Athlete With Type 1 Diabetes Tackles Extreme Sports
Plunging off a bridge a thousand feet high, with nothing but a bungee cord to rely on, is the sort of heart-stopping experience that Dave Nevins lives for. But, unlike most extreme-sports enthusiasts, Nevins relies on one other piece of gear—an insulin pump.
Nevins, 46, of Sitka, Alaska, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 13. He has spent the better part of the past five years pursuing one high-octane adventure after another. Bungee jumping, skydiving, caving, and mountain climbing are all part of his repertoire. Throughout his endeavors, type 1 has been along for the ride.
"Diabetes has been a major factor in my life, and a good factor, too," Nevins says. "It's caused me to be the way I am. I probably wouldn't lead the same crazy lifestyle if I didn't have type 1. [Diabetes] has motivated me to push myself further and further."
Nevins's love of extreme sports began with the first bungee jump he took while he was living in Boise, Idaho, in 2004. A neighbor invited him to participate in a 95-foot-bridge jump, and Nevins couldn't say no.
Since then, Nevins has gone on 40 more jumps, including one last year from a bridge suspended over Colorado's Royal Gorge, which is as much as 1,052 feet deep. He has also gone on a handful of skydives and served as a crew member for Team Type 1 (a racing team made up of cyclists with type 1 diabetes) in the 2006 Race Across America, a 3,000-mile trek from California to Maryland.
All of these adventures take a toll on the body, especially for a person with diabetes. Because participating in extreme sports causes huge increases in adrenaline secretion, blood glucose rises quickly as well, Nevins says. He must take special precautions, using a continuous glucose monitor that he syncs to an insulin pump.
"When you're participating in events that are out of the norm, you have to check [your blood glucose] a lot to keep a handle on things," he says.
Christy Parkin, MSN, RN, CDE, of Health Management Resources Inc. Diabetes Education and Consulting Services in Carmel, Ind., agrees that it's essential for people with diabetes to take extra measures to control blood glucose while participating in extreme sports.
"Tackling extreme sports and keeping diabetes in check can be a challenge, but it can be accomplished if you are willing to put some dedicated effort into understanding how your blood glucose responds to a particular activity," Parkin says.
Using a pump and CGM helps athletes keep up with insulin needs that are constantly changing throughout long periods of training and competition.
"For example," Parkin says, "you may need to temporarily increase basal rates slightly before the event to deal with the release of adrenaline that raises blood glucose, and then you can readjust the basal rate to a temporary lower level during the event. The continuous glucose monitor allows you to watch the trend of the blood glucose so that you can take corrective action sooner rather than later."
Parkin says that people with diabetes who are considering participating in extreme sports should consult with their doctor and diabetes educator to make sure they can do so safely and manage their blood glucose well.
"The key to a great performance," she adds, "is to focus on tight control of the blood glucose, which will require frequent testing, adjustment of insulin, and careful attention to fuel intake."
Nevins wanted other people with diabetes to know that the disease doesn't have to interfere with adventurous pursuits. So in 2004 he teamed up with a friend, Boise State University student Matt Score, to create a nonprofit organization called No Limits, to encourage people with diabetes to seek adventure. Nevins and Score met through a mutual friend on an overnight bungee-jumping trip and discovered that they shared similar goals. "We just wanted to get the word out that you can have diabetes and still live life fully," Nevins says.
No Limits has held a couple of unusual fund-raisers. The first, the Dive for Diabetes in Caldwell, Idaho, in 2005, attracted 134 participants for a series of tandem skydives. A second edition of the event was held in 2006. The other fund-raiser was a 13-person bungee jump in 2006 off the Hansen Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho. The group dynamic makes such events worthwhile, Nevins says.
"When you're on a bridge before a jump, you're working with some people who are scared to death," he says. "Everyone's encouraging each other, and after each person jumps, they're ecstatic. We all high-five and celebrate those mental victories."
Since moving to Sitka in 2007, Nevins has continued his No Limits programs. He says there are few better places to pursue an action-packed life than the remote Alaskan outpost.
"In Sitka, there's a lot of wilderness right in our backyard," he says. "The only thing [we need] is higher bridges."