I was diagnosed when I was nine years old. My mom was a nurse and she recognized the symptoms I was having. I was losing weight, overly hungry and thirsty, I was peeing all the time, and had moments where I felt shaky or really sick when my blood sugar was too high or too low. My mom was worried that I had diabetes, but it was around Christmastime and she didn’t want to ruin my holiday season.
So on December 26 I woke up like any other day, getting ready to head to a soccer tournament, when my mom told me that we needed to stop at the doctor’s office really quick. When we got there, they quickly did their tests and told us the news. All I really remember is going back into the waiting room and crying in my dad’s arms. I was scared, naïve and confused. I didn’t know anything about diabetes and, being a young kid, I read too much into the first two letters of the word. All I heard was DI-abetes, and I thought that my life was in danger. My parents and the doctor quickly calmed me down, but I still remember that initial fear. It was a day that changed my life forever.
As I’m sure you know and have experienced yourself, it was a tough transition learning to manage my diabetes. It’s a 24/7 job that can be so frustrating. Even now, it’s still tough for me to deal with at times because it’s so unpredictable. You can eat the same food, do the same workout on two different days and your blood sugar will turn out differently.
But even at a young age, I made the decision in my mind that I wasn’t going to let this disease hold me back. As a kid I loved sports. I knew my dream was to one day play professional soccer. The doctor, fortunately, told me that the more sports I played, the better. Being active will only help to regulate your blood sugar, he told me. I took those words and ran with them. I looked to athletes like Jay Cutler and Adam Morrison who were living their dreams even with this disease, wanting to be like them someday. Over the course of the next few years, I struggled to adjust. Trying to figure out how, when and what to eat before, during and after training and games was tough. When I was 14 years old, I got on an insulin pump and that changed my life. My blood sugar control got so much better and even just a simplest thing like eating a snack was so much easier. But even with this new technology, there was always some question about whether or not I would be able to make it as a professional athlete, to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish with this huge hurdle that I had to overcome.
My dad just recently told me that when I was in high school, he didn’t think I was even going to be able to play soccer in college, let alone play professionally. I would be lying if I said that the thought never crossed my mind that this would hold me back, but, whenever it did, I reverted back to telling myself that diabetes wasn’t going to define me. It wasn’t going to hold me back. It wasn’t going to run my life. So I kept my head down, kept working hard at managing my blood sugar and really staying on top of my diabetes.
At 17, I committed to play soccer at Stanford, my dream school. Living away from home for the first time provided its own challenges, but I adjusted quickly and had the best three years of my life. My team won a NCAA National Championship, I was selected National Player Of The Year and during my time at school I was called up to play for the US Men’s National Team, something I never thought would happen.
After my junior season, I decided to leave Stanford and play professional soccer for Seattle Sounders FC, my hometown team. I remember signing the contract and getting this surreal feeling thinking about all the people who thought this day would never happen because of this disease. If you had told me at nine years old that one day I would be the first diabetic to ever play for the National Team or in MLS, I would have thought you were crazy! But it really just goes to show that dreams are attainable, even with diabetes.
Mentality is so important. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to. It’s a lot of hard work – a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I’ve wanted to quit so many times because sometimes it seems so unfair and almost impossible, but you have to keep pushing. Whatever your goal is, I promise you it is within reach.
The biggest thing I want you to take away from my story is that you should not let diabetes hold you back from anything. Keeping a positive outlook can definitely be a challenge – I won’t ever say that I didn’t and don’t still have moments of difficulty – but the more positively you approach your diabetes, the more in control you’ll be, and you’ll have better outcomes in achieving the goals you set for yourself
Now that I have accomplished the goals above, I want to give back to the T1D Community. The mission of my Foundation is to educate, inspire and support Type 1 Diabetics. I hope that through fundraising and community outreach I can accomplish these goals.
Diabetes is part of me, but It does not define me!
MISSION CHECKLIST: EDUCATE, INSPIRE, support