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From Columbia, Missouri, USA:

I am a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I am also a member of the swim team. Yesterday, a friend on my team was diagnosed with diabetes. His blood sugar level was 600 and he is now in the hospital. I am told that he will have to give himself insulin shots everyday, twice a day. I am a little worried about him and am curious about what impact this will have on him as and athlete. I have many questions. Will he still be able to compete at an elite level? How will this effect his training? What modifications will he have to make? I know very little about the subject of diabetes. If you can send me any information at all I would be very appreciative, especially regarding athletics.


First I want to commend you on your concern for your friend. Yes, people with diabetes can compete in sports on the "elite level." People with diabetes have to learn to balance their food, insulin, and exercise to control their blood sugars. Since exercise lowers the blood sugar, your friend will need to learn how to change his food and/or insulin to balance this exercise.

It is important that your friend work closely with a physician and dietitian to individualize his diabetes management. Since your friend may have intense exercise at different times of the day on different days, he may choose a multiple injection regimen (3 or 4 shots a day) to maximize his flexibility.

I would suggest that you ask your friend how you can be of help. You might ask him what his individual symptoms of low blood sugar are and how you can help him if you notice these symptoms. It is particularly important to avoid low blood sugars while swimming or diving as the temporary decrease in coordination and control during a low blood sugar could be dangerous in the water (especially diving).

If your friend brings a meter and food to the pool (a good idea), he should make sure to use a meter that uses foil wrapped strips to avoid spoilage of the strips with humidity. It is also a good idea to bring well wrapped food that won't spoil if it gets wet. Cake decorating gel in plastic tubes is a good emergency food to keep at the pool. Even if it falls into the pool, one of the divers on the team could retrieve it and it wouldn't spoil!


[Editor's comment: Also, I'd suggest you contact the International Diabetic Athletes Association (1647-B West Bethany Home Road, Phoenix, AZ 85015; (800) 898-IDAA or (602) 433-2113; fax (602) 433-9331; Paula Harper, President. Additional information about the IDAA can be found at the IDAA website). Also, see:

  1. our listing of sports figures with diabetes, and
  2. previous questions about exercise and sports.

Original posting 28 Mar 97


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Last Updated: Tuesday April 06, 2010 15:08:54
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