Today we’re getting to know one of the newest members of our Stop Diabetes Celebrity Cabinet, professional athlete Jody Barton. When Jody was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, her doctor told her that life as she knew it was over and she would no longer be able to enjoy the active lifestyle she loved. But she didn’t let that stop her!
In July 2009, at age 32, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. With no family history of the disease, I was completely unfamiliar with what my diagnosis meant. I was overwhelmed and confused about what was going on with my body. The day I was diagnosed, the doctor told me that my life as I knew it was over. I would no longer be able to do the active things I loved, like running, swimming, biking and backpacking. For me, this was the most devastating and traumatic part of being diagnosed with type 1.
Prior to my diagnosis, I was an accomplished athlete. From 2002 to 2007, I was on the U.S. National Women’s Skeleton Team, training at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center and competing in international competitions. I then moved on to coach the U.S. Skeleton Development Program in Lake Placid, so I could share my knowledge of the sport with future Olympians.
Pursuing my love of the outdoors, I relocated to Anchorage, Alaska, in the summer of 2008 to work as an outdoor educator at Trailside Discovery Camp. While there, I had the opportunity to travel with friends to the Arctic, where we backpacked in the Brooks Range and floated the Hula Hula River. That’s also when I developed my love for trail running. I tested my limits by participating in the Lost Lake Run, a 15.75-mile trail run through the mountains of Seward. I was enjoying Alaska and all that it had to offer.
Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes made me feel like this was all over for me.
To help me accept my new life with diabetes, I turned back to my active and healthy lifestyle, participating in sports and my love for the outdoors. At the time, I was training for my second attempt at the Lost Lake Run, with the goal of a faster finish time. I realized my goal would have to change. My new focus was on just finishing the race. The day after I was discharged from the hospital, I began with a 1-mile run. While this was nowhere near the distances I had been training at, it was a start.
Over the next few weeks, I logged my meals, blood glucose levels and insulin injections. During training runs, I would stop to test my blood glucose at designated intervals and record the results. With the support of my training partner, I continued to run while learning how my activity level affected my diabetes. Not only was I able to complete the Lost Lake Run one month after my diagnosis, I finished with a faster time than the previous year—all while managing my diabetes along the trail.
My drive to compete is what led to me to finally accept living with type 1 diabetes. In 2012, I set my focus on competing in a triathlon. I did not just want to finish; I wanted to perform to the best of my ability. I was committed to a six-day-a-week training schedule that included biking, running, swimming and weight lifting. I had researched nutrition and was monitoring my carbohydrate intake. I also checked my blood glucose levels 8 to 10 times per day, before and after eating and before and after exercise. I was still using insulin injections to manage my diabetes, which was a limiting factor in maintaining a steady blood glucose level throughout the day.
I realized that transitioning to an insulin pump would allow me to better control my diabetes and, as a result, help me attain the results I was working hard to achieve. Armed with my insulin pump, I competed in the Gold Nugget Triathlon, finishing 50th out of 1,500 women. I went on to compete in Tri the Trails, an off-road triathlon, finishing 1st in my age group and 3rd overall. I finished my most challenging race, the Hammerman X-Terra at Kincaid Park, in 14th place.
Now I was looking forward to my final competition of the summer: the Alaska State Championships Triathlon, an Olympic-distance course consisting of a 1-mile swim, 25-mile bike ride and 6-mile run. All of my training efforts, including my transition to an insulin pump, were directed toward this event. I spent the week leading up to the race finalizing my race nutrition plan, packing my gear and resting my body. With six months of preparation behind me, I was confident and ready to go! But the morning of the race, I woke up with a fever and body aches. I was sick. I knew in my heart that as much as I wanted to compete in the race, and despite all my time and effort, I was not able to participate that day.
While I did not compete in that final race, the experience led me to the final stage of accepting my life with type 1 diabetes. Managing my diabetes with an insulin pump has allowed me to achieve my goals and provided me with increased confidence in my daily life.
My most recent accomplishment was competing at the Midnight Sun Bodybuilding Competition in November 2013, where I placed 1st in my height class and won the title of Overall Women’s Figure Champion. This achievement required continued dedication to my diabetes management, nutrition and training plan. Competing in the event represented the culmination of all that I had learned about living with diabetes—accepting the challenges it brought and overcoming my fears.
Learning how to live with type 1 diabetes has shown me that my life did not end the day that I was diagnosed, as the doctor had told me. I have accepted diabetes and will continue to strive to rise above the challenges that it brings.