D1 & T1D: Being a College Gymnast

March 19, 2018
Paris Phillips
North Carolina State University
Paris Phillips is the President of The Diabetes Link chapter at NC State University. She majors in Nutrition Science and expects to graduate in the summer of 2019. She has been on the NC State Gymnastics team for three years now, which takes up a lot of her time, but being a division 1 athlete is very rewarding to her. Follow her on twitter @paris_phillips2 & instagram @mydiabeteshurts.

Hi everyone, My name is Paris Phillips and I am a junior at NC State University. I also happen to be on the Wolfpack gymnastics team! I have been doing gymnastics for the last 16 years of my life and I have had type 1 diabetes (T1D) for the last 2.

All I’ve ever known is exercising and pushing my body to its limits. Going into college, I planned on having the time of my life being a division one athlete, competing for my school in the most intensive sport there is. Flipping and twisting and flying through the air has always been and always will be my favorite passion. I barely made it through my first semester of college before I was diagnosed with T1D. It was a very big shock and adjustment to my schooling, my gymnastics, and my mental health.

Gymnastics is all about flipping high into the air, tumbling on a four inch beam, sprinting towards a stationary object, and swinging around a bar while holding on for dear life! There is no way to wear a pump while you are doing all of these things. A tubeless pump would be at risk for flying off while tumbling or hurting very badly if I landed on it. A pump with a tube would never stay on. Shots are harder for me to deal with because of how on-the-go I am and how my blood sugar is never as stable. So, with that being said, I have to take my Medtronic 670G pump off when I practice and keep it with my athletic trainer so that she can watch my numbers for me. She also has my glucagon shot in case of emergencies.

After taking a couple of weeks off when I was diagnosed, I realized I could not just stop exercising. I decided to come back slowly but with a purpose and a strong mind. I began conditioning in the gym to see how my blood sugars were going to be affected. It was tough to control in the beginning – I would be really high before practice and then I would drop immediately when I started conditioning. It was very hard to get used to at first and there was a ton of trial and error, but eventually my doctors and I somewhat figured this thing out.

“I decided to come back slowly but with a purpose and a strong mind.”

Managing diabetes is a full time job in itself and between the constant demands of school, practice, competing, treatment, and doctors appointments, it is very hard to control. Our normal practice day is either to lift weights and then go to each event (bars, beam, floor, etc.) and then do cardio training, OR it is to do endurance training then each event, and then condition. My trainer and I have learned that on days where I lift weights first I should probably have my blood sugar in the higher range in order to prevent a drastic drop. On days where we have endurance first, I can keep my blood sugar at a lower number that is more stable. This does vary from time to time, but we all know diabetes…it is difficult.

I have had a few scary instances, one being when I had a hypo and got it back up to where I thought I was safe to practice (above 100), but I didn’t wait long enough before I started doing floor again and got so dizzy that I almost passed out. Once, when we were competing at UPENN, I could not get my blood sugar below 500 the whole meet. No matter how many times I gave myself a shot, or put my pump back on to give myself insulin, it just did…not…work. Those are the bad days though, and every sport has them. Gymnastics is just a different kind of dangerous because you are physically flipping your body 8 feet into the air and then having to land. It can be scary if you are too low or too high. I do have an amazing coaching and athletic training staff who monitors me and understands my special needs and focuses on keeping me healthy when all of the scary times do happen.

“My favorite moment was when I saw another little girl in the stands at a meet waving at me and showing me her pump.”

With all of these bad times said, I also have had some amazing experiences. My favorite moments were when I saw another little girl in the stands at a meet waving at me and showing me her pump, when I have a perfect blood sugar day (at 150) all practice long, when my blood sugar is a little higher and it gives me a little bit of extra energy, the time when I was coaching gymnastics camp and two little girls who are diabetic came up to me and showed me what their blood sugar was and asked what to do next, or when I get a DM on Instagram from a T1D mom who says that I helped her little girl get over her fear of being “different” by wearing and showing off her pump. Those are the times that have forever changed my life by knowing that I have impacted others. I persevere and keep putting my body under stress because I want to impact peoples’ lives by showing that T1D does not define you, you define IT!

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