Paige Gottorff is a sophomore on the Grand Valley State University women’s lacrosse team. A top 20 Division II program in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is a Biomedical Science major with a minor in Biology, plays defense, and she is a Type I diabetic. We sat down with Paige to get a better understanding on what it is like to be an elite athlete with T1D.
When were you diagnosed and how did you/your family recognize there might be something off?
I was diagnosed in 7th grade at age 11. I grew up playing lacrosse and always had the energy to make it through games and tournaments. Until one particular lacrosse tournament I was a lot slower, constantly drinking water, and using the bathroom. We just thought it was because it was hot outside. However, after the tournament my symptoms continued and worsened… Eventually I began to lose weight at that point my parents took me to the doctor. October 28th of 2012 I was officially diagnosed.
What kind of symptoms do you experience?
For low blood sugar I feel incredibly dizzy and nauseous, my legs get very shaky, I have trouble talking, and I will get headaches. For high blood sugar my head gets very foggy to the point it’s very challenging to focus, and I feel extremely tired.
What do you do when you start to experience these symptoms?
If my blood sugar is low, I will typically have a juice box and a granola bar. If my blood sugar is high, then I’ll take the correct amount of insulin to lower me back to a healthy level.
What does an average day of training look like for you with T1D?
It varies. I prefer to train in the morning so I’m not worrying about my blood sugar during training the whole day – but when you are a college athlete you don’t always get the choice of when you get to workout or how often. If I’m training in the morning I will eat a light but sufficient breakfast that will keep me full and energized throughout the practice or training. If the workout is later in the day I’ll eat normally but keep a close eye on blood sugar. For practices, we practice for two hours, so I will always take an additional 3 units of insulin. I will test 30 mins before practice and every 30 minutes during practice. After practice I always have a meal full of carbohydrates to make sure my blood sugar doesn’t go low later in the day. If my blood sugar is above 250 I will sit out of practice until it is below that value to make sure I’m at my best performance and not harming my body. If my blood sugar is below 80 I will drink a juice box and sit out for at least 15 minutes.
What is your biggest challenge with being elite athlete and how do you manage that?
Getting myself to do the same thing every day… Like testing my blood sugar the right amount on training days and eating the proper food. Just because you are never sure what will happen throughout the day. Our days are so packed with classes, practice, community service, and team activities so no one week ever looks identical to the next, but I try to maintain a strict schedule as best I can.
How do you prepare for away games/traveling?
When I am going on trips I make sure I have double (at least) of everything. I pack about 4 pens of both humalog (short term insulin) and lantus (24 hr insulin). I’ll make sure I have my glucagon to carry incase I pass out from low blood sugar. I’ll carry extra needles, test stripes, and extra glucose monitor, and snacks incase I go low while traveling. Glucose tabs are also always with me.
How has being apart of athletics benefited your life with T1D?
Being as active as I am my blood sugar definitely is lower than it would be if I wasn’t extremely active. So, I am overall more healthy in terms of my blood sugar and A1C since I maintain an active lifestyle.
What is one thing you wish your teammate understood?
Diabetes is hard. Sometimes I really, really don’t feel well and just because I appear healthy doesn’t mean I feel like it. I also don’t sit out of practices because I want to, but because I need to.
What is the best advice you have for someone in your situation?
Hang in there. It’s extremely hard, but the routine and strict schedule will really be worth it!