Surfing with Type 1
Aug 7, 2009
Initially diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, Rob subsequently discovered that he had type 1. Knowing that he needed to exercise more, he returned to professional surfing. Today, he is a sponsored professional athlete who uses a CGM.
In 2007, I was feeling a little off. I gradually lost about 30 pounds without trying. My vision was a little blurry, but I just assumed that it was caused by outdated contact lenses. I needed to visit the bathroom numerous times a night, and I was extremely tired. I blamed it all on starting a new job during the summer of 2007, but my wife finally convinced me to see my doctor for a checkup. I went in expecting to learn that I had a bladder infection or something minor, but I was in for a big surprise.
A few minutes after I gave my physician a urine sample, he came back and said, "I have good news and bad news!" The good news was that I did not have a bladder infection. The bad news was that my glucose level was 575. The doctor followed up with an A1c test, which showed 14.5%. Luckily for me, my body was flushing out the excess sugar so effectively that I did not have any of the complications experienced by many recently diagnosed people. The initial diagnosis was type 2 diabetes, and I was given a prescription of Janumet. It was also suggested that I follow up with a nutritionist and an endocrinologist.
I went home and told my wife. Neither of us could understand how a healthy person in his late thirties with no family history could have type 2. I am not overweight, not sedentary, and I eat a healthy diet. But instead of feeling sorry for myself and wasting time trying to figure out "Why me?" my wife and I did tons of research on exactly how we could beat this disease. Because I had been told that I was type 2, we came up with an even healthier diet and added exercise that we hoped would help control the disease.
My wife followed up per the doctor's suggestion and first called the nutritionist. After she told the nutritionist everything that was going on, the nutritionist suggested that I might have been misdiagnosed and that maybe I really had type 1 diabetes. She advised me to consult with an endocrinologist as soon as possible, but the endocrinologist could not fit me in until a week later. In the meantime, my wife and I met with the nutritionist and a certified diabetes educator (CDE). We arrived with our diabetic binder that contained all of our research, including lab results, print/web articles, and my detailed diet plan. The nutritionist was very impressed that we had come up with such an aggressive and structured plan so quickly. She did tell us, however, that she still believed that I had type 1, not type 2, and that we should keep that in mind.
My initial consultation with the endocrinologist was really nothing much. He evaluated the initial lab results, my diet plan, and the medications I was taking, and he ordered more tests to see what was really going on. A follow-up meeting with the endocrinologist was set for two weeks later, and I went in for additional blood work in the interim. As the days went by, my numbers did start to improve, but my health deteriorated more and more. The final two days before the endocrinologist appointment, I was not able to keep any food down and I felt horrible.
At the follow-up visit with my endocrinologist, he confirmed that I had type 1 diabetes. That explained why I felt so horrible. I was immediately prescribed insulin and sent on my way. Like all newly diagnosed people with type 1, I took a few weeks to get the dosages and numbers to the point where I needed them. After that, I began looking for a new challenge.
Back in the 1980s, I used to surf both as an amateur and as a professional. Throughout the intervening years, however, my life changed, and so did my priorities. Because I didn't make a bundle of money surfing, I had to settle down and get a real job. Along the way I also got married and had two wonderful sons, ages 18 and eight. Now that I had this new disease, however, I decided that working toward competing again would be an excellent form of exercise to help my diabetes. With that, I started surfing again, four to five times a week.
Exercising presented me with a couple of new challenges. I found that every time I surfed, my blood glucose (BG) level dropped very quickly. I would go from 120 to the low 60s in a matter of 60 minutes. Consequently, I learned to go into the water a little higher. I also always have a surfing buddy, just to make sure that I have support should anything go wrong or should I ever go too low. Passing out in the water is a whole lot more dangerous than passing out on dry land.
It wasn't long before I, like most competitive people, got the itch to step up my surfing game and get back into competition. Things were going really well for me at this point. I had all the support in the world from my family and sponsors. My numbers were getting better, and I was getting good results in surfing contests. Still, I wanted better BG numbers and as low an A1c as possible. For that reason, my wife and I started researching insulin pumps just three months after my diagnosis. We ended up going with Medtronic's Minimed insulin pump, and we began working toward getting the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that works with the pump.
A couple of reasons were behind our decision. For one, another surfer was already using a Medtronic, and he loved it. For another, the company was working on a waterproof housing so that the device could be worn in the water. Last but not least, I would not have to carry a second device if I used Medtronic's CGM to monitor my BG levels 24/7. The Minimed not only delivers insulin, but also works wirelessly to collect and store all the BG levels from the CGM. Because I am an information technology manager by trade, I always like having as much data as possible.
I was approved immediately for the Medtronic Minimed insulin pump, and within 30 days I had my CGM as well. (Anthem BlueCross is my primary healthcare insurer and United Healthcare is my secondary.)
As with all new devices, a learning curve is involved. However, with help from the rep, the endocrinologist, and my very smart and supportive wife, we got everything dialed in within a week or two. After 90 days on the pump and using the CGM for additional information, I was able to get my A1c down from 14% to an amazing 6.3%. Today (about one year out) I have an A1c of 5.7%, but I remain committed to keeping my numbers low by testing six to eight times a day, eating right, and exercising often.
I am continuing to have great success surfing, thanks to sponsorship support from Medtronic, Bessell Surf, Fast Blue Communications, JETPILOT Clothing & Wetsuits, Freestyle Watches, Spy Optics, H2O Audio, Globe Shoes, Kicker Audio, Bubble Gum Surf Wax, Drop In Ride Shop, and BioNutritional Research Group. I am even going to do a few pro events this year.
One of my requirements of my surfing sponsors is that they must be willing to give me stickers, clothes, and other gadgets. When my wife and I visit the diabetic wards in hospitals, we hand out all the goodies to the kids. There is nothing more rewarding then giving a child some free stuff and seeing that smile on her face when she realizes that somebody out there cares and is successfully living with the same disease.
When people find out that I have diabetes, I often hear them say, "Sorry to hear about your disease," or "Oh man, that is a slow death sentence." However, I look at it from the opposite perspective. I am happy to share my story and educate people that having diabetes doesn't make me different from anybody else, except that I probably eat better and live healthier then most people!
Because I was always an athlete, I used to take my health for granted. I rarely went to the doctor, and I pretty much ate and drank what I wanted. Diabetes actually came into my life at just the right time (in my late thirties) to help me start eating healthier and get on a regular exercise program. But the number one thing that has helped me keep my disease under control has been the love and support of my wonderful wife and family. It's a team effort. With support, anything is possible!