Being a Lifelong Athlete with T1D – Carly’s Story

September 25, 2019
Carly Lenett
Emmaus High School
Carly and her dad, Mitch, have both had type 1 diabetes since ages three and four respectively. After a brief bout of guilt and self-pity at Carly’s diagnosis, Mitch quickly realized that Carly’s life would be one of strength, empowerment, and advocacy. At seven, with a love of everything water, Carly swam her first fundraising event by swimming 100 laps, and raised $10,000. Soon after, Olympians, professional athletes and rockers like Bret Michaels took notice and joined in her efforts. In 2016, Carly launched her own foundation, The Team Carly Rocks Foundation, and on September 21st, 2019, Carly swam her 8th annual event, (a 5K as she has swum the last 3 years) and hopes to cross the $200,000 threshold of monies raised to date for diabetes.

Let’s be honest. We, as type 1’s, are a rare breed. My experience with T1D may be different than some. First, I was three years old when diagnosed and this life I live with diabetes is all I know. It’s all I’ve ever known. I have nothing to compare this to other than looking at people without diabetes. However, that’s a dangerous game, because everyone suffers with and battles something. I often think how hard it must be for someone to be diagnosed at say, thirteen or even sixteen! At that age, you’re just starting to figure things out, then BOOM. If I could talk to people diagnosed at that age, I feel like I’d have so much to say, but at the same time have so much to learn and experience for myself. Second, my dad also has T1D. That is a unique experience in itself. Among other things, we were able to bond over being active together and figuring out how that affected our T1D.

T1D is such a crazy disease in that it can be so different for each person. So, in managing T1D, which is definitely not easy, what are some simple things that have helped me thrive while being active? Ahh, I’m so glad you asked!

My first T1D role model was my dad. At around four years old I realized that this guy, the guy I live with and call “Daddy” had this weird thing too! We both wear this little box with buttons that we clip to our pants and use every time we eat. As I got older, I realized that this guy leads a pretty healthy lifestyle. He grew up playing sports and being active, and still is. He has had diabetes for 50 years, so he must be doing something right! We started working out together when I was pretty young. The wheels started to turn in my little head. When I swam laps, for example, I noticed that my blood sugars were lower, and tended to stay that way for hours after my workout. At the gym, the same thing. I found I was needing less insulin. It is as if I could almost control my own metabolism! What? Is this even a thing? In my mind and body, it absolutely is! My friend and mentor, Olympic legend, Gary Hall Jr. says “exercise is medicine” and I really believe that.

“What I mean is, through trial and error, staying active and eating healthy, some common sense, luck and good advice, I’ve managed to thrive in a world of playing sports and competing with T1D. ”

This brings me to a point my dad and I live by and thrive on. There are literally a million things we can’t control. But also, there are many things we can control. There are things we can do to at least try to make and keep ourselves healthier. Attitude is the first thing. That’s the start. These are the cards I was dealt. I must play them in my own game of poker, where, as I get older, the stakes get higher and things get both easier AND trickier at the same time. What I mean is, through trial and error, staying active and eating healthy, some common sense, luck and good advice, I’ve managed to thrive in a world of playing sports and competing with T1D.

I would also say that having a good support system is key. My whole family has always been there for me, and I feel like having their support makes even the most difficult things easier. Now, I am entering high school and will be competing on my high school diving team this fall. I will prepare for this by using all the things I’ve learned over the years, as I become more independent but also more confident. Things like, is it still safe for me to disconnect my pump? If so, for how long? Who has my back if my parents are not around? Is my coach prepared to help me if I need medical attention?

“This T1D thing is not a pass or fail test, nor is it a sprint.”

I’ve got this. I am more than a number. This T1D thing is not a pass or fail test, nor is it a sprint. It is a marathon. I get that now. My growing independence with sports and T1D will be tricky, but I feel I have had time to prepare. I know college will bring even more challenges as I continue to grow and groups like CDN are so important and helpful. These are all “a ha” moments for me and have greatly helped me keep things in perspective and kept me balanced, feeling better, and, I believe, healthier. I have a bracelet my dad got me a long time ago. It says “Life is tough, but I am tougher”.  Appropriate, I think, and great words to live by for everyone.

Interested in reading more about this topic?