Diabetes attacks the most fundamental asset of any athlete-the body’s production of energy-and the most malicious form of the disease is Type 1, also known as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes.
It is a measure of the ongoing progress in the treatment of diabetes that this month’s Amgen Tour of California, a professional cycling race that has attracted many of the world’s top riders, will include two competitors with Type 1 diabetes, Phil Southerland and Fabio Calabria. They will ride for Team Type 1, a team with a mission to put one of its diabetic members in the Tour de France by 2012. The Amgen Tour, a 750-mile race in eight stages, will be the team’s most ambitious challenge to date. Team Type 1 recently held a week-long training camp in Solvang, where Stage 6 of the upcoming tour-a 15-mile time trial-will take place on Friday, February 20.
Five team members did some outreach at Solvang School. They addressed an assembly of 200 children, raising their awareness of diabetes and showing them that to live strong in the face of adversity is not the exclusive province of Lance Armstrong, as powerful a spokesman as he is in the crusade against cancer. Armstrong’s return to the saddle at age 37 will be the most ballyhooed aspect of the Tour of California. But there is much inspiration to be had from the Type 1 riders, defying a disease that once would have prevented them from living fully.
“Traditionally, Type 1 patients were not encouraged to exercise,” said Dr. Howard Zisser, director of diabetes technology at Santa Barbara’s Sansum Diabetes Research Institute. The problem was that doses of life-saving insulin, in combination with fuel-burning activity, would drop their blood sugar levels too low. But new advances in technology have enabled them to get in the game.
They wear glucose monitors that read their blood-sugar levels every five minutes. “In people without diabetes, their bodies do that automatically,” Dr. Zisser said. They know when they should take in food or a glucose tablet. They have pumps that inject insulin as needed. The new devices are compact and wireless.
Several athletes with Type 1 diabetes have reached the highest levels of their sports-among them, Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, Charlotte Bobcats forward Adam Morrison, and Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Jr.-but all are engaged in activities with periodic rest periods. It is quite another thing to maintain the proper chemical balance while powering a bicycle continuously for five hours in a 120-mile road race.
The Sansum Institute is at the cutting edge of diabetes research. Dr. Zisser said it is working with UCSB’s Department of Chemical Engineering to create an artificial pancreas, the insulin-producing organ that is compromised by Type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Zisser said the riders of Team Type 1 bring “tremendous publicity to the cause. They make other people, especially kids, realize they can do whatever they want. They can make intelligent decisions and do remarkable things.”
Seventeen teams, each comprising eight riders, will compete in the fourth running of the Amgen Tour. The six non-diabetic riders on Team Type 1 include Matt Wilson, an Australian who placed seventh overall in last month’s Tour Down Under. Armstrong, who finished 29th Down Under in his first race after a three-year retirement, will ride for Astana, a team that also features defending Amgen champion Levi Leipheimer.
The tour will start on Saturday, February 14, with a three-mile prologue in Sacramento. Then come five city-to-city road races. Stage 5 will go from Visalia to Paso Robles. Following the Solvang time trial, the final stages will be Santa Clarita to Pasadena, and Rancho Bernardo to Escondido. This year’s tour will bypass Santa Barbara, which was the starting point of stages the first three years (also the finish of a stage in 2006).
The Versus TV network will provide same-day coverage of each stage and a preview show at 2 p.m. this Saturday, February 7.
GAMES OF THE WEEK: Today, Thursday, February 5, there are three consequential clashes: Westmont‘s women, who have retained their No. 15 ranking in NAIA basketball, host Concordia of Irvine at 5:30 p.m.; UCSB‘s women, looking to rebound from a 69-67 defeat at Cal State Bakersfield that snapped their 10-game winning streak, take on Cal State Fullerton at 7 p.m. in a Big West game; and the Santa Barbara High boys soccer team, smarting from a 1-0 loss to Ventura that put their seventh straight league title in jeopardy, will play at San Marcos following the 5 p.m. girls game between the schools.