The Not-So-Rare Type 1 Athlete

A look back at how much progress we've made in the world of diabetes and sports

Michelle Alswager By Michelle Alswager

December 2012 — Back in 2004 I joined a non-profit that had a very simple concept — connecting the world of diabetes and sports. Sure by then we all knew who Gary Hall, Jr. was and we met Chris Dudley of the Portland Trailblazers. We knew Bill Carlson was the first person to ever do an Ironman with diabetes in the ‘80s (who can forget his interview with Al Michaels on ABC's Wide World of Sports?) and there were rumors of this guy named Bill King who was killing the marathons out there. But where were the real athletes? The common people who were attempting to climb mountains, run triathlons, and compete in ultra-swims?

I was inspired at the time to start writing monthly articles to inspire everyone with diabetes to exercise. My first interview was with a young man named Sean Busby. A professional snowboarder — who had been recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes — looking to continue competing with his diabetes. Next up, John Moore, an average guy who was training to complete Ironman Arizona and struggling to find anyone — ANYONE — who had experience to coach him through as a diabetic. (I chuckle as I remember that interview because John had his odometer on his bike set to kilometers instead of miles, so much to his dismay just before his race he realized when he thought he was biking 100 miles he was really biking 66! No worries folks, he finished!) Of course there were the female athletes making great strides, like Jen Alexander who was accomplishing ultraswims and Elyse Rainer, climbing mountains.

I find this a worthy subject today because my how the diabetes world has changed. I mean look where we've gone. From the first documentary about type 1 athletes doing Ironman — Triabetes — now a team of hundreds through Insulindependence to little courageous and inspiring young men like Ryan Maloney who has his own facebook page billed first as "type 1 athlete" who is surfing and inspiring his way into the hearts of many. The truth is there is not just one swimmer, one snowboarder, one cyclist, one ironman finisher. There are literally thousands out there testing limits.

Organizations all over the world are now catering to the type 1 athlete. Look for instance at Team Type 1. When I met co-founders Joe Eldridge and Phil Southerland in 2005 they were fresh on the scene as young college students looking to build something new. From there they created a professional cycling team making waves across the world. Flash forward to the announcement of the merge with Team Novo Nordisk with over 100 type 1 PRO (yes I said PRO!) athletes on board.

My point is, in 2007 I had to work really hard to find 12 athletes willing to do Ironman and let me create the Triabetes Documentary. Now there are easily 12 type 1 athletes at any Ironman course. And the best part is, we have a generation of young people who, at last, have a group of inspiring athletes at their disposal to inspire them to greatness and really know that there is nothing that can stop them – especially not diabetes. Exclamation point.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 06, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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