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Surfing with Type 1


Aug 7, 2009

Rob’s tattoo prominently announces his type 1 status.

Initially diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, Rob subsequently discovered that he had type 1. Knowing that he needed to exercise more, he returned to professional surfing. Today, he is a sponsored professional athlete who uses a CGM.

In 2007, I was feeling a little off. I gradually lost about 30 pounds without trying. My vision was a little blurry, but I just assumed that it was caused by outdated contact lenses. I needed to visit the bathroom numerous times a night, and I was extremely tired. I blamed it all on starting a new job during the summer of 2007, but my wife finally convinced me to see my doctor for a checkup. I went in expecting to learn that I had a bladder infection or something minor, but I was in for a big surprise.

A few minutes after I gave my physician a urine sample, he came back and said, "I have good news and bad news!" The good news was that I did not have a bladder infection. The bad news was that my glucose level was 575. The doctor followed up with an A1c test, which showed 14.5%. Luckily for me, my body was flushing out the excess sugar so effectively that I did not have any of the complications experienced by many recently diagnosed people. The initial diagnosis was type 2 diabetes, and I was given a prescription of Janumet. It was also suggested that I follow up with a nutritionist and an endocrinologist.

I went home and told my wife. Neither of us could understand how a healthy person in his late thirties with no family history could have type 2. I am not overweight, not sedentary, and I eat a healthy diet. But instead of feeling sorry for myself and wasting time trying to figure out "Why me?" my wife and I did tons of research on exactly how we could beat this disease. Because I had been told that I was type 2, we came up with an even healthier diet and added exercise that we hoped would help control the disease.

My wife followed up per the doctor's suggestion and first called the nutritionist. After she told the nutritionist everything that was going on, the nutritionist suggested that I might have been misdiagnosed and that maybe I really had type 1 diabetes. She advised me to consult with an endocrinologist as soon as possible, but the endocrinologist could not fit me in until a week later. In the meantime, my wife and I met with the nutritionist and a certified diabetes educator (CDE). We arrived with our diabetic binder that contained all of our research, including lab results, print/web articles, and my detailed diet plan. The nutritionist was very impressed that we had come up with such an aggressive and structured plan so quickly. She did tell us, however, that she still believed that I had type 1, not type 2, and that we should keep that in mind.

My initial consultation with the endocrinologist was really nothing much. He evaluated the initial lab results, my diet plan, and the medications I was taking, and he ordered more tests to see what was really going on. A follow-up meeting with the endocrinologist was set for two weeks later, and I went in for additional blood work in the interim. As the days went by, my numbers did start to improve, but my health deteriorated more and more. The final two days before the endocrinologist appointment, I was not able to keep any food down and I felt horrible.

At the follow-up visit with my endocrinologist, he confirmed that I had type 1 diabetes. That explained why I felt so horrible. I was immediately prescribed insulin and sent on my way. Like all newly diagnosed people with type 1, I took a few weeks to get the dosages and numbers to the point where I needed them. After that, I began looking for a new challenge.

Back in the 1980s, I used to surf both as an amateur and as a professional. Throughout the intervening years, however, my life changed, and so did my priorities. Because I didn't make a bundle of money surfing, I had to settle down and get a real job. Along the way I also got married and had two wonderful sons, ages 18 and eight. Now that I had this new disease, however, I decided that working toward competing again would be an excellent form of exercise to help my diabetes. With that, I started surfing again, four to five times a week.

Exercising presented me with a couple of new challenges. I found that every time I surfed, my blood glucose (BG) level dropped very quickly. I would go from 120 to the low 60s in a matter of 60 minutes. Consequently, I learned to go into the water a little higher. I also always have a surfing buddy, just to make sure that I have support should anything go wrong or should I ever go too low. Passing out in the water is a whole lot more dangerous than passing out on dry land.

