Build a Better Life
The DiagnosisJennifer Davino was a 14-year-old high-school student when her symptoms became pronounced: constant thirst and urination. Her mother recognized the pattern as the symptoms of Type I or juvenile diabetes, and her doctor confirmed her mom's suspicion. Davino began a life of blood sugar monitoring, insulin supplementation and careful planning of her meals and activities. “I didn't really play sports as a kid,” Davino, now 30, told TheVisualMD.com. She was relatively active and happy, she recalls. But she also had to learn to manage her disease and respond to unexpected peaks and valleys in her glucose levels.
The ChallengeBy age 25, Davino was an old hand at managing diabetes, but she didn't feel at the top of her game. “I was upset with how I had to monitor the disease,” she says. “I didn't feel great physically, either. I felt depressed, and I'm normally a happy person. Really!” She decided to get in touch with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), who set her up with an e-mail buddy. Being able to correspond with someone whose life resembled hers proved to be vitally important. That year, Davino decided to take part in JDRF's annual Ride for the Cure to raise money for diabetes research. Training for that 50-mile bike ride was an important first step toward becoming a diabetic athlete. READ MORE
Training for a long bike ride is never easy, but diabetes raises an extra dimension to the challenge. “If I'm doing a training ride at 7AM, I wake up 2 or 3 hours before that to eat and take insulin,” Davino says. “That way, the cycle is done when I start.” One thing she noticed: Her insulin sensitivity increased as she trained. “I needed much less insulin for meals,” said Davino. After her first successful JDRF ride, the fundraiser became an annual event. She has even participated in rides of 100 miles and more. LESS
A New Way of LifeThe improvement in her mood and physical condition, paired with the support of a newfound tribe of fellow diabetic athletes, changed Davino's life. She moved on to a new challenge, and found an online community called Triabetes comprised of diabetic athletes who compete in triathlons. “Starting to train for triathlons was like getting diabetes all over again,” says Davino. “My blood sugar was off all the time. It was a hard adjustment, but once you learn to adjust, you know how to keep making incremental changes as you become better trained.” READ MORE
She ran a sprint triathlon, then a half-Ironman triathlon, building her performance and learning more about how her body would respond to the challenge with every event. “It was really important to work with a registered dietitian who was also a diabetes educator,” says Davino, who hopes to pursue that field herself. “Learning to manage my nutrition and insulin was so important.”
By the summer of 2011, Davino was ready for the Main Event: A full Ironman event in Lake Placid, New York. As she crossed the finish lines after a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike event and 26.2-mile run, she heard her name over the public address system: “Jennifer Davino, you are an Ironman!” The race, 140. 6 miles in all, took her 16 hours, 55 minutes and 9 seconds. Davino is now at the top of her game. Even though the coach wanted her to take time off after the big race, she really wanted to continue her scheduled workouts in order to feel like herself. When she stops training she needs more insulin. “That doesn't mean my blood sugar is good all the time. Even if my time is really slow, if I have stable blood sugar during a race then that was a great day.” LESS