In 1972, I was in sixth grade and new to type 1 diabetes. Since there was no easy way to check blood glucose in those days, everyone—my doctor, the school nurse, my gym teacher—told me I should just skip gym class and, in fact, most physical activity. For the next three decades, I did just that.
By the time I reached age 44, I weighed over 210 pounds, my blood glucose management was horrible, and I had to undergo treatment for diabetic retinopathy. That’s when it hit me: Things were only going to get worse if I didn’t make some changes. I promised myself that from that point on, I’d watch my diet and exercise regularly.
My wife, Leslie, threw out all of our dinner plates, and we began eating off of saucers. We also began walking—around the block, sometimes on a treadmill. It was boring and hot, and I was often hungry, but I stuck with it, celebrating the little victories along the way. Those small wins grew into bigger accomplishments, and a year later, in 2005, I ran my first 5K race. It was a suffer-fest, but it felt so good to complete an actual run that I had to do it again.
Eventually, I met marathoners with type 1, and I was in awe. I cribbed from their notes on how to manage blood glucose while running longer distances. With a fair bit of trepidation, I ran my first half marathon in 2009, at age 49. I was overdressed and undertrained, but it was progress.
I finally ran my first marathon (26.2 miles) in 2011. In the five years that followed, I ran an ultramarathon (31.2 miles), double marathon, and a couple of quadruple marathons. Last summer, I became the first ever solo finisher of the 339-mile Relay Iowa, the longest relay in the world.
I sometimes look back and I am amazed by how far I’ve come. Somewhere along the line, I went from being the kid who was told to avoid exercise to being a guy who can run 339 miles. I’m convinced that all of us with diabetes can do more if we look at it as simply a challenge. When I talk to parents who want to protect their child with diabetes, that’s the message I give them. I say, “Help them, yes. But let them see what they’re capable of. It might surprise you.”
Don Muchow, who has type 1 diabetes, is the cofounder of the Dallas–Fort Worth chapter of the Diabetes and Exercise Alliance, a community of physically active people with diabetes. An ultra-endurance athlete, he recently completed a solo version of the 339-mile Relay Iowa. It took him seven days, 17 hours, and eight minutes.
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