“Running is a lifetime habit”: The words danced across the page of my brand-new Centre High School Cross-Country manual. It was the first practice of the season for our school’s cross-country squad, and I couldn’t have agreed with those words more. Running is absolutely the best lifetime habit to have.
I’d been a distance runner for six years, but this was my first acquaintance with cross-country running. Unfortunately, I had another “lifetime habit”: my diabetes. I felt that, as a runner, I would have a stereotype to break and that it wouldn’t be easy with my “disease” on board every step of the way.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2006, when I was 9 years old. I started my habit of running the next year. In 2011, at the age of 14, I ran my first half marathon (13.1 miles). My mother was concerned, to say the least, about my leap into the marathon world. But I was there to show people that I was strong, independent, and more than capable of taking care of myself and my diabetes.
I successfully ran the half marathon without stopping or passing out—or my mom having a nervous breakdown. (She began running alongside me at mile 9, thrusting a juice and granola bar at me, which I promptly rejected, throwing back a “Mom, not here!” look.) Last year I ran another half marathon, raising a total of nearly $2,000 for diabetes research.
This year I had another beast to slay: competing in cross-country at the high school level with diabetes. During these races, my mom wouldn’t be running beside me, offering water, juice, tears of pride, and shouts of encouragement. I wouldn’t have the option to stop or to show weakness. I couldn’t let my diabetes define me; heck, I couldn’t even define myself yet. But I did know I would refuse to be known as “the diabetic.” I felt I could do two things well and do them by myself: run and take care of my diabetes.
One Saturday, I was on a training run with Allison Basore, a great friend on the team. We were away from her house and my diabetes supplies, although we both had our phones. About 2 miles in, I knew I was low. I didn’t want to stop Allison, though, and I didn’t want to stop myself.
We continued on, but at the 4-mile mark I couldn’t keep going. The road was moving in front of me, and not in the right direction. I told Allison that I was going to stop but that she could keep running. As such a great friend, she stopped, too. I slowed to a walk and grabbed her arm to keep from falling.
I didn’t pass out, but in that moment I did ask for help. I had always felt that I didn’t need help, that I didn’t want sympathy from anyone. Now I realized: Asking for help with diabetes isn’t a weakness. I wasn’t weak, and I never will be. Asking for help is healthy. Sometimes it is lifesaving.
I made it through that day, and I did the next day, and I will tomorrow, with my family and friends and teammates helping me all along the way.
Nellie Kassebaum, 16, lives in Burdick, Kan. She is a high school junior.