When it came to looking fear in the face, Jody Barton had it down. As a long-time member of the elite US Women’s Skeleton Team, she was used to careening down a steep sheet of ice at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. The only thing between her and that ice was a small, thin sled.
But one of the most challenging moments in Barton’s life came not on a sled or on ice, but in an emergency room, when she received a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in 2009 at the age of 32.
“I was dumbfounded,” said Barton. “I had no family history; I knew no friends with it. Never in a million years did I think it was something I could get.” Barton, who had been training for something called the “Lost Lake Run” in her home state of Alaska, wondered if she could still train for and participate in the kind of extreme events she’d come to enjoy.
But remember, Barton was willing to fly at 80 miles per hour for glory. She was not a woman who would sit long in pity. “I felt sorry for myself for about a day,” she said. And after that day, she found a great tool: Friends who cared.
“My friends got busy researching for me and figuring out how I could do the things I love,” she said. “They said – okay, this race is a month away. Let’s figure this out.”
The race would mean running for many miles, often alone, on challenging, wintery trails. Some races would mean swimming a full mile in cold water. But her friends went at it – helping her try different meals, meeting her at mile markers and checking her blood sugar and tracking how she was trending, figuring it all out.
One month after her diagnosis day, Barton did the almost 16-mile race. And beat her best time ever. That, she said, was when she realized something about living with diabetes: that there might even be some benefits. “I understand how my body works so much better now. I am so in tune with how to take care of myself and how to treat my body to do all the things I like to do,” she said.
One thing she realized early on was that, for her, a leaner body seemed to be more responsive to insulin. That inspired her to train with weights, which led her to her newest love: competitive bodybuilding. Already, she’s won regional bodybuilding competitions, and has her eye on the National Physique Committee (NPC) Washington Ironman this October.
But, she said, with diabetes on board now, it’s about much more than winning.
“Before diabetes I was trying to do my best, and I wanted to win,” she said. “Now, every time I go out, for anything I am doing – a triathlon, a trail race, body building – if I don’t win, I’m not dissatisfied.” She said she just wants to do her absolute best. “If I walk away knowing I did that, I feel great.”
She also has another tool – a great diabetes care team. “My endo is great,” she said. “I can fax her, send her emails, ask her for input. She helps me make adjustments based on what my goals are. Sometimes it’s the littlest thing that I don’t see that she does. And it always helps. I’m so thankful to have her.”
Barton is serving as an ambassador for the American Diabetes Association, and plans on continuing her rugged Alaska events as well as bodybuilding.
Just like careening down an ice track, she knows, with the right tools, education, support and yes, guts – you can do anything with diabetes on board.
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.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience