What: USA Pro Challenge
When: Aug. 19-25
Where: Various locations throughout Colorado
More info: usaprocyclingchallenge.com/
Team Novo Nordisk: teamnovonordisk.com/
During races, cyclists for Team Novo Nordisk have a lot on their minds.
Just like any other team, the all-diabetic cycling team thinks about race tactics, strategy and which cyclist is going to make the next race attack. However, one thing different the team must keep an eye on is their blood sugar levels and insulin.
It can be a lot to juggle, but it’s just another day living with type 1 diabetes for the team’s 17 riders, who all live with the disease.
The team spent three days in Boulder this week training at altitude to prepare for next week’s USA Pro Challenge, which takes riders across Colorado Aug. 19-25. Team Novo Nordisk will go head-to-head with teams like Sky, which boasts the 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome on its roster, and Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, the 2013 Tour de France sprint jersey winner.
Rider Fabio Calabria, who lives in Boulder when he’s not traveling or racing around Europe, has been the team’s unofficial tour guide during their stay. On the team’s first training ride, he said his fellow cyclists couldn’t stop talking about how friendly the people in Boulder are and how beautiful to views were.
“Every now and then if it was quiet you’d hear them, ‘Ah it’s good here isn’t it? How nice is it?” Calabria said.
So far, Calabria said he hadn’t heard many complaints about the altitude because the riders attributed being tired to jetlag. The team boasts athletes from 10 different countries, so many had spent the entire weekend traveling, then arriving in town exhausted. They’ll head to Vail and Aspen to train, leading up to the USA Pro Challenge’s first stage on Aug. 19.
Calabria, who’s originally from Canberra, Australia, was diagnosed with diabetes in 2001 at age 13. He said he had been feeling sick, and looking back, he now understands that he had many of the symptoms that go along with type 1 diabetes — frequent urination, fatigue and unquenchable thirst. But he said it was easy to attribute the ailments with a growth spurt, or a bug going around school. He was diagnosed after spending three days in a coma at the hospital and a week in intensive care.
Now 25, Calabria said managing diabetes can actually be helpful for Team Novo Nordisk during races because everyone is hyperaware of what their bodies need. With type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert food into energy.
“The benefit — or the blessing in disguise — is when you have diabetes, everyone on the team is very aware of how they feel and what they need and what they don’t need,” he said. “That can help because instead of just ignoring how your body is feeling, you can really be in tune and catch things early so you’re not bonking, or things like that, in a race.”
By bonking, Calabria said he means a blood sugar crash, which happens to all cyclists who go too long without eating during a race.
The team’s founder Phil Southerland was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 7 months old, and doctors told his mother that he wouldn’t live past age 25. He took up cycling at age 12 and founded the team in 2005 to show the world that with diet, exercise and an insulin regime, living and competing with diabetes is possible.
The first time 22-year-old Kevin De Mesmaeker heard about the team, he said it reaffirmed his belief that diabetes wouldn’t stop him from becoming a professional cyclist. De Mesmaeker, of Belgium, was diagnosed less than two years ago, and is still learning management tips from the older, more experienced members of the team.
“It was great to hear there were other guys like me,” he said. “I didn’t know other guys who had diabetes and could do cycling on a high level. I started to believe I could be a professional rider, too, because of the team.”
Australian rider Chris Williams was diagnosed four years ago, and said it still astonishes him that people are inspired by what he and the other riders on the team do.
For Williams, it’s just his life, something he’s gotten used to since his diagnosis. But if the team can help others living with the disease exercise more or calm the fears of parents of newly diagnosed children, Williams is happy to do it.
“It’s bizarre to think that I’m inspiring someone else,” he said. “I’ve noticed a lot of people struggle on different levels. Some people have a lot of problems managing diabetes with exercise and that sort of stuff, some people do it very easily, so a lot of people are really wowed by what we do and inspired to go out and exercise themselves.”
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.