Mark Matheny’s life revolves around shots and goals, precision and target ranges. And you could say that even if he did not have type 1 diabetes on board.
Matheny, a freshman at The Ohio State University, is a nationally known competitive precision rifle shooter with his eye on one specific goal: to compete for Team USA in the 2016 summer games in Brazil. And when he makes that goal (he says “when,” not “if”), he will be the first American living with type 1 diabetes ever to complete in that sport.
Matheny first became interested in the sport at age 14 when his dad introduced him to it.
“We went to a range and he showed me what it was all about,” he said. “And I just liked it.” A year later, Matheny was training and learning, focused on doing all he could to begin competing in the complicated and technical sport. Just as he began competing (and placing well), he suddenly faced a challenge: a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.
But even from the start, Matheny showed that it wasn’t going to slow him down. “I was in the hospital on November 30,” he said. And his biggest concern was that there was a camp with a world-class competitor on December 1 and 2 that he would be missing. “I just wanted to get back.”
And he did. The last day of camp, released from the hospital with his diagnosis, Matheny made it there, and began focusing not just on the target in front of him, but also his blood sugar target range.
“I realized pretty soon that I had to be careful before a match,” he said. “If I have a big meal the night before and have to do a larger dose, it can screw things up. And if I have high blood sugar during the day leading up to a match, I cannot function the way I need to. I lack motivation and focus. So I have to think things through and have a plan.”
Clearly his plan is working. As an NCAA Rifle competitor, he competes with the best in the nation.
Matheny, who is a top student, explains that the way diabetes melds into school and competition echoes what it means to be a good marksman: finding a way to use complicated equipment in harmony with your body. In fact, that’s what attracted him to the sport in the first place.
“In a lot of sports – say, like football and basketball – you are relying on a skill that comes from within you. With shooting, you have to rely on the equipment, too.”
Matheny has experienced some real success; competing in national championships and the Amateur Athletic Union of the USA (AAU) Junior Olympics1. He has an overflowing trophy case, and a true focus on his goal of the 2016 summer games.
He has also, he said, learned a lot from having to focus on how his diabetes impacts his shooting. It made him realize that, in other life situations, how well you plan and understand how your diabetes impacts you personally is key.
“I know that stress adrenaline can mess with my blood sugar [level],” he said. “And as much as I can work on keeping myself steady and calm, some of that you just cannot control. But what you can control is your plan. So I know that for a match, just below 160 is where I want to be. I tend to drop with that adrenaline, so for me, that is what works.”
Matheny points out that he now realizes this works well for other situations, too, such as taking exams in his challenging college program. “Learning all this has brought a huge improvement to my entire life,” he said. “I think clearer and I function better.”
Matheny’s goal is to do well for The Ohio State University, and work his way to Brazil in 2016.
The young man who got out of that hospital bed and jumped right back into competing may just make it happen, diabetes or not.
“When you get diagnosed with diabetes, it’s just what you make of it,” he said. His aim, clearly, is to thrive.
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.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience
1Copyright 2014 Amateur Athletic Union of the United States, Inc