|Mike (left) and Dennis Howe hold their team's championship trophy from a Mesa (Ariz.) softball league.|
The Sun Devils are playing slow-pitch softball tonight in Tempe, Ariz. It's a doubleheader, and 90 minutes before game time I am checking my blood sugar, deciding what to eat and how much insulin to take in order to play both games without getting a high or low blood sugar. Mike, my son, is doing the same thing.
I'm 62 and have lived with type 1 diabetes for 43 years, since I spent my 19th birthday in the hospital while a freshman at Iowa State University. Mike, 33, has had type 1 since he was 13. I use an insulin pump. Mike takes shots, mixing long- and short-acting insulin every day.
When Mike was diagnosed with diabetes, I was crushed. I felt that I had given him the type 1 gene. Diabetes runs in the family. It killed my grandfather on my mother's side and my uncle on my dad's side.
I was an athlete in high school, and sports has been a big part of my life. I've long felt strongly that playing sports was important for people with diabetes. In 1983, when Mike was a toddler, Diabetes Forecast published a freelance article by me about sports and diabetes. I wanted to let young people with diabetes know they could do anything anyone else could do.
Little did I realize then that a decade later, I'd be sending the same message to my own son. Before Mike was diagnosed, I had coached him in T-ball and he played Little League baseball and soccer.
Then he was diagnosed, and suddenly Mike and I were teammates: We were on the diabetes team. Sports remained a bond between us. He ran cross-country, competed in triathlons, and played high school tennis, winning some championships.
I had never played tennis, but I did coach Mike in diabetes. We both had to learn how to take care of our diabetes while participating in sports. I call it "managing the tri-balance" of carbohydrate, insulin, and exercise intake. Each of these affects our blood sugar levels and our performance on the field of play. When I was younger, I ended up in an emergency room a couple of times. I am so glad that Mike has never been there.
Today, Mike likes to hike mountain trails, work out at the gym, and run every year in Pat's Run, a Tempe event honoring the legacy of Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinal football player who left the NFL to serve as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, where he was killed.
Then there's softball. Mike and I have played slow-pitch together for more than 10 years, on the Slammers, the Landsharks, and the Headliners, to name a few. We have won our share of championships.
Tonight, we're playing on the Sun Devils. Before game time, we check our blood sugar again and make any needed adjustments. We keep juice boxes and glucose tablets in our bat bags in case we need to raise our blood sugar.
"Hey, Mike, you're leading off and starting in left field—let's go get 'em!" I know that I am biased, but Mike is a good ballplayer and a good son. I couldn't have a better teammate.
Dennis Howe retired from Arizona State University in 2005 and lives in Tempe, Ariz. He coaches, plays, and umpires slow-pitch softball.