I don’t know about you, but having watched some of the U.S. trials coverage, I’m officially excited about the upcoming Summer Olympics in London. Regardless of whether your favorite sport to watch is swimming, cycling, gymnastics or track and field, this sports extravaganza offers something for everyone. I love to watch the U.S. athletes represent our country competing in sports in which they excel.
And because the Olympics are drawing near, I thought it would be a fun idea to chat with someone who is very familiar with competing at an Olympic-level. Missy Foy is an Olympic Marathon Trial qualifier and ultra distance runner living with type 1 diabetes and she was gracious enough to share her story and the inspiration that helps her continually find ways to push her body to perform better. Whether it’s her training regiment, nutrition plan or even different coaches, she’s always looking for ways to make it to the finish line faster.
Finding Her Passion
Missy has been running for much of her life. When she was ten, she was hit by a car while riding her bicycle and the bike was ruined. Since her parents couldn’t afford to buy her a new one, and all her friends were riding bikes, she ran everywhere for two years just to keep up.
The possibility of a career as a professional runner, however, didn’t evolve until she took a job at Duke University after finishing her master’s degree at the University of North Carolina. “I didn’t realize that I had any talent for running until the coach at Duke, Norm Ogilvie, offered to train me. The first time we met to do a workout on the track, I had no idea about the measured distances on a track. Norm tried to explain how I was supposed to run and finally he just told me to start running and when I reached the far side of the track he would yell faster or slower.”
Missy’s natural talent, combined with Norm’s coaching, led her to win local races and qualify for her first national championship. To drive her new passion to the next level, she eventually changed coaches and began working with Jim Husk.
A Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis
At the age of 33, Missy faced a pretty big hurdle. “I had just finished a hard run with two of my training partners and I felt tired and sick. It was hot out, so I decided that I was probably dehydrated. I grabbed some extra water and headed home. By the time my husband got home that evening, I was laying on the bathroom floor, so sick that I couldn’t even get up. I went back and forth for a few days between feeling a little better and then back to really sick.”
Missy and her husband grew concerned when her health didn’t improve over the next few days. “We finally went to the emergency room and they ran standard blood tests and my blood sugar came back at nearly 600, even though I had not eaten in days because of being sick. A re-check on a meter confirmed the high blood sugar.”
When asked how she responded to the diagnosis, Missy shared, “I was devastated. The doctors told me that I may not be able to run once I started insulin. I was crushed.”
For the next few weeks, she worked to learn as much as possible, but met resistance from various people. “I became frustrated and angry because I couldn’t find anyone to ask for help and everyone kept telling me that I had to give up a life that was so very important to me. I even had a physician/researcher tell me, ‘If a diabetic runner could qualify for Olympic Marathon Trials, it would have already been done.’” Missy even received a rejection letter from one prospective sponsor stating that their mission did not include sponsoring “disabled athletes.”
2000 Olympic Marathon Trials
The person who helped her move beyond the frustration was her coach, Jim Husk. “Jim coached me to Olympic Marathon Trials and to a silver medal at the national championships. We did all kinds of crazy things to try and figure out how to make it work. He would ride his bike with me on long runs, drive beside me on workouts where we measured intervals out on a road, etc. I tried different insulin regimens and I wrote down everything. We would spend hours going through it as well as physiology texts to figure out what was going on.”
The persistence and dedication to understand how diabetes was impacting her body slowly paid off, but it took some trial and error. “The first marathon I tried after diagnosis was in December, 1998 and it didn’t go very well. I ran 3:00:47 for second place and I was sick at the end. But by the following March, we had made some big gains in getting things figured out and decided to jump in a marathon unplanned. It was my second marathon post diagnosis and I ended up getting my first Olympic qualifier – I was under the cut-off by 13 seconds.”
Clearly her experiences furthered her understanding of life with diabetes, and enabled her to complete a promise to herself. “Before I was diagnosed with diabetes, I had set a goal of qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. When I was diagnosed, all I was told was that I couldn’t do it. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on myself.”
Qualifying for the Olympics unlocked even more new challenges for Missy. Not only was she competing against some of the top athletes in the sport, but her diabetes continued to present roadblocks. “The night before my Olympic race, the U.S. Olympic Committee ruled that insulin was a banned substance and I was not going to be allowed to run because I did not have a waiver from them.” Luckily, with some creative ingenuity, she was able to work with the Committee and a local physician to submit the necessary paperwork and get a waiver that allowed her to run the next day.
Missy’s story of persistence is a story of inspiration. Her drive to accomplish her dreams is summarized in this very clear message: “Things change; that’s a fact. We can either embrace it or spend life feeling bitter.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that Missy is currently a member of Team Type 1 and was featured in March in our Women Pioneers In Diabetes infographic. My hope is that everyone will embrace Missy’s message and find ways to face challenges, big or small, in stride. A big thanks to Missy for taking the time to share her inspiring story!
All the best,
Disclosures: Missy Foy received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
Team Type 1 has received sponsorship funds from Sanofi US.