May 2019 - Beneath The Hunt Coat

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Four young equestrians share their experience excelling in and out of the ring with Type 1 diabetes.

by Aimee LaFayette

Charitable giving is at the heart of Franktown Meadows Hunter Derby, set for June 21-23 in the Reno area’s beautiful Washoe Valley. All profits from this exceptional equestrian event and social occasion are earmarked to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. JDRF tirelessly pursues better treatments, preventions and ultimately, a cure for Type 1 diabetes and its complications through critical research.

A cure would mean restoring natural insulin production and normalizing blood sugar levels without imposing other risks to those who live with T1D.

The difficult thing about T1D is, in general, people do not understand the condition and what it means to both the person managing this condition, their family and close friends.

In this article, junior members of our equestrian community share their experiences of living and riding with diabetes. It’s not easy.

These fantastic youngsters hope that, by sharing their stories, a greater consideration and generosity will be given to the JDRF.

Much-appreciated donations can be made during the Derby or online anytime through www.jdrf.org.

Alli Christy: Riding is Freedom

Alli began riding at 8 and is now 17 and a junior at Galena High School. She competes in the 15-17 Junior division in the Big Eq/medals and Junior Hunters.

The bright, positive young lady was diagnosed at 4 years old with T1D. (See story, California Riding Magazine, Nov. 2018.)

“I was diagnosed after I started riding and my management of Type 1 has changed over this time. The big thing with Type 1 is that there are no breaks. You have to hold a gentle heart and keep constant composure. I will admit, Type 1 often adds extra stress in the heat of competition, but it will never hold me back from my goals. It is in this circumstance that I have learned how to dig a little deeper, focus a little harder, and achieve my goals. I may have Type 1, but Type 1 will never have me.

“Riding is not only my passion, but my outlet. When I’m riding, I get to focus on something other than the unpredictability of numbers and insulin dosages. I feel free. Unlike Type 1, riding is something in my control (well, for the most part!) I have control over knowing my course, my distances, my decisions, and my horse. Riding is freedom.”

Of her routine for managing TID, Alli says, “I have to constantly check my blood sugar before and after each class, have juice boxes nearby at all times, and always have my insulin pump clipped to my sports bra or tucked into a pocket in my breeches.

Sometimes I may have to drink a juice or eat at inconvenient times prior to entering a class to ensure I am safe to complete my course. Most of the time, my typical riding/Type 1 balance at a show is to have a protein bar 10 minutes prior to getting on which usually helps my blood sugars maintain steady glucose levels as I ride.

“A typical rider’s biggest stress may be memorizing a course, or managing nerves at a big medal final. I also have to balance the stress of Type 1 on top of these little things. Although I would give anything to live Type 1-free, I do believe it has made me stronger and taught me how to focus. I think this has benefitted me in terms of balancing stress and nerves such as when competing. Other than that, I am just like any other equestrian! I love my horse, I love to ride, and I love competing! Type 1 will never hold me back from what I love to do!”

Alli’s mature approach and humor shine through. “I remember during a Maclay Flat round, my insulin pump started alarming during the class. We had just started to canter and I had to keep going and act like nothing was happening -- the show must go on! I remember going a little extra toward the center/quarter line of the ring when passing the judge, fearing they might think I had a phone alarming on me if I got close enough to be heard. When we lined up in the middle to wait for results, all my competitors were looking at me. I think they thought it was a phone alarm. I just smiled and turned it off once I got out of the ring.

“Before day-two of my Cloverleaf Medal Final in 2017, my blood sugar crashed out of nowhere. It was my first big medal final, and I had to run and grab a juice before I entered the ring. Because I was dealing with my blood sugars, by the time I warmed up and got to the in-gate, they were calling my name to go in before I had even learned the course! I had to learn it as quick as I could, before wiping away a couple tears and entering the class with a smile. Right as I exited from round two, they announced standby and called the top 10 back to work off in the ring. At this point, I ripped off my pump, which started alarming (as if things couldn’t get crazier!) and tossed it to my mom as I walked in for the last round. By then, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I remember saying aloud, ‘This is my day, and this cannot stop me.’ I left that round a few minutes later with my first medal final win.”

“You can do anything you set your mind to, with or without T1D!” Alli concludes. “You can’t control your circumstances, but you can always choose how to react to your given circumstance. It is how you behave when obstacles are set in your path and where you let your mindset go that determine your success. We all can do anything, and if we can do anything, we can cure this thing, too.”


 

Demi Evrigenis: Fighting Back Through Nutrition

Demi is a 21 year old junior at Pepperdine University, where she is studying nutritional science to become a registered dietitian. She has her love and lifetime horse, Phin, with her at school in Malibu, and delights in having the luxury of continuing to ride and compete (a bit) when her demanding science curriculum allows.

