Growing up, while being encouraged to eat my vegetables and fruit, I was often told: “You don’t have to like it, but you have to try it.” Or, when dealing with that one kid on the playground who just didn’t mesh: “You don’t have to be best friends, but you need to be nice.”
But when considering my diabetes, I wasn’t really given many options. After learning more about my new diagnosis, I realized that I truly didn’t have a choice. I had to face the facts and my future. I knew that to live a long, healthy and normal life, I would need a game plan.
About six months after my revelation, I started what became my lifelong obsession: running. I know that running isn’t for everybody. However, running has freed me from my label as someone with type 1 diabetes. I know that when people see my insulin pump tube or hear that I have diabetes, they instantly judge me. I probably would too, if I were in their shoes. But I have refused to be defined by this disease.
Before I continue, it’s important to point something out: I am not ashamed of my diabetes. I wear it proudly. Sometimes I would LOVE to shout from the mountaintops, “I did that AND I have diabetes!” I just know that I want to live as normal a life as someone without diabetes. Exercise is, in my opinion, the best way to keep blood glucose, weight and life itself in (partial) control.
Running has given me a totally new outlook. I could’ve sat down and let my diabetes take over. But I took a stand. I knew that exercise would change my life, and I credit it with so much more than just helping me with my diabetes treatment. I play basketball and I run cross-country, track and the occasional half-marathon.
I am also very involved in my school and community. I serve as class president, Future Farmers of America Vice President and Future Business Leaders of America Secretary. I am also a member of the National Honor Society, among other things. Being involved gives me incentive to take care of myself. I know I have things that I need to do, things that people are relying on me for.
So if you have diabetes like me, I think it’s beneficial to “find a hobby.” The activities I’m involved in push me to take care of my diabetes so it doesn’t become a roadblock. I don’t put my diabetes aside for any reason. I know that to continue to be involved in these activities, I need to put diabetes first on my to-do list.
My biggest advice to other young people with diabetes is to find something you’re passionate about: running, writing, reading or maybe even raising money and awareness for diabetes. Being so involved gives me a reason to take great care of and pride in my diabetes, and I hope it does for you too.
Nellie Kassebaum, a high school senior, lives in Kansas. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2006. In addition to running, she also enjoys cooking, learning, writing and photography. These days, she is also busy applying to colleges!