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A Personal Story: Importance of PE & PA for prevention & management of diabetes

In celebration of National Diabetes Month – I’m sharing a personal story with you. 

Purposely making it public that I have Type 1 diabetes is not something which I would have chosen to do as a child with such a diagnosis, let alone early in my professional career. However, I am proud of who I am, and I wouldn’t want my life to be any different. Speaking of “different”, I didn’t want to be different growing up. I wanted to be “normal”. But what is “normal”? Today it seems to me that being different is often perceived as being “cool”. In my opinion, we all have unique challenges which can change throughout life. It is unfortunate that children with certain challenges are often teased.

I was lucky to have parents that encouraged me to do the same things that “normal” kids would do. They didn’t stop me from participating along with my peers just because I had diabetes. I think about how different my life would be if my parents had sheltered me or if important figures in my life such as my PE teachers and coaches had treated me differently. I would have missed out on a week-long camp each summer, learning to canoe, horse-back riding, learning how to sail, becoming a camp counselor, taking on the love of running and holding the “1 mile run” record throughout middle school, and most likely I wouldn’t have taken a career path working for SPARK. All these experiences are some of the best parts of my life, which I attribute to having been diagnosed with diabetes.

I grew up in a town of 600 people – Motto: Small in size, Big on friendliness. Small in size also equated to the only person in our school district with Type 1 diabetes was me!

When I was in college, I did a project for one of my health education courses. I went back to my high school and presented a session to the staff in the school district on B.E.S.T (Behavior, Environment, Signs/symptoms, and Treatment) for those with Type 1 diabetes. I’ll never forget one of the comments after my presentation: “This was the first time in about 25 years – all the years that I have been teaching – that anyone has ever talked about or presented anything about diabetes.” Education is key, you can’t change behavior without it. If you are PE teacher or activity provider who has not received any training or information about working with children with diabetes, I encourage you to request this.

Going to PE class was the best part of my day – it was a place I felt “normal”. I have always been someone who wants to make sure everyone is included – I don’t want people to feel left out – whether in a classroom, sport team, or work environment. When I was first introduced to SPARK at the first Childhood Obesity Conference that took place in San Diego, I felt SPARK was speaking to me. The fact that SPARK was all-inclusive and increased moderate-to-vigorous activity struck me personally. The benefits this program could have on children throughout the country (and world) made me excited to learn more! 

I want all children with diabetes and adults supporting those with diabetes to know that these children can do anything, achieve their dreams, and accomplish whatever they want to accomplish even if they have diabetes! 

Physical activity not only helps prevent diabetes, it also plays a major role in the management of diabetes. Being physically active while growing up gave me the encouragement that I could do anything, even if I had diabetes.

Thank you to those of you who are physical educators and youth activity providers who have children with Type 1 diabetes (or Type 2) in your class. You play an important role in our lives, and help make it possible for parents and caregivers to “let go” a bit. You are helping those with diabetes better manage the disease and help prevent diabetes for everyone else now and in the future. 

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