way. I’ve left myself vulnerable to be judged or scrutinized for how I manage my diabetes or the mistakes I’ve made along the way. I don’t portray myself as perfection or a competitor to other diabetics. I want for those to find their strength within their weaknesses. To know they are not alone, and that they have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of their life.
This fight may not be over today or tomorrow, but rest assured that we’re winning every day.
To read more from Brittany, please visit her blog, The Diabetic Journey.