Insulin Nation is featuring profiles of athletes with Type 1 diabetes who thrive at their sport. Each profile is excerpted from Judith Jones Ambrosini’s book “The Sisterhood of Diabetes: Facing Challenges and Living Dreams.” In this excerpt, we profile the formative years of Jen Hanson, who is now the executive director of Connected in Motion.
Wrestling began for Jen Hanson in sixth grade in Sunderland, Ontario, when a team was formed at her elementary school. It turned out that Jen was good, and so she continued to wrestle throughout high school and college, all while balancing the care of her Type 1 diabetes.
During this time she wrapped, sweated and sucked on ice cubes to make qualifying weight for competitive matches. Since several of her school’s coaches were Olympic coaches, the rules of the game were tough for all the wrestlers, and expectations for each team member were high. Wrestlers were expected to stay tight within predetermined weight classes.
The pressure of making weight was always stressful, and having Type 1 diabetes compounded Jen’s situation. The combination of working out strenuously, sometimes limiting food intake before tournament weigh-ins, and an intense training schedule does not bode well with maintaining good, or even, decent diabetes control. Jen found it extremely difficult to handle these stresses, but being the passionate sport and team player that she is, she worked hard at trying to manage both for thirteen years.
“Having diabetes (while wrestling) taught me to be more in tune with my body and health,” she says.
While there were many wins during the course of Jen’s wrestling career, they were peppered with some disappointments. Managing blood glucose levels in a sport that requires short bursts of intense anaerobic energy caused her blood glucose levels to fluctuate during many competitions. And, of course, the fear of hypoglycemia which lies hidden in every diabetic’s psyche was always there for Jen.
Jen remembers her greatest success came during her first year of participation as a college varsity athlete. She had her best finish at the national wrestling competition, a strong fourth-place. In the Provincial Championship tournaments, Jen placed second, only losing to the current World University Championship title holder. She believes success that year went hand in hand with her diabetes self-care.
“I was able to strike a balance between my diabetes, my wrestling, and the huge challenges associated with my first year of living away from home and starting university,” she says.
Jen feels that the advantages of being a varsity athlete outweighed any obstacle. Through her sport she was able to take advantage of some wonderful volunteer mentoring projects, such as being a coordinator and a mentor for a program called impact, which pairs varsity athletes
with at-risk youth in the community. And as a youngster with diabetes, she attended Camp Huronda, a Canadian camp for children with diabetes, for eight summers. After that she continued as a staff member for another nine years. The people she met during her time at Camp Huronda remain some of her best friends. Her time there had a powerful impact on her life, particularly on the direction she would take in her career as a teacher and educator.
Through the camp experience and teaching, Jen has been involved with many diabetes organizations. She has worked as a volunteer, organizing fundraising teams for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Canadian Diabetes Association. In 2010, she was part of the first Children With Diabetes—Friends For Life conference in Vancouver, working as part of the leadership team of the entire elementary program. Currently, Jen works as the Executive Director at Connected in Motion and as an instructor with ALIVE Outdoors.
Jen is proud to be a role model for others who live with diabetes and encourages them to use it as a positive force. She now lives her life with a certain pride of having diabetes and is proud of the accomplishments she has achieved in her life with it.
“I enjoy showing people, and myself as well, that I can do anything I set my mind to, not just despite diabetes but because of diabetes,” she says. “No dream is impossible as long as you train for it.”
If you would like to purchase the book “The Sisterhood of Diabetes: Facing Challenges and Living Dreams”, go to thesisterhoodofdiabetes.com/buy-sisterhood-of-diabetes.