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Life with Diabetes: Baseball's “Superman” Sam Fuld

Top baseball player and d-inspiration

Baseball fans call him “Superman.” As an outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, Sam Fuld has developed a nearly cult-like following for his seemingly impossible runs, stretches, leaps, and catches. They watch each game, waiting and hoping to see those Superman skills.

Another set of fans, those whose lives are touched by diabetes, think of him as Superman every single time Fuld takes the field, no matter how he might play on any given day. Fuld, who lives with type 1 diabetes, stands out as a hero, role model, and yes, a superhero in the eyes of those who know what it means to succeed at the top of your game with type 1 diabetes on board.

“He’s just the coolest,” said ten-year-old Colin Hinman, who attends Fuld’s summer camp for children interested in sports and who are also living with type 1 diabetes. “He made me feel like I can do anything in life.”

Hinman is not alone. Fuld makes it a point to not only hold his annual camp where he is a constant participant, but also to meet up whenever possible with any children living with diabetes who feel they want to meet him, even during pro baseball season. That accessibility may be rare in sports at this level, but it comes naturally from Fuld’s upbringing.

Fuld fell in love with baseball at a young age. His passion was so complete that by the time he was five, he carried a book on baseball statistics everywhere he went, like a security blanket. Baseball was his dream. As he grew up, a few things worried him. For one, he wasn’t big in stature. Also, at ten, he developed type 1 diabetes. But a friend arranged for him to meet a then pro-player, pitcher Bill Gullickson, and say hello. Fuld took in everything Gullickson was – smaller in stature, huge in determination, and living with diabetes – and embraced it all. The rest is history.

By high school, Fuld was batting .600 and getting recognition on the national stage. After college at Stanford (where he studied statistics), he went on to the majors. Now at Tampa Bay, Fuld batted at the top of the American League last spring, and is looking to burnish his “superpowers” this season.

All with diabetes on board. Which, he says, can be a challenge.

“I can honestly tell you it’s a daily challenge,” Fuld said on a recent spring training day. “There are really no two days that are alike; I almost never have the same variables. Games are at different times and in different time zones. There is different food in every clubhouse. You never know exactly how much exercise you are going to get in each game until it actually happens.”

How does he make it work with all that? By using his smarts, his discipline, and his tools. Fuld, who uses pens to administer his insulin, makes sure to do an average of three extra blood sugar checks during games. He also does his best to eat the same thing before each game, since he knows how certain meals and snacks impact his blood sugar tests. “It does take a lot of adjusting on doses,” says Fuld, “but experience has built my confidence in making those calls.”

Ironically, his lifetime love of statistics can work against him when it comes to daily diabetes care, he said. “Because trying to ‘math solve’ diabetes is even more challenging than putting a batting lineup together. It just does not always pan out the way you expect.”

“Sometimes, it drives me crazy,” he said. “You want to have an answer every time for everything, especially in your own body. But sometimes, there just is not an answer. I have had to learn to accept that and just find a way to deal with it each day.”

Fuld is often seen chatting with fans – many times kids who are living with diabetes – before and after games. This, he said, comes not from the front office telling him to, but rather from a combination of his deep appreciation of what Gullickson did for him, and an understanding of how he can impact the confidence and future of a child.

“Camp is just outstanding,” he said. “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. Because here’s the thing: 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.”

Now, things have come full circle. Fuld is a role model and a camp inspiration. Kids like Hinman are looking up to him. And by Fuld’s side at camp, counseling and coaching kids, is Gullickson.

Speaking of having Gullickson there with him, Fuld said, “It’s like the domino effect; or seeing paying it forward right there. It’s kind of a beautiful thing.”

And for children living with diabetes, it’s kind of an inspirational thing as well. Hinman is not sure what he’ll be in life. On his list of possibilities are rapper…or astronaut…or break dancer…or ball player or, if it is ever allowed, serving in the armed forces.

Whichever path he takes, Fuld’s impact will be with him. “He made me realize something,” Hinman said. “I may be small, and I may have diabetes. But I’m really awesome. I am.”

And that impact may indeed be the superpower Fuld uses best.

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, 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 the upcoming 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

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