She began lessons at 6 and showing at 8. Demi’s mom returned to riding as an an adult, leading to Demi’s earliest memories of being at the barn where she fell in love with the sport and lifestyle. Demi had been riding for seven years when she was diagnosed with T1D at 13.

Being diagnosed slightly older in life, riding and horses were embedded in her being, “By nature, I was a tough kid,” she explains. “At diagnosis, it was a done deal: riding was already my passion. I didn’t consider anything slowing me down. I think I was in a bit of denial.

“My mom was always on me to test my blood sugar and eat properly, so I did, for the most part. But I resisted feeling that it made me different or less capable. Of course, I had to acknowledge my medical issue (if I didn’t, I would be in the ICU...not on my horse!)  Nevertheless, I think my ‘will do, passion driven’ attitude enabled me to continue to ride strong and compete successfully. It gave me no choice but to learn to cope effectively.

“As a Type 1 diabetic, I do my best. I am certain that all Type 1 diabetics would agree with me. Irrespective of how many precautions are taken, a ‘Type 1’ will always have unexpected and inexplicable highs and lows that can really throw you a curve ball during competitions. Stress levels, for instance, play a huge role in my levels and that is pretty much impossible to predict. I find testing often and eating well as being the best I can do to stay ahead of it. Nevertheless, I can find my levels falling or surging at times for, seemingly, no good reason. I simply do the best I can by staying aware of my condition and trying to listen to my body. I am grateful to say, that, for the most part, I usually am not deterred from putting in solid rides.

“I consider myself the same as my competitors. I may not be, but in my mind, I feel I am on an equal playing field.  For instance, as I am walking to the back gate, I don’t think, ‘I’m a diabetic and she/he is not...lucky her/him.’ I just take care of myself and try to put in my best ride. I also remind myself that health challenges come in many forms and that the person going ahead of me in the work-off, for example, just may be coping with a serious health condition, as well. Like my grandmother use to say, ‘You never know who the shoe is pinching!’”

Life is never simple with T1D, as this story from Demi reveals. “I was showing a horse in Thermal.  I thought I had recovered from a somewhat minor flu/cold, although my glucose levels were still a bit erratic. Nevertheless, I was definitely feeling good enough to compete. My trainer warmed us up and we headed to the ring. I felt a bit dizzy but it passed. I put in my hunter round but before the closing circle I felt dizzy again and had to pull up. I left the arena and while still on the horse I began throwing up... right there at the back gate!

“I dismounted, relaxed, tested (I was super high), adjusted my insulin, ingested some fluids and was fine. But it was scary!” That’s only one of several such stories.

Demi considers herself lucky because she has access to proper health care and support, which is not always the case. “Since the initial days of diagnosis, I have learned a great deal about what Type 1 diabetes actually is and how it affects my body.  After I declared my college major in nutritional science, I began truly grasping the gravity of the unrelenting disease and the ravages it can take on the human body without proper care. The realization is frightening, but also liberating because the more I understand the workings of my body the more I understand that Type 1 is absolutely manageable and that, although a challenge, it is within my power to lead a healthy, strong life.

“Further, I am grateful to have been born into a family that provided me proper medical care and access to cutting edge technology to manage my condition. As a child, I did not have an appreciation for how fortunate I am in this regard. I do now.  I am deeply touched by fundraising efforts that raise awareness of the disease and educate and afford so many, who would otherwise go without, the access to the astounding technological advancements available to manage the disease more easily and effectively.”

 


 

Maggie Drysch: Don’t Count Her Out!

Maggie is a graduate student at Oklahoma State University, completing her MBA and she competed on OSUs equestrian team for five years.

Ironically, Maggie’s first riding lesson was a birthday gift and taken the day before her 7th birthday. On her actual birthday, she was diagnosed with T1D.

“According to my mom, the one day I rode ‘without diabetes,’ I cried throughout the whole lesson. Due to the fact that, at the time, with no diagnosis, my blood sugar was dangerously high and I was experiencing all the symptoms of being a diabetic; nausea, fatigue, body weight loss, severe thirst, dizziness, irritability, etc. At the time, the trainer insisted this was not the sport for me. It’s funny now because I have been competitively riding and living with diabetes for almost 17 years.”

Overcoming the daily challenges of being Type 1 has built a courage like no other for these young ladies and a gratitude for life. “For me, riding is not only something I love, but also a constant reminder that T1D isn’t something that should hold me back. Yes, I face some difficulties that other riders are not experiencing on a daily basis, but overall, this sport is an endless reminder to myself that I am just as capable as anyone else and diabetes can’t keep me from doing anything I am passionate about.

“T1D just makes me stronger and means I have to work a little harder towards my goals. I face challenges every day that many don’t know about or notice, but luckily with this disease, unlike others, I still get to continue about my day as long as I take care of myself. For that, I am forever grateful.

