This is Sideline Stories. A platform where NE10 student-athletes can share their collegiate experiences in an unfiltered environment - using their voices to promote growth and positive change in our league and in all of NCAA Division II athletics.
Chloe Hanson, a sophomore runner on the Le Moyne cross country and track & field teams, has overcome one medical hardship after another in pursuit of her dreams. However, her diagnosis was just the beginning of struggles she would face. Here is her Sideline Story:
When I began running competitively in seventh grade, I anticipated the rigor and challenge of the sport, but never did I imagine running without a pancreas.
One day at practice during the early spring of my eighth grade year, my team and I were running our usual four-mile loop. By mile two, my legs were tight with cramps and fatigue overwhelmed my body. Used to the occasional off-day, I pushed myself through the run and made it back to my school.
As my Mom drove me home that evening, I sat in the car screaming as my legs cramped so aggressively that my muscles began to contort in different directions. After that, I spent two weeks in a state of persistent exhaustion. I had a constant thirst, but no matter my fluid intake, I felt dehydrated. There was a never-ending hunger too, and despite the amount of food I consumed, I became increasingly malnourished.
At the end of those two weeks, I had lost nine pounds and could barely stand up by myself. Just four hours after my hospital admission, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
My diagnosis was quick because my symptoms were textbook T1D. My blood glucose level had reached over 500 (goal range of a healthy adult is 70-120). I was very below weight. I was malnourished to the extent my body had begun to eat my muscle (hence the aggressive muscle cramps). All these are common symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is when your body develops high levels of ketoacids in response to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Type 1 Diabetes is a chronic illness that prevents the pancreas from producing insulin. Insulin is a hormone that processes sugar, allowing its conversion into energy. As one can imagine, running without a source of energy is problematic. The diagnosis marked an entirely new era in my life; the post-T1D diagnosis era.
For months after, I would spend every evening in my room, curled up in the dark under the covers. I responded to my diagnosis with a quiet and heavy rage. The disease was overwhelming enough to process, but the technology that comes with the disease management is even more confusing to a “beginner” diabetic.
First, they tell you your pancreas is broken, then they show you insulin pumps, syringes, CGMs, test strips, lancets, and a list of math equations that calculate personal insulin levels and doses based on a series of individual health factors.
But the nature of a chronic illness, is, well, it’s chronic and requires constant attention. There is no “T1D:101,” but the most stressful crash course of your now diabetic life and suddenly you’re alone in the deep end with one less functioning organ.
In response to my rage, I decided to fight against every limitation diabetes created; my battleground was a 400 meter track and 5K courses.
To approach running as a diabetic required patience. For me, I learned through trial and error. I had to learn how blood sugar levels impacted my performance, which was done by training and competing at varying blood glucose levels.
I had to try different sources of sugar for raising my blood sugar until one finally didn’t hurt my stomach. I had to control my insulin levels and meticulously calculate when to begin and cancel insulin deliveries from my insulin pump.
One race in eighth grade, not long after my diagnosis, I performed poorly in a 1500 meter race. That day my blood sugar was fluctuating up and down, causing me to struggle with managing my sugar in time for my race.
In the cool down after my 1500, my Dad jogged with me. As we ran, I quietly cried. I said to my Dad, “What if I will never get to run as fast as I want because of a disease I never asked for? What if I will never reach my full potential as a runner because my disease won’t let me?”
Neither of us had an answer in that moment. As I recovered from my 1500, I wondered if I’d ever be the runner I dreamt of becoming.