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Diabetes Forecast

The Healthy Living Magazine

NBA Player Gary Forbes Scores on His Dreams

By Tracey Neithercott ,

Gary Forbes
26, 6' 7", 220 pounds
Toronto Raptors, Forward/Guard


Gary's Checkpoints
Wake: The first thing pro basketball player Gary Forbes does in the morning is check his blood glucose and inject insulin using an insulin pen.

Breakfast: "I just have a basic breakfast: eggs and toast or sometimes oatmeal," he says.

Workout: During the off-season, Forbes trains in the early afternoon; when it's basketball season, it's off to practice in the morning. He takes his blood glucose meter with him and relies on the team's trainer for glucose tablets if he goes low.

Lunch: "Usually for lunch it's either salad or something with protein to rebuild my energy back up," Forbes says.

Pregame: On game days, Forbes eats dinner before he plays. "I eat some whole-grain pasta or rice—not too much, though," he says. Then, before the game, he checks his blood glucose to prepare for the exercise he'll be doing.

Game time: "Usually at the games [my blood glucose is] pretty normal," he says. "The trainers check at halftime. I'll have a little bit of water, some Gatorade to manage my energy." In case of the occasional low blood glucose, Forbes's trainers also carry glucose tablets or candy.

Postgame: Forbes tests his blood glucose again at the end of every game. "I'm pretty even [hours after a game]," he says.

Dinner: If he's not playing a game, Forbes eats dinner at a regular time. He's a big fan of fresh, whole foods, which he ate a lot of when he played pro ball in Europe. "This summer I was really into my diet, eating a lot of grains and sweet potatoes and vegetables and seafood and fish," he says.

Everything about Gary Forbes hints at vigor. The 6-foot, 7-inch basketball player is 220 pounds of pure muscle and goes head-to-head with some of the biggest, most athletic guys on the planet each week. He spends every day on the court, running drills and perfecting his shot so, come game day, he and his team can take on the toughest competition.

There's little room for vulnerability in the game, which is why Forbes didn't broadcast news of his type 1 diabetes when he was diagnosed at age 19 as a college sophomore. "At first I tried to keep it to myself," says the 26-year-old Toronto Raptor. "I just didn't want to look at it as a sickness. I live a healthy lifestyle, and if you see me, no one would know I have diabetes."

With the help of his father, who has lived with diabetes for more than 20 years, Forbes learned to manage his diabetes while playing college ball. By the time he graduated from the University of ­Massachusetts, Forbes had been named 2008 Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10 Conference and become the only other player aside from NBA Hall of Famer Julius "Dr. J" Erving to score over 1,000 points in two seasons at UMass.

The Dream
Thousands of college and foreign players compete for the chance to be drafted to fill a very few slots on NBA teams. Competition is cutthroat. But when Forbes wasn't drafted in 2008, he remained confident. He rebounded and joined the NBA's Development League—a sort of minor league for basketball—before heading abroad, where he played for teams in countries such as the Philippines, Italy, and Israel.

Though his dream had always been to play in the NBA, Forbes relished his time as a pro player abroad. "You know, I guess [2008] wasn't the right time," he says. "Going overseas and eating fresh foods and eating healthier helped me gain maturity, helped me with my game and my body. My family, we have a never-give-up attitude, and I'd say it worked out for the best for me."

His big break came two years later when he was signed by the NBA's Denver Nuggets. (In December, Forbes joined the Toronto Raptors.) "When I made the team in Denver, it was kind of surreal. I didn't really know what to expect or how to act," he says. "It was almost like a long time coming."

The Diabetes
Here's what people see when they look at Gary Forbes: an imposing man who handles a basketball like it's an extension of his arm. Here's what they don't see: blood glucose checks in the locker room, insulin injections at mealtime, and emergency glucose tablets tucked away in a gym bag.

Not that Forbes is hiding his diabetes anymore. He now sees it as a part of who he is as a player and hopes others do, too. "I've learned to live with it and deal with it, and I've been able to play at a high level of basketball with it," he says. "I've always thought of it as a manageable disease."

After seven years with diabetes, Forbes has the routine down. Whether he's prepping for a game or practice, "pretty much the whole day I . . . do a lot of carb counting so as not to raise my blood sugar," he says. "I eat a lot of seafood and fish and vegetables."

Forbes tests his blood glucose before tip-off, during halftime, and after the game. "I've always been really good at managing how my blood sugars are, especially before games because I have to go out there and play to the best of my abilities," he says. Forbes sticks with Gatorade to keep his energy up during a game. And he always plays prepared. "Our trainers usually have glucose tablets or some sort of candy just in case," he says. "But I've never really had to get to that point."

The Message
Once Forbes shared the fact of his type 1 diabetes, he couldn't keep quiet. "I'm able to go out and talk about it and tell people who have diabetes that they can still live an ordinary life as long as they eat healthy and exercise and take care of themselves," he says. His latest gig: joining forces with the American Diabetes Association to raise awareness of type 2 diabetes among African Americans and kids.

Education is at the core of his message, which is part of the reason he started a basketball camp at his former high school in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I didn't want it to be just an ordinary basketball camp where kids come in and just run around and play basketball," he says of the program, which began last summer and is expected to run again this year. "It's a crazy epidemic, and almost 26 million people in the United States are affected by diabetes. There are ways to stay away from getting [type 2] diabetes by managing healthy eating and exercise. Once people are educated, I think we can kind of reverse that."

The camp featured basketball, of course, but also lessons on public speaking, diabetes, and nutrition. Forbes is hoping knowledge and his good example will prove to campers the importance of a healthy diet. "You know, your body is your temple," he says. "Hopefully, they learned that going out and eating McDonald's or Snickers bars or stuff like that is not going to get them by."

The Future
As he headed into his second NBA season, Forbes was hopeful. Like most players, he has set his sights on scoring plenty of points, becoming an all-star, and winning an NBA championship. But he's OK with taking the long road. A few months ago, Forbes tweeted, "If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere—Frank A. Clark."

"That's my life in a nutshell," he says. "I've been through so many ups and downs, and I've loved every minute of my journey to the NBA. I wouldn't trade any of those moments or any of those hardships for the world. It made me the person who I am. It was able to make me a stronger person, tougher mentally, and it was able to help me lock in and reach my dreams."

 
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