Kenny Stank was a high school wrestler who would not let diabetes pin him down.
"One night I woke up with the worst cramps in my calves and hamstrings that I ever had, enough to make me bite my blanket to keep from screaming," Stank, now 23, told Penn Live. "Nothing could quench my thirst and as I was trying to bulk up for wrestling, I lost 10 pounds in two weeks."
Stank was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and though it felt like a big hit at the time, the Pennsylvania native applied the same grit he has shown toward wrestling against the blood glucose disease. For nine years he gave himself insulin shots four or five times a day and checked his blood sugar levels eight to 10 times a day—sometimes even up to 15 times when he was working out.
The student athlete would go on to wrestle for Central Dauphin High School and later for Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.
Now he helps other student athletes who are coping with type 1 diabetes. Stank served as an assistant coach for the Central Dauphin wrestling team.
"I tell them, yes, it's very overwhelming at first, but you just have to make a plan that works for you and take it as it comes," he says. "I'm always counting carbs and how much sugar I eat; that's just part of the disease."
Managing sugar during workouts
About 208,000 people in the U.S. under age 20 are estimated to have diagnosed diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. For student athletes, it can be a challenge, but it's definitely possible to manage.
Type 1 diabetes, which used to be called juvenile onset diabetes, occurs when the body doesn't make insulin, a hormone required to convert sugars and other foods into energy. Thus, diabetes and insulin shots are common bedfellows. Unlike type 2 diabetes, obesity is not a prominent factor with type 1 diabetes.
Still, exercising safely can be difficult for those dealing with type 1 diabetes. The central concern is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and avoiding it requires lots of attention to maintain the delicate balance between diet, insulin, and physical activity. If blood glucose goes down low enough, a person can lose consciousness, go into a coma, and even die.
Working out makes blood sugar decrease, meaning that the most important thing an adult can do is to help watch the young adult's blood sugar, especially during workouts. Dr. Michael Cordas, medical director of Pinnacle Health Sports Medicine Center in Harrisburg, elaborated on the risks: "It's extremely complicated for the child, the athletic trainer, and the doctor," Cordas said. "We want kids to play and we want them to do well, but we want them to do it safely."
Fear should not prevent exercise
Studies have shown that people with type 1 diabetes are less likely to engage in exercise for fear that their blood sugar levels will drop too low. Doctors point out, though, that exercise is in fact beneficial for individuals with diabetes and can be done safely.
Students active in team sports should make sure to have a glucometer on the sidelines and take blood sugar readings before the game, each time they come out, at halftime, and after the game. It's also important for athletes to eat a meal or snack 30 to 60 minutes before exercising.