People to Know 2013: Joey Balistrieri
When I was a tight end with the University of Wisconsin Badgers football team, I had little time for responding to Facebook messages—until I got one from Joey Balistrieri. Joey was a fourth grader who wanted to play football more than anything else in the world. One problem: He has type 1 diabetes. But the disease wasn't his biggest worry. According to Joey, his greatest challenge after being diagnosed at age 8 was convincing his mom he could still play football with type 1 diabetes.
Joey had done Internet searches and come across a news story in Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel about me, a person with type 1 diabetes playing college football. He searched me out on Facebook and found me.
When I got my diagnosis in high school, I didn't have anyone to turn to with my questions about playing football and managing diabetes, so I was more than happy to respond to Joey. He asked a lot of questions, and I shared everything I'd learned over the years: how to get in top shape, how to manage blood glucose while training, even how to protect his insulin pump while playing football. He passed on my messages to his mom, and she agreed to let him play.
Joey and I had several conversations through Facebook and e-mail until we finally met in person. I was happy to get to know this amazing 12-year-old kid even better. Like me, he refuses to let diabetes slow him down. He shows remarkable discipline, and as a Wisconsin Youth Ambassador for the American Diabetes Association, Joey goes above and beyond the maturity level of kids his age. For him, it's all about how he can help others with diabetes.
Now that I'm playing pro football with the San Diego Chargers, I know that Joey looks up to me. But I couldn't be prouder of him. He calls me his mentor and friend, but what's really neat about Joey is that he is going full speed ahead in mentoring other kids with diabetes, paying it forward in a big way. Joey is someone we all can look up to.
Jake Byrne is a pro football player with type 1 diabetes. He plays tight end for the San Diego Chargers.