It wasn't long before I, like most competitive people, got the itch to step up my surfing game and get back into competition. Things were going really well for me at this point. I had all the support in the world from my family and sponsors. My numbers were getting better, and I was getting good results in surfing contests. Still, I wanted better BG numbers and as low an A1c as possible. For that reason, my wife and I started researching insulin pumps just three months after my diagnosis. We ended up going with Medtronic's Minimed insulin pump, and we began working toward getting the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that works with the pump.

A couple of reasons were behind our decision.  For one, another surfer was already using a Medtronic, and he loved it. For another, the company was working on a waterproof housing so that the device could be worn in the water. Last but not least, I would not have to carry a second device if I used Medtronic's CGM to monitor my BG levels 24/7. The Minimed not only delivers insulin, but also works wirelessly to collect and store all the BG levels from the CGM. Because I am an information technology manager by trade, I always like having as much data as possible. 

I was approved immediately for the Medtronic Minimed insulin pump, and within 30 days I had my CGM as well. (Anthem BlueCross is my primary healthcare insurer and United Healthcare is my secondary.)

As with all new devices, a learning curve is involved. However, with help from the rep, the endocrinologist, and my very smart and supportive wife, we got everything dialed in within a week or two. After 90 days on the pump and using the CGM for additional information, I was able to get my A1c down from 14% to an amazing 6.3%. Today (about one year out) I have an A1c of 5.7%, but I remain committed to keeping my numbers low by testing six to eight times a day, eating right, and exercising often.

I am continuing to have great success surfing, thanks to sponsorship support from Medtronic, Bessell Surf, Fast Blue Communications, JETPILOT Clothing & Wetsuits, Freestyle Watches, Spy Optics, H2O Audio, Globe Shoes, Kicker Audio, Bubble Gum Surf Wax, Drop In Ride Shop, and BioNutritional Research Group. I am even going to do a few pro events this year.

One of my requirements of my surfing sponsors is that they must be willing to give me stickers, clothes, and other gadgets. When my wife and I visit the diabetic wards in hospitals, we hand out all the goodies to the kids. There is nothing more rewarding then giving a child some free stuff and seeing that smile on her face when she realizes that somebody out there cares and is successfully living with the same disease.

When people find out that I have diabetes, I often hear them say, "Sorry to hear about your disease," or "Oh man, that is a slow death sentence."  However, I look at it from the opposite perspective. I am happy to share my story and educate people that having diabetes doesn't make me different from anybody else, except that I probably eat better and live healthier then most people!

Because I was always an athlete, I used to take my health for granted. I rarely went to the doctor, and I pretty much ate and drank what I wanted. Diabetes actually came into my life at just the right time (in my late thirties) to help me start eating healthier and get on a regular exercise program. But the number one thing that has helped me keep my disease under control has been the love and support of my wonderful wife and family. It's a team effort. With support, anything is possible!        


Categories: A1c Test, Blood Glucose, CGMs, Complications & Care, Diabetes, Diabetes, Exercise, Fitness, Food, Insulin, Insulin Pumps, Living with Diabetes, Personal Stories, Success Stories, Type 1 Issues, Type 2 Issues



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Comments

Posted by Anonymous on 13 August 2009

Thanks for the great tale of triumph and having fun doing it. I wish you great success in your competition and keeping your numbers where you want them.

My story is similar except I went back to martial arts rather than surfing. I now in great shape for a 55 year old diabetic. I've been debating the benefits of the pumps for years and you have inspired me to look into it more thoroughly.

Thanks again.

Posted by HAshWhit on 14 August 2009

I was surprised not to read that Rob Blase wasn't diagnosed with LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults) or type 1.5, since he was older upon developing his diabetes.

Posted by Anonymous on 14 August 2009

"Luckily for me,my body was flushing out the excess sugar so efficiently that I did not have any of the complications experienced by many recently diagnosed people"..please explain this statement..what complications are you referring to?

Posted by Anonymous on 14 August 2009

Well done. I am also late onset type1 at 65.! now 70!I have done everything right including diet exercise and trying to control my unstable sugars. I am on a pump and check my sugars 8-10 times daily. Aug 2nd I had a small M.I.I now have a stent. My other arteries look good so it is disappointing to have this set back despite my vigilance. Good luck to you.

