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Hannah Vester Swims the Distance

A college athlete living with T1 thrives in the pool

In a physically demanding sport where a hundredth of a second can be the difference between glory and defeat, one might think a diabetes diagnosis would put a damper on one’s dream of success.

Not in Hannah Vester’s case. The NCAA swimmer at William and Mary was smacked with a type 1 diagnosis in the middle of her high school swimming career, at the point she was pushing hard to get noticed by colleges.  But in her hospital bed on a fall Monday morning, she laid it out for the medical team. “I said, ‘I have a meet on Friday. It’s the conference championships and it’s important. Can I do this?’” Their response, according to Vester: “Definitely.”

Hannah Vester living with type 1 diabetes
Swimmer Hannah Vester

From that first intense meet to her daily grueling workouts three years later, Vester has made a job of figuring out how to be a champion with diabetes on board.

But it did not – and does not – come easy, she said. “It really took me until my freshman year in college to really figure it out,” she said. “And even now, it involves a lot of thought and a lot of work.” As well as a team approach.

“From the start, my mom was the queen of the log book,” she said of her determined mother, Petra. “She wrote down everything – I mean everything – so we could study each race and figure out what impacts what and what works for me and does not. I would hold my phone on the [pool] deck and text her numbers as well as how I was feeling.” Vester and her mom studied it all, along with times, and worked toward her own personal plan.

Since Vester swims distance, her time in the pool is more than a quick jolt of adrenaline and effort. It’s a long, steady endurance pace that would be challenging for anyone. What she has found that works for her, she said, is proof that every person with diabetes has his or her own unique way.

“Basically, adrenaline makes my blood sugar go up no matter what I do,” she said.

“And I don’t swim as well with a higher blood sugar. So I like to start a race off at about 90, with a goal of ending at about 150.”

Today, in her junior year, she’s thriving in the pool and in the classroom. A biology and chemistry major, she has her sites on medical school. And in three years of NCAA swimming, diabetes has never cost her a millisecond. “My coaches and teammates are on board and help me so much” she said.

She’s also become an advocate, reaching out to younger athletes and helping them figure out the nuances of their sport, and participating annually in the one-day, 100-mile JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes, where she is a top fundraiser.

Her advice to anyone looking to excel in life with diabetes on board?

“Always keep a positive attitude. Don’t count anything out. It might take some work, but you can be who you want to be and achieve what you dream. I was lucky,” she added. “My parents were a big part of me knowing that. They never told me there was anything I could not do because of diabetes. And here I am. I think that’s the best lesson a kid can get.”

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, McCarthy has appeared on CNN LiveGood 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 ParentsMcCarthy 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.


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