An Interview with Kendall Simmons, Former NFL Player with T1D

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Carly Lenett, Kendall Simmons
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Editor's note: friend of CDN and athlete Carly Lenett interviewed Kendall Simmons, a former NFL player with T1D about his diagnosis as a young adult and his tips for college & T1D. 

CL: I wanted to talk with you a bit about your diagnosis and how you adjusted to this new reality. You were 23, so you pretty much had your whole routine down and had just entered the NFL. Did you feel alone at first? What kind of support did you have in the beginning?

KS: Honestly, I can say I never really felt alone. God put me in the perfect position with the Steelers and the Rooney family who had dealt with diabetes before so I had a major support system around me to help me out and get adjusted to what was happening. I’ve always been the type of person that when something goes wrong, just point me in the right direction and I’m going to do the best I can. I never thought that this was the end - I’m going to keep going with it no matter what. 

CL: We all know the downsides and challenges with diabetes but do you feel like there is anything positive or any ways diabetes may have helped you in your life? 

KS: You know, one of the best things I feel like diabetes has shown me is to see life in a new light. It can always be worse. I’ve been in children’s hospitals, I’ve dealt with kids that had real issues with it and some that passed away from it. The positive part is that it helped me improve the way I saw things and I feel like it has given me a purpose to always try to help people, to share my story. It taught me to open up and ask for help. I always tried to do things on my own but it taught me that you have to ask for help and let people into that little bubble. It taught me to open up and helped me to be a speaker to tell my story.

CL: If you could go back to the day of your diagnosis is there anything you would do differently?

KS: Ah man, that’s a very good question. I guess the one thing I would do differently is I wouldn’t have drunk all that Gatorade and tea which was driving my blood sugars even higher. I would have gone to the doctor sooner. I wouldn’t have waited until I needed to be hospitalized.

CL: The next question is a two-part question.  Do you ever worry that one of your children will be diagnosed, and what advice would you give parents of newly diagnosed kids today?

KS: Ahhhh, ya know, I try not to worry about my kids being diagnosed with it. There’s so much going on in all of our lives..especially mine, that it would completely cripple us if we worried all the time.  I try to watch them…are they going to the bathroom a lot? Every now and then, the alarm kind of goes off, but I try not to worry about it. For parents of a newly diagnosed child, don’t think it’s your fault. Ask for help; let people into your lives. And also, it does not mean your child can’t have sugar, that they can’t eat certain things, they can’t go play sports, they can’t do a lot of things... let your kids live their lives!

CL: That is so true!

KS: Yes, there will be some changes, but don’t put them in a box because you’re just going to make it worse. But also, let your child take some responsibility of [their T1D]… let this be something they learn how to do on their own. The sooner you do that, the easier it will be.

CL:  Do you feel that sports and fitness are a key component to well-managed diabetes?

KS: That’s a very good question... I wouldn’t say sports.  I would say fitness helps… it helps manage blood sugars. You don’t have to be a super athlete. Just try to be active; get out and move around a little bit. We were made to move. You don’t feel good when you’re just sitting there. Get out and walk. Go walk around the track and laugh and talk to your friends. Just little things like that.

CL: And lastly, what wisdom would you offer to someone going off to college with T1D today?

KS: Try your best to find your support group and stay involved with them. Hopefully one you are already involved with.  Classes are going to be hard. You’re going to have a full load. You’re going to want to hang out, you’re going to want to run around, you’re going to want to drink, you’re going to want to do all of those types of things. It just is what it is. You cannot stop taking care of yourself to fit in with everybody else. Especially if you’ve been managing it well so far. Your health comes before everything else. If you’re not healthy, you can’t hang out, you can’t go to parties. You’ll have anxiety and stress. Stress is one of those things that affects blood sugar. You have to try to understand that when you are under stress, you have to make sure your numbers are in order so your blood sugars don’t get too out of control. Make sure you find the doctor’s office on campus our friends that you meet. Tell them about what you have so that they know the signs of lows and highs and how to help. You’re not by yourself. Let people know about what’s going on so that you can try and protect yourself.  

CL: Yeah... I've gotten better about that myself, too!

KS: Well, good. You’re not alone. When I’m speaking, I say certain things… I’m actually talking to myself, too. Because sometimes I find myself not saying anything. Even when I got my job here at the university. Now the people in the halls… the other people working here… now they know, if I start acting funny, this is what is going on. Just little things like that so that I have more eyes on me to help me out.

CL: Maybe you can help me through college in a few years! (laughs)

Editor's note: Were you diagnosed as a young adult, too? Check out our Guide for Young Adults Newly Diagnosed with T1D!