Reaching the Finish Line

Jay Hewitt is 41 years old and has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1991. He is an elite Ironman triathlete (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run) and three-time member of the U.S. National Team for Long Course Triathlon. He is a lawyer, the father of a 16-month-old daughter, and a motivational speaker. He speaks to people with diabetes and others all over the world on fitness, nutrition, and achieving goals in life and business. Jay is also captain of Team Joslin at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, MA. Visit Jay’s website at

Jay Hewitt believes doing Ironman with diabetes is an opportunity to discover how strong you are, to prove that you have the discipline and determination to achieve your personal and professional goals no matter what the obstacles, and to set an example for others.

| Aug 29, 2008

As an Ironman triathlete with type 1, I get asked a lot of questions.

How do you control your blood sugar during a race?

What foods do you eat?
What products do you use?
How do you balance work, family, training, and diabetes?

Sometimes, people simply ask me if I am nuts. 

In the coming issues of Diabetes Health, I hope to answer these questions (no, I am not nuts) and give you some insights to get you healthy and help you achieve new goals in your life.

One question I am often asked is, "How do you stay motivated?" Like diabetes, the Ironman triathlon requires a lot of discipline-hours of grueling physical training, careful attention to nutrition, lots of equipment for biking, swimming, and running. But most of all, they both require that relentless mental toughness to do it over and over, every day, when it seems like you will never reach the finish line.  How can you keep going, or even attempt something new?

I did not race triathlons or marathons or swim or cycle competitively before I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1991.  A few years after that diagnosis, I attempted my first marathon, a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association-just to see if I could do it.  It was 26.2 painful, wonderful miles of stomping on diabetes.  At that finish line, someone mentioned that Ironman triathletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and THEN run a marathon.  I leaned over to that guy. . .and threw up.  What kind of freak of fitness can do that?  And who can do that with diabetes?!  But right then, I had a goal.  I was going to do the Ironman.  I was going to do the Ironman with diabetes. 

After ten years, 14 Ironman triathlons, and 3 World Championships as a member of the U.S. National Team for Long Distance Triathlon, I am still racing for that finish line.  I do not know what it is like to race the Ironman without diabetes, so to me it is just a part of the race.  It is the cards I was dealt, so I am going to play them.  In a race for 10 hours, I will push myself to my absolute limits of pain and determination, using every cell and fiber in my body to get to that finish line, to crawl if I have to (and I have), but I always have just enough strength to turn and step on the neck of diabetes at that finish line and say "you are messing with the wrong guy."

Finish Line Vision

I see the finish line of the Ironman with every mile I swim, bike, and run in training and the race.  I have been to that finish line, and it is a drug for my soul.  It gets me up early in the morning, out in the cold or heat to train, and it keeps me juggling all of the things we must: work, school, family, friends, and faith.  I am motivated by my vision of the finish line, that feeling, that emotion, that satisfaction.  Don't strive for a number-a weight, a grade point average, or an income-that is no fun!  Visualize yourself achieving your goal: you in an outfit three sizes smaller at a special event; you walking across the graduation stage; you vacationing with your family.  Think about your vision, your finish line vision.  That will motivate you.

Make Diabetes the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You

Diabetes is a bad thing, and it is not going anywhere.  You can let it abuse you, or you can use it as motivation.  Lance Armstrong said that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him, shaping his life and motivating him to win his first and all of his seven Tour de France titles.  I would not be racing the Ironman if I did not have diabetes.  It motivates me to exercise, eat healthy, and be more fit than before I was diagnosed.  Use diabetes (or any other obstacle) to prove that it will not stop you.

Failure Potential 

Set goals with "failure potential."   Do not be afraid to fail.  In fact, risk failing.  If you have never failed, you are not trying hard enough.  Mark Twain said, "twenty years from now, we will be more disappointed by the things we didn't do than by the things we did."  It feels so much better when you achieve something that once seemed so difficult.  The Ironman seemed pretty impossible to me once, and I have had plenty of failures, losses, and bad races along the way.  That's what makes the finish line so rewarding.

Remember, you are stronger than diabetes.  So get to the starting line, and you will get to your finish line.  You may not be the fastest, but you are faster than those who never started.

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Categories: Blood Sugar, Celebrities, Diabetes, Diabetes, Exercise, Food, Jay Hewitt, Motivation, Success Stories, Type 1 Issues

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Posted by Anonymous on 29 August 2008

I love your inspirational talk, and will use parts ( no mention of diabetes) in my language classroom.
But what we, diabetics, need to know is the "how" of what you achieve. Does it not vary with the 1) medication 2) food 3) situation? You can't always control everything --- what worked yesterday, in tranquil circumstances makes my blood glucose zoom up during and after an exciting classroom session (I find my teaching gratifying, and build up and share an excitement with my students.Great -- I have excellent evaluations, love what I do--- everything good except the high blood sugar. (It comes down fairly quickly --different from when I take in too much carbohydrate ---like when I actually drink my coffe-cum-milk --- a safety drink I carry, and do not sip unless I am going down; Handy in class --- nobody needs to know it is therpy. Some of the students know I am diabetic, but there is no need to tell everybody.
If, for example, I know that I will be in an exciting situation that will put my sugar into 300's (yes!) --- should I take more of the fast acting Novolog?I hate it, it hits soon, a gentle shove and the 1.5- 2 hrs later, I get KOed. Hard. Usually. So I must eat right away , or I will hit the 70's.
Well, haven't done it in the classroomyet --
Would like to know hemone

Posted by Anonymous on 28 October 2008

jeez! i just want to know what your weekly schedule looks like! Do you wake up around 4am and go to sleep around midnight? how do you do it? awesome.

Posted by Anonymous on 29 October 2008

Comments to the entry posted Aug. 28, 08. It sounds like you are rebounding, that is, bouncing from low blood sugars to high blood sugars once you intervene. I would suggest that you discuss what is happening to you with your professional diabetic care provider. In doing so, I would anticipate that you may have to monitor your blood sugar more frequently at least initially to determine when your blood sugar is going up. Also your Novolog dose may need to be adjusted so not to over compensate for high glucose levels and/or to take into consideration the timing of your next dose of Novolog and your next meal. Possibly a change in regiment of insulin dose on those days of anticipated excitement taking into consideration your insulin dose/glucose prior to eating your next meal and the insulin dose prior to the rise in your unspontaneous glucose increases. Good Luck!

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