Amina's Pas de Deux With Type 1

Amina Kolenc began dancing at 2 and a half with the Central Maryland Youth Ballet. Now 11, she dances with the Florida Ballet based in Jacksonville, Fla., where the family located after Amina’s father retired from the military.

| Jul 2, 2013

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."



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Categories: Ballerina, Ballet, Dance, Type 1

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Posted by Anonymous on 3 July 2013

Wow Amina, you are my new role model! I am so proud of you and wish you all the success you strive for ! God bless you my angel! I love you, Aunt Andrea

Posted by Anonymous on 3 July 2013

What an incredible young lady! Amina is mature far beyond her years. A focus and determination that few people ever achieve. You are truly impressive and you should be proud of your accomplishments! Congratulations Amina!! Patricia Veatch

Posted by Anonymous on 9 July 2013

Clearly you've never met Amina. All of the dreams and aspirations and passion for ballet have always come from her own heart. Her parents and family have always supported her and will always do so, but have never, ever forced her to do anything that she did not want to do. The drive is completely all her own. She is extremely well cared for and managed with her diabetes and other physical care. She eats responsibly and is mature beyond her years. While the concern may be valid for other girls her age, I can assure you beyond a reasonable doubt that Amina is not one of them and does not need to be worried over. She is a strong and healthy girl with her eye on the prize and by far the bravest person I know.

Posted by Anonymous on 9 July 2013

Dear Amina, How fortunate you have an extraordinarily loving, supportive and highly intelligent family, whom I know researched and explored what methods worked well to enhance your health, first, and, secondly, your dream of being a ballerina. The Lord knows you love, love to dance to warm our hearts. Aunt Irene

Posted by Anonymous on 10 July 2013

Wow Amina! You truly are incredible!

~Sarah K.~

Posted by Anonymous on 10 July 2013

Dear Shosty,
I am Amina's mom. I can understand that you may want more detailed information regarding the exact skills she uses to manage diabetes while dancing ballet. However, this article was meant as an inspirational piece. I can certainly tell you all about Amina's regime, yet it is so important to know and understand that what works for Amina may not work for others. Each person is different and responds in their own unique way to stressers such as physical exercise, diet and emotional demands. Diabetes Health magazine would certainly not want to give the impression that Amina's process is the "secret solution" for all type 1s who want to pursue dance.

All that being said- I need to assure you that Amina's pursuit of elite/professional ballet is entirely driven by her. She has been the ONLY force behind the goal of the prestigious New York Ballet. We live in FL- you can be sure I am not behind the idea of her moving to NYC!!! Zippora Karz, also happens to be the only Type 1 professional ballerina we know of, danced for the NY Ballet!

Everyone understands the physical demands to a ballerina's ankles. Even though we knew it would be hard for Amina to lose weight, her ultimate goal of being end pointed would be much better if she was as slim as she could be while being healthy. Yes, the only way she could lose weight was to lower her insulin intake daily. The only way she could do that was to eat a lower Carb diet. Her ped endo was watching this process closely. And Amina, being self-motivated, made healthy food choices regardless of what the rest of the family was eating.
She understood what her goals required of her and found her own personal strength to do what was needed. Once the ped endo thought she lost enough, she expressed her opinion that she wanted her to maintain her current level and stop trying to lose more. We all agreed and have done so.

It took our family years of observation and adjustment to know just what affects Amina's blood sugar and how. And it has taken just as long to figure out how to comp appropriately. For the last five and a half years, we never left her at any dance class alone. We had her focus on her dancing and we tested her before, during and after class. We observed whether a low-glycemic snack prior to class was enough to carry her until break. Whether glucose tablets worked better than juice to maintain a good BG level during dance rehearsals. Whether class was 1 hour or 2 hours with a break or even longer during Nutcracker rehearsals. Etc, etc... we didn't leave the burden of managing the diabetes on her while she was so young and trying so hard to dance.

We all know how to get the best control- test and test more. However Amina has been dancing for years now while we've figured out what works for her. Now she eats 2 cheese w/pb crackers on the way to ballet class. She will test during break or lunch, depending on the day. She has a chart in her testing kit to compare- if BG is between x-x, take x amount of tablets or units. The chart covers BGs between 40-250> with a solution that works for her body. She also has a little pocket clipped to her water bottle with tablets in it. At any time during class, if Amina feels low, she can just take a tablet or two to carry her until she reaches break time when she can test, and then follow the chart.

We have just begun to leave her at classes in the last few months. She has the determination, the maturity and the tools tailored to her self, that she can hold the responsibility for her diabetes management on her own. And all the preparation and years of figuring out what works for her, allows her the ability to handle it now.

Amina has a One Touch Ping insulin pump. This has the smallest infusion set that she can disconnect from while dancing with little focus on that. However, Amina would regularly switch back to shots every summer to be able to swim as often as she could. We now have a pool in our backyard and if she's not dancing, she's swimming. So we don't know if she'll ever go back to the pump. That, too, will be her decision. She's the one who has to go through injections or insertions of infusion sites. She can own that. We will do whatever we need to do to support what she wants to do.

I would be happy to speak with you further if you have any questions. Amina is an inspiration to all who meet her. We are so proud of her. And we are proud to share her amazing accomplishments with all the Diabetes Health family.


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