Diabetic Olympian inspires children who have diagnosis

Children at Poudre Valley Hospital’s Camp Sweetpea gathered in awe around a hero Friday afternoon, soaking up every opportunity to learn from one of their own.

The campers and Kris Freeman, an Olympic cross country skier, have at least one thing in common: They are living with Type 1 diabetes.

Since his diagnosis 10 years ago, Freeman has made it his goal to share his journey as an Olympic athlete with diabetes with children across the United States, hoping they will realize that anything is possible.

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"You get a lot of people telling kids what they can’t do,” Freeman said. “I think the opposite message should be sent, that they should be telling them what they can do and the dreams they have are possible and they should go for them.???

Freeman said children often hear negative messages from doctors when they are diagnosed. It is his mission to be a positive voice and example, reminding them that even with diabetes anything is possible for them.

???Diabetes does not have to get in the way of your dreams and goals,??? Freeman said. ???If you take care of yourself, you can aspire to be whatever you want.???

The statement could not be more personal for Freeman, who was faced with adversity when he was diagnosed while training with the U.S. ski team in Park City, Utah. Skiing in the Olympics had been a lifelong goal for Freeman, who raced for the first time when he was 5 years old.

While in Park City, he began to experience diabetes symptoms but thought the symptoms were merely a result of his intensive training cycle. During a routine blood test, doctors discovered that Freeman??s glucose levels were more than twice what they should be.

???I didn??t know what diabetes was. I didn??t know what a high glucose meant. ?? I knew nothing,??? Freeman said. ???The only thing I heard was, ???You have diabetes and your skiing career as you know it is over.?? ???

Freeman said the news was surreal, leaving him crushed yet determined to not let the diagnosis end his career.

???I was upset; I was even crying. But that afternoon, I went and I trained with my teammates,??? Freeman said. ???I wasn??t going to give up that easily.???

After consulting with multiple doctors who told him skiing professionally would not be an option, Freeman began working with a ski team doctor who had a more positive outlook. Through a series of trial and error tests, he and his doctor began to come up with a race plan.

By testing his insulin levels before competing and ensuring that a coach was along the race path with a sports drink, Freeman began to compete. In the 10 years since his diagnosis, he has raced 150 times, won 13 National Championships, become the first American to win a world championship in cross country skiing and competed in the Olympics, becoming the first endurance athlete with diabetes to compete.

???I made sure that my coaches knew everything they could possibly know about diabetes so that, if I had a problem, they could help me,??? Freeman said.

He told the campers that his journey with diabetes has not always been easy, but that with proper planning and making good choices, they would be able to achieve anything. Most importantly, he reminded them, they should never get angry with their situation.

???I don??t get angry with myself when I mess up with diabetes. It??s not my fault that I have it. It??s not your fault that you have it,??? Freeman said. ???It??s always a learning process. Every day with diabetes gets easier because I learn something from the day before.???

Jun 12, 10 • Diabetes News