It was early March, and another high-intensity day at spring training for the New York Mets®. Cory Vaughn, a fast-running, hard-hitting outfielder and 4th round draft pick for the Mets, was making his bid to join the team on the field in the “big show” – Major League Baseball®. Vaughn paused to take out his cell phone, dialed and spoke to a fifteen-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 helping him out.
Vaughn, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age eleven, later explained, “I’ve been there… if a pro athlete with diabetes had called me when I was diagnosed, it would have made all the difference. 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.”
Such are the dual goals of Vaughn. Now playing Minor League Baseball® for the Binghamton Mets®, Vaughn wants to be the best ballplayer he can be, and to be the best advocate to the diabetes world as he can be.
The baseball goals came more naturally to Vaughn. 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. In fact, he was already making an impression as an athlete when his diagnosis hit. And when diabetes entered his life, he thought his baseball dreams might be over.
“I’d lost about twenty pounds in a really short period of time. And I was weak,” he says. “I was always a pretty fast kid; most of my friends could not beat me.” When those friends came to visit him in the hospital, as typical boys, they decided to hold some short sprint races in the hall. For the first time, his friends all beat him.
That left the always-fast Vaughn in shock. “I was like: uh-oh, baseball’s a wrap. You better hit the books hard.”
Luckily, Vaughn’s diabetes care team and his parents (his dad, then an active player, flew home and stayed by his side 24/7, for the entire hospital stay) promised they’d help him find a way to do all he could in his new life with diabetes.
And he has. Vaughn remembers his formative baseball years – from twelve to about twenty – as being a challenging time in his life with diabetes. With growth spurts, hormones and the sometimes-crazy appetite a teen can have, there was no “set it and forget it” plan for baseball days. Instead, he says, there was something perhaps more valuable: learning how to adapt to the ebbs and flows of an athletic life with diabetes.
“There was a lot of almost constant ‘figuring out,’” says Vaughn. “Figuring out where I’d want to be [with blood sugar level] to start a game; of what and how much I might want to eat. There were times when it worked great for me to be [at] 130 [blood sugar level] when I got out there, and there were times it was better for me to be 180. I had to do a lot of tinkering.”
Today, as a part of the Mets organization, it’s more of the same. Vaughn uses an insulin pump and wears it on his right side when playing; he is always careful to slide into base on his non-pump side. “It’s so hard to tinker with my basal rates,” Vaughn says. “Every day and every game can be different, so I really cannot play with those basals as much.” Instead, he tends to focus on food and insulin, trying to get to a place he feels will work well that day on the field. To his credit, he says he has yet to have a low or high blood sugar level affect his play on the field, and he hopes never to.
The hardest challenge? Reining in the corrective eating when he begins to go low.
“Everyone living with diabetes knows you want to eat an entire kitchen when you go low,” he says. “And I’m a big guy. I look at a little juice box and I think: Come on, that’s not going to be enough for me.” But in reality and through learning, he has found that just a bit more than that juice box – and not the entire kitchen – usually works well for him.
While Vaughn, who turns 25 on May 1, is living the life of a young pro athlete, he does still have one key advisor who has been there from the start: his mom.
“To this day, when we go out to dinner, she has to say ‘did you bolus? Do you know how many carbs that is?’ And I’m like, ‘Mom. I’m a grown man.’ She checks on me like that in a lot of ways. It can be annoying, but I know she does it with all the love in her heart.”
Vaughn hopes to be called up to the majors this year, but that’s not his sole goal.
“I want to be the best player I can be,” he says. “And I want to spread awareness about diabetes, too. One of my main objectives is to get out in the community and spread awareness.” During spring training, he insisted on finding time to visit local hospitals and meet with kids living with diabetes, another step toward that dual goal.
His advice for all those who live with diabetes? Vaughn’s message is simple: “Just remember, 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.”
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.
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© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience