Olympians Face Health Problems Too, Even Diabetes

Written By: Basia Cybart

Not all athletes are the picture of health, even the elite of the elite, Olympians, contract diseases such as celiac’s disease (Jenn Suhr –Pole Vault), crohn’s disease (Carrie Johnston – Swimmer), asthma (Paula Radcliffe – Marathon), and HIV/AIDS (Magic Johnson – Basketball). Amongst those diseases, several Olympians were also affected by diabetes. But wait, isn’t diabetes a disease which only affects the obese and elderly? So how can young, healthy athletes have diabetes?

Diabetes has been falsely advertised for some time. It is a disorder which arises when the body is unable to regulate glucose levels in the blood. There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. The two types which concern athletes are: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease, where the person’s immune system destroys its own insulin-producing Beta cells in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes develops later in life when Beta cells do not produce sufficient levels of insulin or when cells become insulin resistant. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics have competed in the Olympics.

One of these extraordinary diabetics is Gary Hall, Jr. Gary Hall Jr. was an Olympic swimmer who won 5 gold and a total of 10 medals from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics to the 2004 Athens Olympics. What is even more incredible is that 8 of his medals, 3 of them gold medals were won after he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Another diabetic Olympian is Bob Beamon. Bob Beamon is responsible for one of the 5 greatest sports moments of the 20th century, according to Sports Illustrated. He set a world record in the long jump, 29-ft.21/inch., at the Mexico Olympics in 1968, which remained unbroken for 22 years and 316 days. He was also the first athlete to surpass both 28-ft. and 29ft.

“Britain’s Ultimate Olympian” is also a diabetic. Sir Steve Redgrave is won gold medals in 5 consecutive Olympic Games (1984-2000). Sir Steve Redgrave was diagnosed with diabetes in 1997 but was able to compete in and win a gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

In the year 2000, Kris Freeman was diagnosed with diabetes.  Kris represented the United States at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 2002 helping the US team to their best ever win. Kris also represented the US in the 2006 Turin Olympics.

These athletes have accomplished their feats by not allowing their diabetes to dictate what they could and could not accomplish. They also had to adhere to a strict dietary and testing regimen developed by medical professionals. This regimen would have likely included a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, carbohydrate consumption during prolonged exercise (30-60 grams per hour), adequate fluid intake, and glucose monitoring before, after, and several times when exercising.

The ban on insulin by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) can’t even stop diabetics from competing as they can obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to take insulin and still legally compete. A TUE has to be completed and signed by both the athlete and a physician and returned to the relevant governing body. Every obstacle has been surmounted, and the way has been paved by several Olympians already so, if you have diabetes and dream of becoming an Olympian nothing can stop this dream from becoming a reality.

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