I have learned many things from having type 1 diabetes (T1D) and playing college basketball.
Don’t let T1D stop you from achieving your goals, but also be smart enough to modify your goals as you grow.
As a child I had the goal of being a college athlete, and that goal did not change when I was diagnosed with T1D in 6th grade. Originally, I dreamed of playing division 1 basketball, but as I grew up I understood what environment was going to be best suited for me to have the safest and most enjoyable college experience, and that was division 2 basketball at Saint Michael's College.
Your mental and physical health must be a priority - create a great support system.
T1D can be mentally and physically draining, especially when combining it with practice, games, homework, class, and a social life. A college athletic team, whether it’s a club team or a division 1 program, is an incredible support system.
Be different and be proud of it.
The truth is: having T1D makes you different. Embrace this difference because it can lead to new and amazing opportunities. In high school I was private about my T1D, and now I am the Junior President of the CDN Chapter at Saint Michael's College, and my best friends and almost half my basketball team have joined the group to support me and learn about diabetes- talk about a great support system! Embracing these differences has removed a lot of the stress and anxiety around T1D in my life.
Use the platform you create to help/inform others.
I hope to use my platform to connect with young girls and assure them that T1D will not stop them from achieving their goals.
Here is a little more about my story:
Playing a college sport starts way before you walk onto campus freshman year. I went to college showcases beginning in 8th grade. Trying to manage my T1D during these tournaments was stressful; for most summer weekends I was waking up at 5 am to be sure my blood sugars were under control before my 7 am games. During warmups I saw the college coaches filing in to watch my game. The nerves and adrenaline kicked in and raised my blood sugar. I tested 2 or 3 times before my games because that one game might be the only time a particular coach would see me play, and the stakes were high because I was competing for a full scholarship to college. Adrenaline raised my blood sugar before games but if my numbers were running high before then, in combination with adrenaline, I could be in the high 200s. Unfortunately, this impaired my game. After playing 5 or 6 games some weekends I would go low all day Sunday afternoon and night, so I had to come out of games to check my levels more often. The recruiting circuit was so competitive that every time I was taken out to check my blood sugar I could have been missing an opportunity to be seen by a college coach.
When I went on recruiting visits at colleges I would tell the coaches that I had T1D, and I would hope that it wouldn’t affect their view of me. The coach’s job is to recruit the players with the most talent who can perform most consistently. Having T1D makes that more complicated compared to a non-diabetic player because I may have to come out of a game because of blood sugar complications, and the game will not stop for me. Sometimes, I feared that T1D might discourage a coach from recruiting me, and I wouldn’t have blamed them. Fortunately, I found personable and charismatic coaches. I made this a priority because my coaches and I need to have a close relationship to have an enjoyable and safe college experience.
When playing a sport in college your teammates and coaches become your family. I have an incredible team and very supportive coaches who know about my T1D, and they are eager to learn the ins-and-outs to support me. College sports have an extremely strenuous and competitive environment, but sometimes you need to sit out to check your blood sugars to stay healthy. My coaches are really good at putting my health first and making sure I take care of myself, but I still feel self-conscious sometimes. For example, during a practice my freshman year we were running, and I had to step out to check my blood sugar because it was low, and I felt like my new teammates thought I was just trying to get out of running. I hadn’t established myself as a hard worker yet, so I made sure I finished the extra sprints before I went back into practice. Having T1D, I have been put in situations that made me go the extra mile to prove myself.
College basketball has provided me with the support system that has allowed me to live my life fully with T1D, even though it may not always be easy.
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Cassandra Falone is the president of the CDN Chapter at Saint Michael's College. She is a business and psychology double major and will be graduating in 2020. She is a member of the Varsity Women’s Basketball team at Saint Michaels, and enjoys telling her story and beng a part of the T1D community.