The boys of summer – that is, big-league ballplayers – will be celebrated this week at the annual All-Star Game festivities. Here is another roster of inspiring all-stars: athletes living with diabetes who performed at the top of their game.
They talk in their own words about playing big-league baseball while living with type 1 diabetes, their diabetes advocacy efforts and how they are working to inspire a new generation of young athletes.
At a recent spring training, Cory Vaughn, a hard-hitting outfielder and 4th round draft pick, showed off his skills on the field before pausing to take out his cell phone and speak to a 15-year-old boy on the other end of the line. That boy had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and Vaughn knew in that moment nothing was more important than sharing some inspiration.
Vaughn, himself diagnosed with T1 at age 11, later explained, “I had to do this for that kid, I let him know that I believe he’s going to be fine. He’s going to live a full life. … If a pro athlete with diabetes had called me when I was diagnosed, it would have made all the difference.”
As the son of MLB® star Greg Vaughn and nephew of former MLB first baseman Mo Vaughn, one might say Cory was born to play ball. “I want to be the best player I can be,” he said. “And I want to spread awareness about diabetes, too,”
His advice? “Like anyone with diabetes: I’m not perfect. I know I come off as this person who never goes high or low, but I’m not that person. Each body is different and each day is, too. With diabetes, you can only do the best you can do. And that’s just what I do.”
Baseball fans call him “Superman.” Oakland Athletics® outfielder Sam Fuld developed a nearly cult-like following for his seemingly impossible runs, stretches, leaps and catches. But another set of fans, those whose lives are touched by diabetes, continue to think of him as Superman in a different way.
Fuld, who was diagnosed with T1 at age 10, established an annual camp in 2012 for kids living with diabetes. Baseball, basketball, football and other sports drills take place alongside regular blood glucose tests for kids and their coaches, who also live with T1.
“Camp is just outstanding,” said Fuld. “It’s such a fulfilling experience for me. Honestly, I get more than I give. The kids don’t need to say anything about what it does for them; I can see it in their faces.”
As for why he has taken the time to inspire a younger generation of kids living with diabetes, he said, “I was surrounded by support all my life. My parents are wonderful; my coaches all got it; my friends understood and supported me. But there is just something about being around people living with diabetes who are doing what you want to do. It’s a whole new level of support.”
When 6-foot-6 outfielder Michael Taylor was diagnosed with T1, his first thought wasn’t that he might not be able to catch fly balls, take batting practice or realize his major-league dreams.
“The first thing that came to my mind was whether I’d be able to go trick-or-treating,” said Taylor, who was also diagnosed at age 10. “All of my teenage and young adult experiences have come as a person living with diabetes. So it’s always been part of my routine [as a baseball player] and my regimen.”
Taylor’s long experience living with diabetes honed not just his testing and management routine, but his confidence about himself – and his confidence in speaking up when he’s not feeling right.
“A lot of people living with diabetes don’t want to be seen as different – they don’t want to sit out of a drill or an exercise to check their blood sugar. But in my experience it’s not something to play around with,” he said.
His advice to young athletes who have been diagnosed? Speak up. “Alert your coaches, and let them know. You have to be grown-up enough to say, ‘I’m going to sit out for fifteen minutes so I can perform at a level that feels good for me.’”
Pitcher Brandon Morrow, who was diagnosed with diabetes in his senior year of high school, was already well on the path to his goal of playing in the majors. Having just committed to play at the University of California Berkeley, he decided not to let the diagnosis derail his dream. He worked at learning the details of what he needed to know to play well with diabetes on board.
“I know almost to the minute what I’ll be doing and what I need to do,” he explained. “So I’m always ahead of things and always prepared.”
He also hopes to serve as a role model to kids living with diabetes who dream of being athletes. “With good management, diabetes should never stop you from doing anything. I know parents worry, but they should know too: their kids can do this. I did. And I am. The work I put in towards it is worth it. It really is.”
In 2011, Ron Santo, the former Chicago Cubs® third baseman who lived with type 1 diabetes, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame®. In addition to the baseball legacy he left behind, Ron also raised millions of dollars for diabetes awareness and research. Ron’s son, filmmaker Jeff Santo, shared memories of his father, who played from 1960 to 1974.
If there was one thing that Jeff remembered most about his dad, it would be his courage. “We saw what he fought through, how he stayed positive and his ongoing desire to keep telling his story to those living with diabetes. He showed people what could be done while living with diabetes. To play Major League Baseball® and have a Hall of Fame career while living with diabetes during that time period – it’s pretty amazing.”
August 28, 1971, is remembered as Ron Santo Day. “That was the day that my father revealed he had diabetes at Wrigley Field,” explained Jeff. “That was the start of him becoming a spokesman for diabetes. After that he became heavily involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which was the only research and fundraising organization for people with diabetes at the time. My dad helped start an annual fundraising walk in Chicago, the Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes, to benefit JDRF.”
As for Ron’s induction into the National Hall of Fame? “He didn’t win a World Series® or play in playoff games, but he deserved to be a part of the Hall of Fame because he was captain of the team and his stats showed it,” Jeff said.
“I know he was acknowledged by Chicago and he cherished that. People are now getting a chance to look into who he was and what he accomplished. The more his story gets out, the more it can do to help diabetes awareness and education.”
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Cory Vaughn, Sam Fuld, Michael Taylor and Brandon Morrow received no compensation for their interviews on The DX; Jeff Santo and Michele Vaughn received no compensation for their interviews on Discuss Diabetes. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
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© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience