One of the more interesting teams competing at the Tour de Georgia this week is Team Type 1. When the Tour de Georgia teams were announced I gave team founder Joe Eldridge a call for an interview.
Diabetic pro athletes
Team Type 1 was created in 2004 by Type 1 diabetes racers Phil Southerland and Joe Eldridge to inspire people living with diabetes to take a proactive approach to managing their health and overcoming the obstacles often associated with the condition. In 2006 and 2007, the team won the eight-rider corporate team division of the Race Across America. Of the 15 members on the Team Type 1professional squad, four have Type 1 Diabetes, including Tour de Georgia racer Fabio Calabria of Australia. As of the end of Stage 3 in the Tour de Georgia, Calabria is in fifth place in the "Best Young Rider" classification, less than a second behind Best Younger Rider Tyler Farrar.
Goals crucial for athletic competition and health
"Our goal is to inspire people with diabetes around the world to take control of their health through diet, exercise and proper health care," says team co-founder Phil Southerland. "As a professional team, racing against the world's best cyclists, we'll be able to deliver that message to a much wider audience."
"Setting goals are critical to athletic success," says Joe. "For a diabetic to be successful at achieving an athletic goal has to remember they have to set a diabetes goal as well. The key to is blood sugar management. The only way to perform at 100% is to be prepared physically this includes having your blood sugar where it needs to be not just for the event but during training, resting, and daily activities. The steps that you take to manage your diabetes will help you achieve your athletic goals."
Team Type 1 made their professional racing debut last February as the only U.S. team in the Tour of Langkawi stage race in Malaysia, where the team finished 2nd overall. They also recently completed the Tour of Taiwan, where Team Type 1 cyclist Shawn Milne won a stage victory for his team and placed 2nd overall.
Team Type 1 founder Southerland is especially unusual because he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 7 months. Both Southerland and Eldridge were encouraged to be athletic through high school and college. They met at a collegiate bike race as competitors -- besides a love for competitive cycling they discovered they had Type 1 Diabetes in common. They decided to participate in the Race Across America together, and in their second year of RAAM in 2007 took first place by more than 3 hours.
Challenges of diabetic athletes
Type 1 Diabetes is a disorder where the body does not produce enough insulin. To manage blood sugar, diabetics must test their blood sugar a few times per day. Team Type 1 diabetics check their blood sugar up to 20 times per day on a race day, pricking their fingers for a blood sample 4 or 5 times just in the hour before the race. During the race itself there is no opportunity to check blood sugar, but from training rides the athletes have a sense of low blood sugar and know to consume a little more sugar. In a non-diabetic athlete, the athlete who consumes too much carbohydrate, the body is able to store the sugar in the liver. But in diabetic athletes, the hormones to do that conversion aren't there, so the kidneys work to remove the extra sugar from the blood. Diabetic athletes have the challenge of extra bathroom breaks because of the extra urine produced when they consume that Clif Bar.
Joe tells me that the main challenge for the diabetic athlete is to keep his blood sugar under control. As long as he carefully monitors his blood sugar and his diet, he can compete at the level of other world class athletes. His endocrinologist supports his endeavors.
Bound for the Tour de France
Eldridge and Southerland have shown their sponsors and fans that "we're here to race and we're here to win." Their goal is to race in the ProTour and win an invitation to the Tour de France in five years. "To the best of our knowledge, no type 1 diabetic has ever competed as a professional cyclist in Europe," says Eldridge. "We intend to be the first diabetic ProTour cyclists."