At the starting line, she leans down and touches her fingertips to the ice. It’s cold on her hands, a feeling she loves. And while long-track speedskating can be stressful, challenging, and very competitive, at that moment, Rebecca Young is calm.
Because at that moment, the only thing she’s focused on is the finish. And in that focus she finds something she doesn’t often find completely in life as a teen living with type 1 diabetes: peace.
“That’s why I love it,” said Young, 15, who is making a bid to become the first U.S. Olympic speedskater living with type 1 diabetes. “You know, there is always pressure in life at this point: to get good grades, to figure out your blood sugar, to study and to push and to check and to remember your insulin. I get out on the track and I’m like: whoa. That all gets blocked out and I’m just about the race. I love it.”
Young and her mother, Georgia, have put it all on the line themselves with a goal of Rebecca making the 2018 Olympic speedskating team. Their goal is not based in fantasy. Rebecca started speedskating at just five years old, after her mom let her miss school to go to a US Speedskating American Cup event in her hometown of Cleveland. “She was just really into it right away after seeing it,” her mom said. She found her a pair of skates and got her going. Rebecca took to it instantly.
Then, at eight, Rebecca was diagnosed. Instead of being shocked, Georgia said, “I was just matter-of-fact and said, ‘okay this is what we have to deal with. Let’s just roll with it.’”
That did not prove to be easy. “Finding a diabetes care team who understands what it means to be an athlete and a coach who understands what it means to have diabetes has been a challenge,” Georgia said.
But they persevered. They sold almost everything they owned to finance a move to Wisconsin after Rebecca won entry to the prestigious Academy of Skating Excellence at the Pettit National Ice Center (which is affiliated with US Speedskating and is a US Olympic Training Facility). She’s the youngest skater on long track there, and working her way toward her goals, making personal diabetes breakthroughs, and shaving one second off her finish at a time.
Think it’s working? Last year, Rebecca was asked to do the near unimaginable: trim a full ten seconds off her long track time within the year, in order to work her way toward a national championship in the near future.
Cutting ten seconds off a time in a year is nearly impossible. Now consider that Rebecca did it while coping with teenage hormones and diabetes at the same time. And yet, she succeeded. Her mother, for one, is not surprised.
“It’s just in her,” Georgia said. “She decided when she was in fifth grade she wanted to pursue a career in astrophysics or nuclear engineering and started compiling a list of colleges and contacting them back then. That’s just the kind of makeup she has. So when she said she wanted this: I knew she’d give it her all, which is more ‘all’ than most anyone has.”
With a new coach who not only understands the implications of diabetes and competition but is working to help Rebecca work around it, their goal for this year is to shave another five seconds off that time and for her to place in nationals in a year.
Rebecca, who wears a pump (even when racing), admits that sometimes she still falls short, with a low coming at a bad time. That, she said, can be frustrating. “I think: I should be able to do this. It’s my body. I’m fifteen for goodness sake! I should be able to manage it,” she said. But she looks at it as a challenge she can figure out in time. “I have diabetes, but I’m an athlete first. I’m not going to lay on the couch moaning about it; I’m going to keep getting out there and working on it and figuring it out.”
In less than a year, she’ll know. Then, hopefully with those five seconds shaved off and an on-ice plan down solid, she’ll place at nationals. Then, she said, it all begins.
“I’ll be World Cup ready,” she said. “Then you get clothes, equipment, more training, and support. Once I get there, I’m going to be so ready for the next part: the 2018 Olympics.”
Peace. Sometimes it comes in the most competitive ways.
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 newest, 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.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience