By Eman Ali
When Luka Lee steps onto the soccer field, his biggest opponent is himself. But the Rams’ secondyear forward doesn’t want to battle his Type 1 diabetes, he wants to control it.
At 16 years old, Lee was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and thought his athletic career was over before it had even begun. His body’s inability to create insulin caused his blood sugar levels to fluctuate throughout games and resulted in inconsistent performance.
The ability to focus was sometimes impossible.
“I was always tired on the field,” Lee said. “I had to find out ways to make diabetes work for me and now I want to reach out to other people and help them.”
Two months ago, Lee created his blog, Turning Type 1 Into Being Number 1. He writes about being a varsity athlete with diabetes and shares his experiences with trying to manage his blood sugar so he can stay focused on the field.
“I haven’t had the hardest life, but I’ve had a lot of things to overcome,” he said. “I made the blog to show people that you can still excel if you have diabetes – you just need to learn to manage it.”
His blog has had about 2,000 hits so far. Every topic Lee writes about includes a personal anecdote of overcoming or handling a situation – such as how to work out as a diabetic, mastering game preparation and overcoming fears.
“I’ve done it all – hockey, soccer and tennis – and all the advice on the blog comes from personal experience,” Lee said.
But Lee hasn’t always treated his diabetes seriously. He used to try to ignore it.
Despite having high numbers before games – sometimes double the blood sugar level he now plays with – Lee said on his blog that he would “gulp down some Gatorade” and play anyway. But by doing this, he writes that some days he would play “great and other days the coach would pull [him] right back to the bench.”
Type 1 diabetes is not preventable, reversible or a result of lifestyle or weight gain – according to the Canadian Diabetes Association.
No matter how healthy Lee eats or how often he does physical activity, his diabetes will never go away. But it can get worse.
The Canadian Diabetes Association states that managing diabetes is necessary because high blood sugar levels can cause anything from blindness and heart disease, to nerve damage and kidney problems.
It took a year for Lee, an arts and contemporary studies student, to actually start trying to manage his blood sugar levels properly. Now, three years later, he has fine-tuned the process.
“It’s weird at first because you have to check your blood sugar in front of people and it makes you feel vulnerable,” he said. “I’ve heard all the jokes from my teammates, but now they’re all really supportive.”
Lee said the main way he overcame his challenges as a diabetic athlete was by accepting it.
He now writes for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and volunteers with the Rising Rams mentoring program for elementary schools in the Greater Toronto Area.