Just what is possible with type 1 diabetes? Just about anything you set your mind to. And nowhere is this more evident than in these remarkable students with type 1 diabetes who were among this year’s recipients of the Lilly Diabetes Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship through the Diabetes Scholars Foundation.
Each scholarship recipient exemplifies success through their individual strength, drive, and passion. They also possess an unyielding willingness to help others through community service and advocacy. We’re proud to feature the stories of these remarkable young adults who refuse to be defined by their disease.
Committed to Healthy Living
“Part of growing up is facing challenges that you never thought you could overcome. You can do it. Let diabetes grow your character.”
—Tanner, Kingwood, Texas, attending Johns Hopkins University
When Tanner was diagnosed with T1D at age 15, the hard-working high school sophomore’s world was rocked. “I remember getting back from the hospital and trying to do my Spanish homework, but because I was low, my vision was so blurry that I couldn’t read the page,” he says.
For the first few months after diagnosis, Tanner found himself leaning on his family and friends for support, something that was difficult at times for the competitive teen. Two years later, however, his thinking has changed. “Diabetes made me realize that I could handle a lot more than I thought I could; accepting help from friends and family is actually a sign of strength,” he discovered.
Tanner also believes in giving back to the diabetes community through his involvement in diabetes research studies conducted by Texas Children’s Hospital. “One of the studies was about eating a balanced diet and the combination of proteins, carbs, and fats that would lead to the most consistent blood sugars. Currently, I am involved with another research study testing to see if text messages to teens with reminders to check their blood sugar … will lead to increased control over blood sugar,” he explains.
If it sounds like Tanner’s future may be headed toward biological sciences, it’s probably because the Johns Hopkins University freshman has already decided to study bioengineering. Having type 1 has taught him to prioritize health and well-being, no matter how busy and stressful life gets. “As a teen, a lot is expected from you, like doing well in school, doing extracurriculars, community service, and more. What I’ve learned is that my health comes before all of those social expectations. With good health, success in class or sports will follow.”
Photo credit: Steve Brac
Ready to Make a Difference
“When those bouts of frustration come, just cry it out. And then eat some ice cream. But don’t forget to bolus!”
—Kelsey, Laguna Hills, Calif., attending Stanford University
Kelsey was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 7. The details of her diagnosis are fuzzy to her now, but as she lay in her hospital bed, Kelsey still recalls the feeling that maybe everything would work out. “As a nurse gave me an insulin injection, I remember just staring at her. No questions, no pain, just a bit of confusion that I figured I would eventually understand.”
And now she does. Throughout high school, Kelsey maintained high honors in her academics and earned a spot on her school’s varsity tennis team, all while taking care of her type 1. She actually credits her busy life with keeping her motivated to manage her diabetes. “Being a tennis player with type 1 kept me healthy in more ways than one. It forced me to check my blood sugar more often, think about what I was eating, and take the steps that I should be taking to make sure that I was in control,” she explains.
Kelsey is now in her first year at Stanford University where she plans to major in biomechanical engineering. “The field of mechanical engineering has become such a core part of biology and medicine in everything from insulin pumps to limb prosthetics to the artificial heart. The medical technology industry and all of its innovations will change people’s lives, and I want to be a part of this,” she says.
“Take it one day at a time and don’t beat yourself up over a lousy day. Sometimes there is nothing that you can do about it. And don’t let others’ preconceptions of diabetes stop you from sharing about it. Most of the time people are happy to learn!”
—Maggie, Goshen, Ind., attending University of Notre Dame
After Maggie was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, the hardest part of adjusting to life with type 1 was learning to let go of perfection. “At first I took a lot of pride in having ‘good’ blood sugars. This kind of backfired after a bit, because sometimes there’s nothing I can do to control my blood sugar. I think that now I’ve struck a balance between being motivated to achieve in-range numbers but not being hard on myself when they’re out of whack for some reason,” she says.
The desire to maintain balance has helped Maggie make positive decisions in her daily life. “For some people it might be okay to skip lunch when they don’t have time, but I really have to prioritize eating regularly. I also look at my schedule to see when the majority of my physical activity is happening and how I can accommodate that to balance my blood sugar,” she explains.
Maggie has also become involved in diabetes advocacy through her local JDRF chapter. “I’ve been involved in JDRF walks in the past, but most recently I organized a swim meet fundraiser. Both teams bought swim caps and T-shirts, and donations were collected for the JDRF.”
Maggie is currently a freshman at the University of Notre Dame where she is studying pre-med biology. Receiving a Diabetes Scholars Foundation scholarship has felt like a dream come true. “I am honored to have been chosen along with such fantastic people!”
