All-diabetic team to compete in USA Pro Challenge in Aspen
The Aspen Times
Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This high blood sugar produces the classical symptoms of frequent urination, increased thirst and increased hunger.
Type 1 diabetes requires the person to inject insulin or wear an insulin pump.
Untreated, diabetes can cause many complications. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, and diabetic retinopathy (retinal damage). Adequate treatment is paramount, as well as blood-pressure control and lifestyle factors such as stopping smoking and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Diabetes is a chronic disease, for which there is no known cure except in very specific situations. Management concentrates on keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible, without causing hypoglycemia. This can usually be accomplished with diet, exercise, and use of appropriate medications.
Some others athletes with diabetes Type 1 include NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, U.S. swimmer Gary Hall, Jr., MLB pitcher Brandon Morrow and former NBA center Chris Dudley.
When the USA Pro Challenge begins Aug. 19 in Aspen, there will be a new team competing this year that will inspire and motivate people in ways that transcend competitive cycling.
Team Novo Nordisk will be wearing white jerseys that say “Changing Diabetes” in large, blue letters across their chests, and every team member has Type 1 diabetes. It’s the first team consisting entirely of athletes with diabetes to compete in any sport.
Team Novo Nordisk CEO Phil Southerland conceived the concept of an all-diabetic professional cycling team. Southerland received his diagnosis in 1982, when he was 7 months old. At that time, he was the youngest person ever diagnosed with diabetes.
Doctors told his mother that he likely would be dead or blind by the age of 25. He’s now 31.
“That scared the hell out of my mother,” Southerland said. “It also motivated her to prove them wrong. She never let me feel different than any other kid. She taught me that I could do anything I wanted as long as I took care of myself. I owe so much to her. She never let me say ‘no’ to anything because I had diabetes.”
Southerland found that exercise helped him immensely when it came to controlling his diabetes. He took up biking at age 12 and started racing a year later.
More than one doctor warned him that exercise could make his condition worse, but he refused to listen to them and relied on what his body was telling him.
“To say I’m naturally competitive is huge understatement,” Southerland said. “I kept pushing myself to be tougher and faster as a cyclist.
At age 24, Southerland put together Team Type 1, a group of cyclists with diabetes, to compete in the Race Across America, a cross-country relay race that stresses endurance. His team took second place in its first race and won the competition the next year in record-breaking time.
“That first year, it was hard to find eight people to compete with diabetes,” Southerland said. “The second year, we had to turn some people away. By the third year, we felt we could pick from the best of the best. We really became much more visible.”
Riding the success of Team Type 1, Southerland formed Team Novo Nordisk in 2013. There’s also a developmental team and a women’s team, both with diabetic athletes.
Novo Nordisk is a health care company headquartered in Denmark with 90 years of innovation in diabetes care.
Southerland researched the company and approached it about a potential sponsorship. After an hour lunch meeting, Southerland knew Novo Nordisk was the perfect company to work with.
“They are a fitness-driven business,” Southerland said. I knew they were the company that could help make this dream come true. It’s an honor to work with them and try to change the way we deal with diabetes.”
The ultimate goal for the men’s team is to compete in the Tour de France.
MOTIVATION AND INSPIRATION
Team member David Lozano Riba, 24, was an 11-time Spanish champion in mountain-bike and cyclocross racing. At age 22, he was losing weight and was constantly fatigued. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and was told that his racing days were done.
“I thought I accepted the news pretty well,” he said. “I also knew I needed to find a solution. A lot of people thought I was done racing, but that only motivated me. Now we’re a motivation for others. We’re a lesson for the world when people see us competing and we inspire them. When people tell me they have diabetes, I tell them to keep fighting.”
Chris Williams, 31, was 28 when he diagnosed. He was competing in a race but collapsed at the end of the second stage. He thought it was dehydration and was shocked to learn that he had diabetes.
“I was pretty much ready to hand up the bike,” Williams said. “The doctors told me to stop riding, but I got my head around it and learned to manage the diabetes on a daily basis.”
In 2011, Williams rode against some of members of Team Type 1 and was moved to join them.
“I never thought I’d be an inspiration to anyone,” he said. “But we inspire so many people, it’s pretty amazing.”
Williams sees good things happening to Team Novo Nordisk — soon.
“We’re still learning a lot about racing at this level,” Williams said. “We recently had a top-10 finish in the Tour of Denmark. We’re the youngest pro team out there and will only get better.”
A DIFFERENT LEVEL OF WINNING
Southerland still rides for enjoyment but not at a competitive level.
“I’ve been given a different role in life,” he said. “I ride for fitness but not to race. I’m a spokesman now, and the bike is our platform – we want to give people hope and motivate others to take control of their bodies and dreams.”
He would love to see his team make a top-10 finish in the USA Pro Challenge, but Novo Nordisk has different levels of success.
“If we have one kid that sees us and we motivate that kid to take control of his diabetes, then we’ve won,” he said.
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Riders must transfer buses to get from Aspen to Snowmass this week; uphill travel closes at Aspen Mountain and reopens at Aspen Highlands.