Winning With Diabetes And Tae Kwon Do
By Marc H. Blatstein
Having lived forty years of my life with diabetes, I've lived through the mishaps that face those of us having the disease: passing out and being rushed to the hospital with severe low blood sugar; having a ten year bout of epilepsy; cuts that took forever to heal; circulation problems, and constantly being told by others that I shouldn't or couldn't do something because I had diabetes.
I've had other challenges, as well. When I was thirty-four years old, I helped my cousin move a lathe from one part of an industrial building to another. After the move I asked where the facilities were and was directed to the end of a darkened area. Unfortunately, my cousin forgot to mention an opened trap-door. I fell twenty-one feet onto concrete, breaking my back in three places. For two weeks I was on life-support. I was put into a body-cast, then a body-brace for seven months. The doctors said I would never walk, or even function properly again. I refused to believe them.
One of my physicians said my diabetes had helped to make me stronger to survive an ordeal such as this.
At seventeen I had joined Tae Kwon Do and Judo classes, the typical kid looking for fun, and maybe a little knowledge of how to handle myself and keep in shape. This adventure lasted approximately 3 years.
I joined Red Tiger Tae Kwon Do three decades later because I wanted to finish what I had started. As an adult I was finally able to appreciate a sport that has bettered my life both in body, mind and spirit.
When I grew to learn more about this wonderful organization, I saw how they were tough yet sensitive to my needs. and to others who were medically challenged. I met people with rheumatoid arthritis, back problems, multiple sclerosis and a host of other disabilities who were utilizing this organization not only for sport but more importantly for the mental and physical therapy it gave to all of us.
The last time I was in a competition was when I was twenty, but I had enjoyed it, and told Mr. Fran Ott, my sabunim, that I wanted to compete again. In response he mentioned a competition held every two years in Argentina. Argentina? What an interesting idea.
I made up my mind, then, that I would train as hard and often as I could, with Argentina as my goal.
Through the next three years I had my share of injuries and also life's unexpected curve balls.
I broke my foot, tore my shoulder muscle, ripped off a toenail and various and sundry other mishaps in class. These incidents were more due to my clumsiness and rambunctious behavior then anything else.
Along the way I faced more serious challenges. I lost my mother, father-in-law and my brother's father-in-law within in a single year. All very kind sweet people.
Still, even though I was emotionally detoured, at times, I kept plugging along. The difference between a goal and a dream is a timetable, and I had timetable: Argentina in 2000.
I trained hard, pounded up and down the neighborhood hills till I was a familiar sight to my neighbors. It wasn't easy. Don't forget I'm over 50 and I've had diabetes for over 40 years. But I knew I could do it!
My wife Jill-who I adore-my children and my family have all said I'm insane for wanting to do this but they have also supported me in my efforts and goals, as I pushed the envelope of life. My creed has always been to live each day as it were my last, and I will continue to do that, and not waste a single day. Being a devout spiritualist since my 1984 accident, I have also learned to help everyone and hurt no one.
Our group, about thirty-five of us, left for Argentina on November 15th from JFK airport. Between the flight, bus rides and layovers we arrive in Mar Del Plata Argentina about 22 hours later.
On our flight were the founders and some of their family of Red Tiger Tae Kwon Do. Mr. Mario Cancelliere, our founder, could not make it but we were chaperoned by Mr. Marcello Cancellieri.
Mr. Mario Cancelliere, Mr. Marcello Cancelliere, Mr. Francis Ott, Mr. James Fallon. I didn't realize what those people would mean to mean when I started 3 and a half years ago, they have helped me get to the point where I will climb this mountain, this competition!
- Mr. Mario Cancelliere 6th Dan.
- Mr. Marcello Cancelliere 5th Dan.
- Mr. James Fallon 3rd Dan.
- Mr. Fran Ott 2nd Dan.
We arrived tired but enthusiastic. For the next few days we worked out, went sightseeing and simply enjoyed ourselves.
It's now Friday evening. The tournament is Saturday.
