High School Athletes Successfully Battle Health Issue

Nov 26, 2019 | Featured

High School Athletes Successfully Battle Health Issue 

By Robert Solomon
 
Two high school athletes go to different schools.  They play different sports and have different interests.  However, they have one major thing in common.  Both were diagnosed early in their high school careers with Type 1 diabetes and both chose to overcome their condition to not only compete, but excel in their respective sports.
 
Type 1diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, affects approximately 1.25 million Americans.  It is a condition where the body does not produce the insulin needed to break down sugar allowing it to enter the body’s cells. The exact cause is not known but it is believed that one cause is when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. The injection of insulin is required to replace the natural insulin  produced by the body. There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes but when proper precautions are taken, there are no limitations for a person that has this condition.
 
Kate Braun is a 15-year-old sophomore at Mater Dei Prep located in Middletown.  She plays varsity soccer and runs varsity indoor and outdoor track. She plans to continue participating in all three sports throughout the rest of her high school career.
 
Drew Frankel is a 17-year-old senior at Rumson-Fair Haven High School.  He is a four-year varsity football player, a three-year varsity basketball player and a three-year varsity lacrosse player.  He is a captain of the football team and plans to finish his senior year completing his fourth  year on both the basketball and lacrosse teams.  
 
Both Braun and Frankel have participated in sports their entire lives. “I have played sports ever since I can remember,” Frankel stated.
 
“I’ve played since I was four years old,” said Braun.  
 
However it wasn’t until later in their lives they were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  Frankel was diagnosed in seventh grade and Braun was diagnosed in the middle of her freshman year. This is when their lives changed forever.  
 
“It was tough dealing with certain aspects of my life,” said Frankel. 
 
They both have to inject themselves with insulin on a regular basis. Up until recently, Frankel had to check his blood sugar everyday by pricking his finger and testing his blood. Braun still does that once a day.   
 
To monitor their blood sugar levels now, both of these athletes wear a pod that sends their counts to their cell phones. “It was a game changer,” Frankel exclaimed. 
 
Braun can remember a scary time with her pod. “I was playing soccer when one of the girls (accidentally) ripped the monitor (pod) out of my stomach and I couldn’t monitor myself the rest of the tournament,” she said.  Luckily she was able to identify when her blood sugar count was off by the way she felt.
 
It is amazing how similar their experiences and attitudes are.  They both were forced to make better decisions, especially when it came to their eating habits. “I am taking care of myself and changing my lifestyle,” explained Braun. 
 
“It forced me to eat well and treat my body well,” said Frankel.  
 
Their diagnosis did complicate their participation in sports but did not alter it. They both rely on Gatorade when their blood sugar gets low but they approach pre-game preparation differently.  Frankel explained that it is important to bring the blood sugar up a little before exercising or participating in sports because exercise lowers the blood sugar. “I managed to keep it at a good level by eating before games and to bring Gatorade,” he said.
 
“I drink Gatorade before a meet or a game,” explained Braun. This ensures that her blood sugar count is above 100 so she can participate.
 
Frankel’s parents are a huge help to him. “My parents have been most helpful.  They altered my diet and my mom makes a lot of home-cooked meals,” he said.  “I didn’t have to think about it as much because they helped monitor my diet and snacks,” he said. 
 
As she is getting more familiar with her condition, Braun takes a different approach. Although her parents help and support her, she explained, “My parents let me do it independently more often now. The monitor is connected to their phone so they let me know when my numbers go too high or too low.”  
 
Besides their parents, they both get a lot of support from their coaches.  “My coaches make sure I’m OK and make sure I don’t need anything,” Braun explained. “I feel when my numbers change I ask the coach to come out, drink Gatorade and then go back in.”
 
Similarly, Frankel said, “My coaches have been great. They let me manage it myself.  They allow me to take a break when I feel I need it.” 
 
Frankel also gets a lot of support from his teammates. “My teammates are my best friends and they can tell when something is not right,” he added.  His teammates would suggest to Frankel that he might need to take a break when he didn’t look right. “They have been another monitor to help me.”
 
Braun’s best friend who plays softball was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was five.  “She helps me with questions,” said Braun.
 
Quitting sports because of the diabetes has never been an option for either athlete. “When I was first diagnosed, my only concern was whether I would be able to play sports at the high level I used to play,” said Frankel.  
 
Braun explained, “I was upset when I was initially diagnosed that I couldn’t get back to track right away but I knew I would eventually get back.” She added, “I never considered quitting because it’s a part of my life.  I like to be active and meet people through sports.”
 
Frankel feels that his condition has not held him back as an athlete. “I think in theory it should have, but if you are diligent with it, it should not affect you,” he explained. He looks to professional athletes, such as Jay Cutler, as examples that confirmed his belief that if he is diligent with his diabetes there can be a future in athletics.
 
Braun also said her condition has not held her back as an athlete. 
 
“No it hasn’t really held me back,” she said. Braun continued to explain that having diabetes actually pushed her harder to overcome her struggles and reach her goals. “It motivated me more than hindered me.”
 
Being in different years in high school had an influence on what they identified as their biggest challenges. Braun explained that getting used to scheduling was her toughest challenge – especially eating.
 
“My biggest challenge is managing my diabetes while managing being a senior in high school,” said Frankel. “Thinking about diabetes while thinking about the thousands of things involved with being a senior is a concern.”
 
When it comes to his sports, Frankel’s biggest concern is to his team.  “I’m not concerned that anything bad will happen to me.  I am concerned that my blood sugar will get so low that I couldn’t play in a critical situation, but that hasn’t happened,” he said.  
 
Having dealt with her condition for a shorter period of time, Braun’s biggest concern is communicating with her coaches. “Letting my coaches know when I am monitoring independently so they don’t need to ask me questions frequently during games and practices (about how she is feeling),” she explained.
 
Playing collegiate sports is in both of their futures. Frankel has offers to play football at Colgate and Leigh. Braun plans on continuing soccer and/or track in college with Felician University, Monmouth University and Rider University being her schools of choice.
 
At this point, she feels confident that she will not have any major challenges playing collegiate ball. “I’ve played on an ODP (Olympic Development Program) team and am experienced playing against opponents at a higher level,” she said.
 
Frankel acknowledges that there will be at least one challenge when he goes to college. “The only real challenge will be my independence. I will need to plant the seeds of knowledge in my new teammates and my parents won’t be around all the time,” he said.
 
Steve Frankel, Drew’s dad, said, “Drew downplays it but it is remarkable what he does accomplish with what he has.”
 
Kate’s dad, Eric Braun stated, “I'm amazed at how well she's handled it. After the first few days and meeting with different doctors who explained everything to her and us, she's been determined to not let it hold her back.”   He added, “Diabetes will not defeat her, just make her stronger.”
 
Both of these remarkable athletes have met this challenge head on and have not only overcome it, but have excelled in spite of it.  Their family, friends, coaches and teammates should be proud of the great examples they set.