Choosing Her Own Path
“Be open with friends, teachers, and classmates about your diabetes. Learning how to explain type 1 to other people is an important skill for getting ready to go off to college, but it’s also empowering to be able to say that you understand your diabetes and are in control of it.”
—Rebecca, McLean, Va., attending the College of William & Mary
Rebecca was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 8, shortly before she was due to start third grade in a new school system. “My diagnosis meant that this transition to a new school suddenly became more complicated. I knew I had a new set of responsibilities,” she recalls.
Rebecca got through that challenge and others that have come her way due to her single-minded determination. “Sometimes you have to be willing to stop everything and make your diabetes care the first priority, which may be hard when everyone around you is busy living at their own pace. I have learned that fitting diabetes in is kind of like another extracurricular club, because it’s something you have to make time for in your schedule,” she says.
Now a first-year student at the College of William & Mary, Rebecca plans to major in anthropology, get more involved in advocacy through the school’s chapter of the College Diabetes Network, and, more generally speaking, enjoy every minute of her college experience. “I’m looking forward to continuing my involvement in ballroom dance and choir, exploring the many kinds of classes the college has to offer, and becoming a part of this spirited and diverse community.”
Moving Toward His Goals
“Test often and keep your blood sugar in range. Other than that, partake in the same joys of life as everyone around you!”
—Gordon, Mine Hill, N.J., attending Princeton University
Many college students with type 1 diabetes have lived with it for years. Not so for Gordon, who was diagnosed smack in the middle of his senior year of high school. “When the doctors told me I had T1D, I didn’t really know what to think. It was just two days after Christmas, and I felt like the whole world had just come crashing down on me,” he recalls.
From his hospital bed, Gordon filled out college applications due by the end of the month. He also tried to come to grips with his new life. An unexpected new friend helped him start to see the possibilities. “My roommate in the hospital was freshly diagnosed like me, and we spent our diabetes education sessions together. He was here in a foreign-exchange program with Germany, so I had a chance to practice some of my high school German on him,” Gordon explains.
Heading back to school, Gordon received immediate support from understanding teachers and classmates. “My friends in AP statistics even made a game out of guessing my numbers right before the bell rang at 3 p.m.,” he says.
Gordon also jumped back in to his usual busy schedule serving as a youth soccer referee, keeping in mind his added responsibility of managing his type 1. “Some days I would get three games to ref in a row. In those cases, I would check my blood sugar often and make sure to have plenty of snacks on me in case chasing after the players left me low.”
Only a year after his diagnosis, Gordon now attends Princeton University, where he is majoring in computer science and plans to start a chapter of the College Diabetes Network to connect with other students with T1D. “I’m excited to live on this beautiful campus and embark on a lifelong career. Go, Tigers!”
Inspired and Inspiring
“I wrote my scholarship essay on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, arguably our greatest president, and how he overcame the challenge of polio to lead our nation through the Great Depression and the Second World War. Roosevelt and other leaders like President Obama have given me great inspiration and hope whenever I have struggled with diabetes. I would encourage every teenager with diabetes to find a source of hope for themselves and use it to drive forward and accomplish great things.”
—Ben, East Peoria, Ill., attending University of Chicago
Ben was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2008, right before the U.S. presidential election. It was good timing for him, because seeing Barack Obama elected president gave Ben the hope he needed to believe that anything was possible, including living life to the fullest with T1D.
First, however, Ben had to get through his early teen years, which he admits were a challenge. “Being a teenager with diabetes was difficult to manage. I simply didn’t want to think about checking my blood sugar, taking insulin, and counting carbs. However, over time with the help of my parents, my endocrinologist, and the nursing staff at school, I realized that the task was less daunting than I had previously imagined.”
Ben is now a first-year student at the University of Chicago, where he plans to study economics. “I feel that it’s a field where I can make an important contribution to society, and I am excited to learn amongst some of the greatest economic thinkers of our time,” he explains.
Diabetes Scholars Foundation
Since 2004, the Diabetes Scholars Foundation has supported activities related to education for children with diabetes through scholarships for diabetes conferences and higher education. Scholarship recipients are chosen based on factors including involvement in the diabetes community, high academic performance, participation in community and/or extracurricular activities, and ability to demonstrate how they successfully manage the challenges of living with diabetes.
“There is something very special about each young adult who applies to the Foundation,” said Mary Podjasek, president, Diabetes Scholars Foundation. “And this is one small way that diabetes can actually be an advantage.”
Have a student interested in applying? Applications for this year’s scholarships are due by April 15, 2016. For additional information and a scholarship application, visit Diabetesscholars.org.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.