It’s cold on the ice but Alex Carlson’s focus is point one. She’s just pushed a “stone” (the granite device thrown by curlers during the game) out toward the “house” (the three concentric circles where points are scored), and as part of the United States women’s curling team, she’s willing it to land on target.
But there’s something else Carlson is pinpoint focused on while out there competing for the nation; something that the spectators, who are more and more interested in the burgeoning sport, cannot see: she’s focused on her blood sugar levels.
Carlson was diagnosed with type 1 as a young child, so diabetes has been with her for her entire curling career. Well, almost all of it. “I was kind of born into curling,” says Carlson, now 26. She shares a love of competing in the sport with her siblings, parents and grandparents.
Carlson has had many years to figure out the impact of diabetes on her competitive edge and what to do to make it work out there on the ice. For her, tight management during events is a must.
“One of the first things to impact me when my blood sugar fluctuates is my eyesight,” says Carlson, who works as a medical device engineer. “And believe me, you need to be able to see well on ice.”
Carlson says she wants not only to feel good out there, but also to know that things are going to stay okay while she is competing.
“The thing about curling is every single game is different,” she elaborates, “and you never know until you are out there what it is going to be. Sometimes it is hard work and sometimes not. Sometimes it surges your adrenaline, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you have to just take what you know and use it to venture a guess and then hope it turns out right.”
If that sounds like a metaphor for life with diabetes in general, that is not lost on her. “The thing about diabetes is,” she explains, “as much as you focus on it and work on it, sometimes you just never know.”
While she does not eat the exact same meal before every event, she does eat healthfully, she says, and pays attention to what she puts in her body.
And she walks on the ice totally prepared. “I have a stash of stuff out there. My meter, strips, fruit strips and fruit leather are a must,” she says. She also realized early on that some glucose choices freeze and get nearly uneatable while on ice. “I’m now a big fan of the Honey Stinger® gels,” she says. “They don’t taste gross, and best: they don’t freeze.” Fruit snacks and some types of candies? “Try eating them frozen when you are low. Nope.”
She also added a new tool to her competition and life: a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). “It’s made a huge difference,” she says. “I can be more proactive even with the unknown of the game ahead of me.”
Carlson is currently competing with a huge goal: to make the Pyeongchang 2018 games in South Korea. Since curling is still evolving at that level, the path to her goal is an ever-moving target.
Carlson is thankful her parents never held her back from any of her dreams as a child growing up with diabetes.
“They always just let me do what I wanted to do. I was never once told ‘don’t’ because of diabetes. They showed me I could do anything, and taught me that it just takes preparation, that’s all. Sure, I’ve had some adventures along the way, but I learned I can choose any goal and focus on it.” Just like the house that curlers aim for in competition.
Carlson hopes to show the world in 2018 that a person with diabetes can slide along just fine – all the way to a gold medal.
Moira McCarthy is an acclaimed writer, author and public speaker who has shared her story – and lessons – on raising a child living with type 1 diabetes in the media, through books and on her popular blog, despitediabetes.com. McCarthy has appeared on CNN Live, Good Morning America and Fox News. She was recently recognized as the JDRF International Volunteer of the Year. Her six books include the top-selling The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Juvenile Diabetes and her latest Raising Teens with Diabetes: A Survival Guide for Parents. McCarthy is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience