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Amina Kolenc knew as soon as she could walk that she wanted to be a ballerina. And she wasn't going to allow a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes at age 5 and a half - several years after she started studying dance - to derail her dreams.
"All I ever wanted to do was ballet, ever since I was a little baby," says 11-year-old Amina, who took her first dance class when she was 2 and a half and sees the prestigious New York Ballet in her future. "It just makes me want to control my diabetes more."
Being type 1, she says, is nothing more than a hurdle on a track, and it's one she plans to leap over - en pointe.
During the initial years after her diagnosis, the military family - Amina, her parents and four older siblings - immersed itself in diabetes education, learning as much as possible about the disease and the impact it would have on Amina and her dance career.
"It took a few years to find out what works for me personally," Amina says. "It takes years and a lot of focus to determine how far you can push yourself. It really does take time to get to the point where you have a better grip on diabetes."
By accepting her diabetes diagnosis and the challenge it presents, she's grown stronger and that much more able to juggle insulin injections, glucose testing, Girl Scout meetings - yes, she's also a Scout, and she uses it as a platform to educate the other girls - and grueling six-hour dance rehearsals. After years of being homeschooled, she is now a student at the Florida Virtual School, which makes it easier to accommodate rehearsal time.
Her mission is to seamlessly merge dance and diabetes, taking what she's learned from her disease to build strength that she can use as a dancer.
"The way I see it, diabetes is not something you have to fight," she adds. More important is to "work with it, so you and your diabetes are in a good place. It's a different kind of mindset."
"We wanted her to walk with diabetes, not against it," says her mom, Alisa, who has always urged her daughter to follow her dreams.
A student at the Florida Ballet, Amina eats a low-carb, high-protein diet that not only allows her to reduce her insulin intake, but has also enabled her to lose 8 pounds, a goal she set at the urging of her dance instructors.
She keeps a chart to monitor her blood sugar levels, and carries glucose tablets and juice so she can make it through rehearsals without having to test.
"You definitely have to be more careful to monitor how you're feeling," she says, adding that she is just as determined as the other girls in her class, perhaps more so because she has to overcome what may be perceived by others as a disability.
In truth, though, as a dancer, Amina has to take care of her body and be mindful of what she eats, so in a way she's ahead of the game because her health already depends on a certain level of discipline.
But being surrounded by supportive family and friends - including her fellow dancers at the Miami Ballet - makes every challenge brought on by her diabetes more manageable.
"We all want to do whatever it takes for her to reach her dreams and not to have diabetes limit her goals," says Alisa. "Ballet is Amina's bliss."
Her determination has led to several recent accomplishments, including acceptance into a summer intensive with the Orlando Ballet, passing her level for the American Ballet Theatre test, and being able to wear pointe shoes during another summer intensive with her home studio, the Florida Ballet.
"It's never so hard that you can't take control and be the person you want to be," Amina says. "You wish you didn't have diabetes, but you have to keep a positive mindset about it. It doesn't always stop you. You can still achieve your dreams."
6 comments - Jul 2, 2013
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.