Raising a Child with Diabetes: The Athlete

Raising a Child with Diabetes: The Athlete

Most mothers remember exactly when they found out they were pregnant. I was no exception. At first, I was nervous and scared, but after a few weeks after confirmation from the doctor all I could think about was the little boy I’d always wanted. I am an avid football fan. I wanted so badly to be a football mom. When I got the news from the sonographer, I was elated! I was having a baby boy.

When that little boy I longed for was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of seven, I thought, “Will my little athlete still be able to compete?”

It was a question I asked before he was discharged at the end of our hospital stay. You see, my son had already had a few seasons of baseball, pee-wee soccer and basketball under his belt. When the doctor told us that the activities would be a good way to help manage his diabetes we were all a little relieved.

It wasn’t until he was in the fourth grade that his sporting activities would be affected. For each sport my son played my husband would volunteer to coach when given the opportunity and back then practices were open to spectators. That year, my son could sign up to play in our local Junior Football League. That was the first time my husband wasn’t a coach and we needed to educate the coaching staff of basic diabetes first aid.

Over the next nine years we would meet with the coaches the first day of practice to talk about our son’s diagnosis and what it would mean for him as a part of the team:

  • That he was no different than any other player on the field and should be treated equally
  • Signs of a low blood sugar – dizziness, being combative, slurring of words
  • Steps he should take if a low blood sugar occurred
  • He MIGHT have to sit out if his blood sugar dropped too low.
  • How to operate a glucagon kit, or emergency kit in case of hypoglycemic episodes

My husband and I had this discussion with all of the coaches that ever coached my son. Over those nine years we had that talk with at least two dozen coaches and athletic trainers. We discovered that talking with them before the season started put their mind at ease as much as it did ours.

As my son grew, we learned that although exercise is good for a child with diabetes, different sports can have different effects in blood glucose levels. During football season, we discovered that when he practiced or had a game his blood sugars would spike with the added adrenaline running through his body. This is due to the short bursts of energy being used. Basketball is non-stop action so it would cause his blood sugars to drop quickly. He never went to practice without Gatorade or glucose tablets. The slower pace of baseball kept his blood sugars steady for the most part, but with practice being after school we did find that he would still need a snack to keep his blood sugar from dropping toward the end of practice.



I did my best to keep him prepared and be prepared myself with snacks and/or glucose tablets, insulin, and supplies, however there have been times when a trip to the concession stand was necessary. No matter how prepared we thought we were there have still been times when his game was affected. We were once at a basketball game far from home and my son’s insulin pump failed right before the game was about to start. We were caught without any insulin with us. We allowed him to start playing since the trends we’d seen in the past were of his blood sugars going down. As he played his blood sugar kept getting higher and higher. We had to make the decision that was best for his health, which was take him out of the game and get him home as quickly as possible. That was a hard lesson for him and us to learn. That was the last time we were caught in a situation like that. Lesson learned.



My son was a three-sport-athlete from kindergarten through senior year of high school. Even after he was diagnosed as a person living with Type 1 he never thought for a second about giving up those sports. He learned to deal with highs and lows and keep going and didn’t give up on himself or his team. He performed his best and relied on his team when needed, especially when he broke his arm, sprained his neck, and broke his shoulder. His senior year he was the captain of the basketball team, was recognized as a scholar athlete by our conference and received the Army Scholar Athlete Award by our local Armory.

My son has learned since the young age of seven that when you come upon a barrier in life you don’t let it deter you from what you want to do. In my next blog, I’ll talk about the time when he realized that having Type 1 diabetes could actually stop him from doing things in life.

Are you parenting a child with a medical condition? What do you not leave home without? Tell us in the comments.

Presented by: Tamara Martin

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