When Tommy Neal got home from the hospital after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 28, he decided to start running. By the end of the week, he had covered 60 miles. He hasn’t stopped since. He has competed in many national and international competitions as a long-distance runner and member of Team Novo Nordisk, a team of athletes with diabetes.
“Being diagnosed with diabetes just gave me more motivation and more goals,” he said in an email interview “The better I get, the more I want to race.”
Tommy’s daily routine includes 2,000-calorie breakfasts, six-in-the-morning runs at a five-minute-per-mile pace, and intensive core training. He’s also a coach and a motivational speaker for people with diabetes across the country. He says near-constant training helps him manage his blood sugar levels.
“I get a sense for what my blood glucose might do in a race during my training…if I do enough 20-plus-mile-long runs, then I have a better idea of how my body will react to different paces and distances,” he says. “There are always going to be surprises with diabetes, but I expect that now. I’m always adjusting, and working with my doctor if something does surprise me.”
Despite the physical changes he had to make after being diagnosed, Tommy says that the learning curve was more mental than physical.
“I realized that this is my condition and I am the only one who can take care of it,” he said. “I think it’s important to try to embrace your diabetes.”
Tommy doesn’t plan to stop competing anytime soon, partly because being an inspiration to the diabetes community inspires him, as well. He still remembers feeling nervous for his first talk at a diabetes camp in Colorado, when he was set to speak to hundreds of kids and to follow a Medal of Honor winner among the speakers. He told the camp director that he was out of his league as a speaker and should have gone before the decorated veteran.
She told him not to worry; the speaker before him may have been a military hero, but he didn’t have Type 1 diabetes. Sure enough, the kids cheered twice as loudly when Tommy got onstage.
“Those kids are my inspiration,” Tommy said. “They proved to me that racing with diabetes is more meaningful than I will ever know.”
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