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Track Star Kate Hall

The teen athlete balances diabetes and competition

Come mid-June, Maine resident Kate Hall will leap off the bench at the New Balance® Nationals Outdoor in Greensboro, N.C., with one clear vision in mind: becoming a bona fide national high school outdoor track and field champion.

But another vision will be in the back of her mind, where it sits always, pushing her to do her best. It is the vision of a 10-year-old girl, newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Just days into her diagnosis, she’s there as part of her beloved youth soccer team. But new to diabetes as she is (and her parents are), at this game, she’s been told to stay on the bench. That vision is Hall herself, just eight years ago. And while it could be seen as a sad vision, for all it is pure inspiration.

Track star Kate Hall
Kate Hall competing in the long jump

“I had to sit out a complete game, and that was really horrible,” she said. “Having to sit there that day and watch? That’s what really motivated me. I thought, ‘I am not sitting out on anything ever again. I am figuring this thing out.’”

Figure it out she did – along with her supportive parents. But it was at track and field – not soccer – that it all clicked. After discovering the sport, she found that it all came together, from training to technique and yes, to diabetes management. By the time she was 12, she was setting state records in sprinting and long jump. By the time she was high school aged, the homeschooled sophomore began to get national notice. What people saw was the girl who flew in both sprints and over the hurdles. What they didn’t see was what went on behind the scenes to help make it possible.

“I came to realize quickly how important managing my blood sugar is to all of this,” she said. “In track and field, you don’t have a lot of time between events to stop, so I had to work ahead, be ready and have ways to take action quickly.”

For her, that means as tight of management as possible, not just during a meet, but leading up to that day.

“When I get too high or too low, I get some pretty bad muscle cramps,” she said. “My trainer figured out it was my pH balance changing, and we worked at making sure it did not happen. Muscle cramps can end your chances just like that.”

She finds that because she eats in a “healthful athlete” way most times, she does not have to alter her pre-meet meals, other than to add more of everything (carbs, fats and protein) to give her the sustained fuel she needs that day. By knowing ahead of time how her blood sugar levels have been, she can keep her body fueled with all it needs.

For her, a continuous glucose monitor has made a big difference. “Now I can look at how things are going pretty steadily way before I complete,” she said. In addition, her trainer carries the monitor during track meets in case he sees a reason to have her take some kind of action (either glucose or insulin).

As she roared her way to the top of her state, she did have a mishap once in a while. “The Western Maine Championships,” she remembered wistfully. “They weren’t huge, but I had goals for that meet. But I got hit by muscle cramps and had to pull out. It was frustrating.”

But how she defines her frustration that day speaks volumes to how she manages to live well and compete at a high level with diabetes on board. “I realized that maybe I could have done a better job of watching my blood sugars for more time beforehand,” she said. “I learned from it.”

Now she is on to the national championships, where she hopes to give notice to the world of her big dream: competing in – and medaling at – the 2020 Tokyo games. She heads to Iowa for college this fall to compete and work toward that dream.

“Hopefully in the long jump and the 100 meters,” she said. “I have a goal of making the trials next year. I still have work to do and I have time, and I don’t want to get my hopes up. But you know where my hopes are? Up. Way up.”

Hall will be worth watching from the outdoor championships, to college, to possibly Tokyo 2020. That little girl on the bench is making up for that lost game. In a big way.

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 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.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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