I'm nervous, excited and have some self doubt but I know my diabetes has made me stronger, more resilient, sensitive and full of the "Can Do Attitude" I have accepted diabetes as my life's partner a long time ago and this partner is going to help give me the strength to succeed.
Having Juvenile Diabetes but wearing an insulin pump will allow me to adjust accordingly during Saturday's event. "I Hope!"
We entered the sports center at about 9 A.M. I was tense, and my blood sugar numbers were bouncing around a bit, but I could handle it. At least I thought I could.
I would do my form at about 9 AM, so I prepared my insulin intake accordingly. A few minutes later Mr. Ott said there might not be a senior division for sparring, and asked if I would be willing to spar with the next division below me. That could be someone 35 or younger. I immediately said "yes."
But sparring was for later. First came the forms. At nine they called my name, and my stomach gave a lurch. Then I was into it, and it was as though I was on the floor of my own dojang, though I was nervous and rushed a little bit. To my surprise and pleasure, I took a third place trophy. I was ecstatic.
Then came news that brought back that knot in my stomach. I would be sparring in little more then an hour.
I had adjusted my insulin pump to be prepared for this event, but it didn't work as well as I would have liked. Adrenalin and stress plays hell with your blood sugar, and mine was acting like a yoyo. When that happens it saps your strength.
At eleven I was ready but there was a change. I wouldn't spar until late afternoon. More stress. More wandering blood sugar numbers. Just great. Test the blood: Is it low? Drink Coke. High? Give a bit more insulin. Coke followed by insulin, followed by… That sequence went on a dozen times as the clock crept toward evening.
By three o'clock I was worn down, but I kept saying to myself "You Can Do It." Unfortunately, it felt like my body wasn't listening.
Finally at four entered the sparring area, matched with someone at my belt level, red stripe. He was also ten years my junior. We started. He scored points, but I scored just as many on him, which helped steady me. It seemed we were fairly well matched. That was good. What wasn't good was that his endurance was superior to mine. Take away ten years and subtract the effects of a lifetime battling diabetes, and you had my opponent. That round was a minute and a half long. Only ninety seconds-but to me that seemed an eternity. It became a test not of who would score the most points, but if I would be standing at the end of the round. And I was! I had held my own against a man ten years my junior, one who hadn't spent the day doing battle with his own body.
To those of you who haven't lived with the day-to-day problems a diabetes faces, that may seem trivial, but to me that was a great victory, and I hurriedly slugged down some Coke to keep from passing out.
While my opponent rested I stuck myself and spread a drop of blood onto my glucometer's test strip. Bad news. My blood sugar was low. Too low. I was light-headed to the point where I was slurring my words, and that wouldn't change quickly.
When I was paying attention to the world again, I found I had tied the round. Damn! Tied? I was glad to have even survived. But tying meant I needed to go back in there for another minute. Mr. Ott offered encouragement, with "You have it, Marc. Third place is yours. Just hold on for another minute."
Could I do it? Would my fifty- year- old body hang together for one more round? Or would I fall on my face before the minute had passed? If only there were more time to recover. But there wasn't, and good sense prevailed, so after a moment's thought I made a hard decision. I would walk away from third place. Better to do that than pass out during the match.
"Mr. Ott," I finally said. "There's always another day, another tournament. I've already won this one. I did it. I really did it!"
That day I walked away from what might have been a third place trophy for sparring. But what I didn't walk away from was a personal victory. That I had won on all counts. I had climbed another mountain in my life and I had beaten back diabetes yet again. And next time? Well next time, look out!
The Cancelliere family and Mr. Ott have encouraged me in their tenets of Red Tiger Tae Kwon Do. They are, Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control and Indomitable spirit.
I have always believed in these tenets but never have I been part of such an amazing organization, one that is so focused on their mission.
From the bottom of my heart I want to thank all of my teachers and friends at Red Tiger for helping me climb my personal mountain. I could not have done it without you all.
Marc H. Blatstein
June 25, 2003
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