Posted by Anonymous on 14 August 2009

I have a question.

First of all, congratulations on your remarkable success in getting things in shape for yourself. Your story is an exemplary one!

I too use the same equipment that you do, with a minimed pump and the CGM as well. It is my understanding that the CGM transmitter can't be kept underwater for extended periods of time. My recollection is that the company suggests a maximum of 30 minutes. How can you surf and not submerge the CGM for extended periods of time? It doesn't seem reasonable that you remove it prior to going in the water, as that is the time when you are most needing the data it produces. With the waterproof container for the pump, I know you keep that on you, but what do you do for the CGM?

Posted by Anonymous on 14 August 2009

I've heard it said, that to live forever you need to get a chronic disease and TAKE GOOD CARE of it ( of yourself!)

Looks like it might be true!

Posted by Anonymous on 14 August 2009

I was diagnosed with Type 1 at the age of 33. I am (and was) 1.71 m and weighed 55 kg - and not because I dieted. Simply because I have always followed a healthy diet and exercised frequently. Nevertheless I was diagnosed 6 months into my 2nd pregnancy. I am not sure age has anything to do with it.

Posted by Anonymous on 14 August 2009

"Like all newly diagnosed people with type 1, I took a few weeks to get the dosages and numbers to the point where I needed them. After that, I began looking for a new challenge."
My 11 year old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 two years ago. We work very hard for good control (A1c below 7%), and have the latest and greatest technology. Still, there's is no way to get her "dosages and numbers" to the point where she needs them. It's always a battle. What she needs is to be free of diabetes. The TRUE challenge we should all strive for is finding THE CURE.

Posted by robblase on 14 August 2009

First I would like to say thank you for all of the nice compliments! Those of you that have been inspired to make adjustments in the way you are fighting diabetes and/or looking into pump therapy. I applaud you!
For those of you that had questions I will try my best to answer as many as possible. So if you have more questions bring it on!
Q: For the person that was inquiring what I meant by the comment "Luckily for me, my body was flushing out the excess sugar so efficiently that I did not have any of the complications experienced by many recently diagnosed people".
A: What I meant by that was I felt I was lucky that I did not suffer any ketoacidosis. That coupled with the fact that I did not (and still do not) have any signs of damage from neuropathy.
Q: It is my understanding that the CGM transmitter can't be kept underwater for extended periods of time. My recollection is that the company suggests a maximum of 30 minutes. How can you surf and not submerge the CGM for extended periods of time? It doesn't seem reasonable that you remove it prior to going in the water, as that is the time when you are most needing the data it produces. With the waterproof container for the pump, I know you keep that on you, but what do you do for the CGM?
A: Part 1 - Being a surfer as opposed to a swimmer or diver we really don't spend a ton of time submerged under water. I do surf with my CGM on with a 6 cm x 7 cm patch over it. It says it is waterproof but it does not prevent water from getting in. The Medtronic CGM when plugged in properly does form a water tight seal that will hold unless you do something silly like I did while in Hawaii and disconnect it from the sensor while in the water. Lucky for me the CGM was still under warranty so I was shipped a new device overnight.
A: Part 2- I do take off my pump before I go surf for the simple reason that when I exercise I tend to go low quickly. The last thing I need while in the water is more insulin.
Actually, the days that are the hardest for me are days when I compete. I usually don't have any insulin for a good part of the day. Something about vigorous exercise and adrenaline makes my BG level drop VERY quickly. However, I probably test every 30 - 60 minutes on those days just to make sure my numbers are as close to my range as possible!

Posted by Anonymous on 18 November 2009

im looking into the pump now.I to grew up surfing and skating and have always been skeptical of having something attached to me.I recently had a heart attack at age 48 and want to get better control.Its good to here someone with a surfing point of view.Thanks for your words of incouragement.


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