“The biggest thing for me is trying to be one step ahead of diabetes every single day. There’s lot more things I have to be on top of before I ride; what I eat, where my blood sugar is at and how I am feeling. The hard part about diabetes is that it’s not consistent. There is no perfect way or science to manage it, so some days I could do everything right and still experience a bad blood sugar right before I head into the ring!

“It is never really something I notice. I never feel like I am different. Again, the days when I wasn’t able to compete or ride were incredibly frustrating and I would beat myself up. However, I am fortunate to have an amazing support system that helped me every step of the way throughout my junior and college riding years.”

Maggie meets challenges head on and will push boundaries resulting in success. “During my junior year of college, we were competing against TCU and I thought I had taken all the right steps that morning to set me up for success in the ring. I go in for my fences round and, as I come out to speak with my coach, I find my pump is alerting me of a dangerously high blood sugar and as soon as the adrenaline stopped, nausea was taking over and I found myself with my head in the toilet.

“I had laid down a really great round on one of my favorite horses and I was too stubborn to stop there. They asked me if I was okay to go on and I should have said no, but of course I didn’t. After the meet, I find out I was double MOP for both english events. In collegiate competition, the judge selects their favorite ride from each event as the MOP and it can be pretty rare to receive both as an english rider.

“That day was so special to me because, again, it proved that I am capable even when diabetes tries to show me differently. My coach and I joked that it was one of my best rides because I was too sick to overthink my ride. However, I do not suggest any diabetics to do that because it was not safe and I paid for it the rest of the day!”

Horse show paperwork can be another challenge for diabetics. Maggie had to get her insulin cleared through the FEI Board when she competed in the 2013 North American Youth Championships. “We had to fill out paperwork about why I need insulin, how much and that it is administered via pump.”

“I honestly look at my diabetes as a blessing in disguise, Maggie concludes. “I feel that it has made me into a stronger person. I am proud of the fact that I am able to take what diabetes throws at me every single day and then get on the back of a 1,200-pound animal and do what I love. For the longest time, I was embarrassed managing my diabetes and doing things such as checking my blood sugar in public. Now, it is something I am not afraid of.”

 


 

Katalina Rickard

Fourteen year old Katalina Rickard is an eighth-grader at Village Christian School in Sun Valley. She competes mostly in the bigger equitation and hunter classes.

Even at this young age Katalina has to manage her T1D. “I try to never let T1D affect what I can do in riding and I always try to keep my medicine with me and my levels consistent when I’m showing.  I see myself as familiar to my competitors as any other kid would be. My disease doesn’t have to define me so why would I let it?”

She, too, has her amazing stories of coping and showing. “While I was showing at the Onondarka Finals, as an 11-year-old, I was about to go into my first round when I realized I wasn’t feeling quite right. I then tested and found my blood sugar level was at 40, which is dangerously low. I was next in the ring and didn’t want to make a fuss about my ‹ability’ to complete. I ate a few mints then entered the ring. Thankfully, I made it through my round then drank near a whole bottle of Gatorade. In hindsight we should have been more prepared but I’m glad that I went through with my round.”

If you are interested in donating or being a part of this special event or please contact Aimee LaFayette at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 775-722-1699.


Causes of Type 1 Diabetes

Researchers do not know the exact causes of T1D, but they do know some onset factors and triggers associated with the condition.

Hereditary Considerations: There is often a family history of T1D, however the majority of diagnoses occur in people who have no family members with the disease. Nonetheless, having a family history of T1D puts people at higher risk of developing the disease. Gestational diabetes and Type 2 diabetes are not indicators of a familial disposition for T1D.

Viral Infections: Researchers believe there can be triggers, such as viral infections, that may be associated with the onset of the disease. For this reason, developing a viral vaccine may be one way to prevent T1D.

Environmental Factors: T1D diagnoses are on the rise, likely due to environmental changes, perhaps through certain viral infections or other factors. Early exposures to those factors after birth might be linked to the development of T1D.

What does not cause T1D?


Diet: Diet does not cause T1D, and there are no dietary changes you can make to prevent its onset. Dietary factors may be involved in development of T2D.

Lifestyle: Similarly, lifestyle, activity level, socioeconomic standing or habits do not play into the likelihood of a T1D diagnosis. A sedentary routine, among other factors, may lead to T2D.

Genetics: The presence of certain genes appears in many T1D cases. If someone in your family has had T1D, you are at a higher risk.

Ethnicity: T1D does not discriminate. People of all ethnic backgrounds have T1D, though the incidence generally increases in populations north of the equator.

Age: While people can experience the onset of T1D at any age, many are diagnosed in early elementary school or as preteens. Hormonal changes, like those associated with growth spurts, may have an impact on the presentation and management of T1D.