Diabetes Forecast

Tennis Ace Elizabeth Profit Aims to Go Pro

By Lindsey Wahowiak , ,

*n., 1. Net gains. 2. Serving up returns. 3. Rewards on sweat invested.

Like many other diabetes parents, mom Yvonne Profit tests Elizabeth's blood glucose at 4 a.m. for a safety check.

Elizabeth Profit is in many ways your typical teenage girl: She loves pop music, the teen vampire Twilight book series, and texting with friends. She's in charge of feeding her puppies. But in major ways, she's very different from her peers: She's homeschooled so she can train to play professional tennis. And she does this while managing type 1 diabetes.

For Elizabeth, 15, diabetes and tennis have always been part of her life. She was diagnosed with type 1 at just 2 years old; she was playing tennis by 3 (her mom, Yvonne Profit, says she put a racquet in Elizabeth's hands at 17 months). By age 9, she was pursuing tennis not just as an extracurricular activity but as a potential career.

"I just started playing, and coaches would tell my mom that I was pretty good," she says. "It just happened to snowball into something bigger."

That "something bigger" became full-time tennis under the tutelage of the United States Tennis Association, with practice five or six days a week at the USTA training facility in Carson, Calif., and travel to national tournaments on weekends. (Elizabeth left the USTA in May to train independently.) She has a few short years to work her way up the junior women's rankings in order to go pro as an adult.

It wasn't always her goal. Initially, she wanted to play well enough to get a scholarship to a good college. But Elizabeth says as she got better, her goals started to shift. She takes her high school classes online in order to focus on tennis full-time. She's playing more tournaments. And as that has happened, she has begun to realize the need for greater control of her blood glucose levels.

The Profit house in Bellflower, Calif., is dedicated to diabetes care and tennis (Elizabeth's sister, Mary, 13, is also pursuing a tennis career in the Washington, D.C., area). Yvonne Profit has covered an entire wall with charts graphing Elizabeth's blood glucose levels, when she tested, what she ate, what kind of workout she did each day. It may seem like a lot of detail, but for an elite athlete—and for a teenager—this type of tracking is crucial, Yvonne says.

Elizabeth has an intense focus on her game. Yvonne remembers a tournament when Elizabeth was 8 or 9 years old. Throughout the competition, Elizabeth's blood glucose levels had been running high—her pump infusion site was off, though the family didn't realize it at the time. Elizabeth won the tournament, collected her trophy, and promptly threw up. When she finally got home, she collapsed. "The ketone strip? Dark purple," Yvonne says.

John Lansville, director of USTA Training Center West and player services for the association, says Elizabeth has been inspirational in her play. Tennis can be rough for athletes with diabetes because of the sport's unpredictable nature. "The one thing that's tough about tennis is she could have an hour match or a four-hour match," he says. "She has to be cognizant of that and make sure she's doing all the right things."

As she's gotten older, Elizabeth says she's become more vigilant about keeping her blood glucose levels in a safe range. She uses a pump while she plays. She frequently tests during practice and before and after competing. Her coach, retired tennis pro Lori McNeil, other coaches, and players know about her diabetes, and they've been helpful whenever she feels a low coming on.

"My close friends know what to do if it's really low," Elizabeth says. "[They] were like, 'Why don't you take my Gatorade, take my Starburst.' My friends know everything about it."

A Day in the Life

A typical timeline for aspiring tennis star Elizabeth Profit

7:15 a.m. Wake up. Test blood glucose. Get ready for the day, feed puppies (two mixed terriers). Have breakfast.

8:45 a.m.-11 a.m. Work on tennis fundamentals. Test blood glucose throughout practice. If low, stop for some Gatorade or lemonade. Review tennis technique with coach.

11 a.m.-noon. Test blood glucose. Do fitness training (running, weights, etc.).

Noon-1 p.m. Test blood glucose. Break for lunch (usually a sandwich).

Afternoon. Scrimmage in match play. This can last anywhere from one to four hours, "depending on who I'm playing and how I'm playing," Elizabeth says. Test blood glucose before and after practice. Return to the gym to cool down and stretch.

Evening. Go home and catch up on homework (Elizabeth uses a distance-learning service to complete her high school classes). Test blood glucose. Have dinner. Play with the puppies, text, maybe visit Facebook.

9:15 p.m. Bedtime. Test one more time. Yvonne Profit will test her daughter's blood glucose around 4 a.m.

Elizabeth's been an advocate for diabetes awareness, particularly in the tennis community. Last year she was awarded a World TeamTennis and Novo Nordisk Donnelly Award scholarship. And she's worked to educate those around her, including McNeil. "It's very normal for her, but me watching, I think it's incredible," McNeil says. "Handling challenges is part of competing, so I guess you could look at it as one more challenge."

In some ways, Elizabeth says having diabetes has taught her discipline. She has to multitask and be more aware of her body than other players. In other ways, staying disciplined has definitely been a challenge: When her blood glucose levels are high, she's more likely to lose her temper on the court. But Elizabeth says she's improved on that, and she's trying to keep firing on all cylinders.

She hasn't always been as dedicated to maintaining tight control of her blood glucose levels. Yvonne remembers a time last year when Elizabeth was traveling nearly every weekend for tournaments. She told her mom that she had been testing and her numbers were good. When it came time for an appointment with her endocrinologist, Elizabeth said her meter was broken—they couldn't see her test history. So Yvonne suggested they use Elizabeth's continuous glucose monitor history instead. The results were less than stellar: Elizabeth hadn't been testing, and her blood glucose levels were elevated, often in the 300s or more.

In this way, despite her elite athletic training, Elizabeth was very much a typical teenager. "I asked her, 'Why didn't you just tell me the truth?' She told me she didn't want me to worry," says Yvonne, adding that Elizabeth now tests regularly. "That's what you have to do. If you manage it and manage it well, you can forgo the complications. It's a constant thing, and it's a lot of work, but she's worth it."

Elizabeth says other kids with diabetes talk to her at tournaments, and she's spoken at American Diabetes Association events. Yvonne says parents of kids with diabetes have thanked Elizabeth for talking with their children. "Kids were saying, 'If she can test 12 to 15 times [a day], I can test four,' " she says. And McNeil says Elizabeth's success on the court shows other kids with diabetes that they can compete in sports, too.

Her efforts as a role model and advocate are part of what motivates Elizabeth, but more than anything, she says she just wants to win. Her competitive nature makes going pro a real possibility, McNeil says.

In the next few years, Elizabeth will intensify her training and compete in more professional tournaments. There, she says, diabetes isn't at the forefront. "Someone walking by the court wouldn't know I have diabetes," she says. "They would just see the score."

Get in the Game

If you're inspired to hit the court, the United States Tennis Association has guidelines for getting started in the sport. Visit usta.com/Play-Tennis/getting_started for more information.



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