Taking Down Diabetes

Short Description
Ken writes about how he successfully managed getting through college while being an athlete
Ken Stank, Shippensburg University '13
ken wrestling

Being an athlete already has its many stresses on everyday life. Being a person with type 1 and being an athlete is another level of stress, but it can be managed and done successfully. I was 14 when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I had to learn quickly how to manage this disease and still be able to do all the normal things I wanted to do.

In college, there are many thoughts and choices that you have daily – what do I eat today, how late should I stay up, did I get my schoolwork done, etc. Being type 1, you have even more choices and thoughts that go through your head. This was the first time I was away from my parents and managing this disease all by myself. It may have helped that I was diagnosed as a teen, because I took my diagnosis  in stride from the start and put the responsibility on my shoulders -- not my parents. Every day was a new challenge, as there are so many outside factors impacting you --- stress of school, variable sleep schedules, and sometimes being a little hungover.

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I always made sure I had extra supplies with me, whether it be extra insulin in the fridge, back- up test strips, extra needles, tips, lancets, glucagon, and low snacks. This helped me be prepared for anything that could happen. I frequently would check my blood sugar throughout the day to make sure I was staying in range, almost 10-15 times per day.

Being an athlete, I needed to know if my blood sugar was spiking or dropping before, during, or after practice. Because of this, I made sure I had low snacks with me in my bookbag, wrestling bag, and locker. I would suggest also keeping a glucagon in every bag to every type 1 college student. Bring a bag with you when you go out to bars or parties too! This helped me stay on top of any situation, whether in class, out at an event, or on the wrestling mat.

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"I made sure I had low snacks with me in my bookbag, wrestling bag, and locker."

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In wrestling, you compete at a certain weight class. On top of monitoring my blood sugar levels, I had to also make sure I made weight to compete each week. This was not an easy task! I started wrestling at age 5, so you can imagine it was quite the change when I was diagnosed at age 14. I had to learn how to cope with this disease, and still try to compete at the highest level, like I knew I could.

Wrestling is such an intense sport that my sugar could drop very quickly. We had 2 hour practices, at high intensity rates, which was also an adjustment to get used to at first. I had to adjust the amount of long-term insulin I was injecting, as well as making sure my blood sugars were at a high enough level, that I wouldn’t crash during practice. The first year wrestling with diabetes was a lot of trial and error, and a lot of discussions with my doctor.

In my first year wrestling with diabetes, I actually couldn’t get down to the weight I wanted, so I had to wrestle JV on the High School team my entire freshman year. I ended up being a 3 year starter, compiling a 127-35 record in High School. I placed at the Pennsylvania State Wrestling tournament (one of the toughest states to compete in for wrestling in the U.S.) twice and qualified each of the three years to this tournament. This help lead me to a division 1 scholarship to wrestle at Bloomsburg University. I ended up transferring after my freshman year in college to Shippensburg University, where I finished out my career and made the Division 2 NCAA tournament. I also placed at the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) tournament twice during my college run.

My coaches were very supportive the minute I was diagnosed. In high school, I helped educate them on the signs and symptoms of what could happen. They also let me keep items in the wrestling room to help with low blood sugars. In college, my coaches were just as supportive, and I had to help educate them on signs and symptoms of low and high blood sugars. If I was ever not feeling right, they never second guessed why I had to leave practice for the short period of time.

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"Whether I was at class, on the wrestling mat, or hanging out in a social setting, I was always prepared for anything to happen. "

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Whether I was at class, on the wrestling mat, or hanging out in a social setting, I was always prepared for anything to happen. That’s my biggest advice to you. Always be three steps ahead of what could happen, instead of reacting after the fact. It helped me become a NCAA Division 2 National Qualifier in Wrestling, a college graduate with a business degree in Finance/Personal Financial Planning and helped me understand the social effects of drinking with this disease. The more frequently you check and stay prepared, the better the odds are in your favor to help keep your blood sugar in range.

As you embark on this next journey to college, remember to always be prepared! As an athlete, preparation is one of the keys to success. Being a type 1 is pretty similar. You need to be ready for anything that could happen. You can manage this disease and be successful in anything you set your mind to. Don’t let this disease hold you back!

ken and family

Ken is a Business Development Executive for American Solutions for Business. He is 29 years old and was diagnosed with Diabetes at age 14. He currently reside in Harrisburg, PA and has a wife (Jess), a daughter (Jocelynn, 2 years old), is expecting another daughter (Olivia in July 2020), and a dog (Nadine – a Plott Hound).