Tips & Tricks

Managing Diabetes as a Competitive Paddler

Being raised in a boat by two kayak enthusiasts, it’s no surprise Hive Gold athlete Sage Donnelly began competing in kayak races at the age of seven.  Today she competes around the world in Whitewater Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Team USA. In addition to the physical and travel demands of her sports, she findtime to rock climb, runhike, weight lift, and ski. Balancing her competitive career and hobbies aren’t the only things on Sage’s mind. Sage is a Type I (T1) diabetic.  Every day Sage is managing her diabetes, fuel, training and day-to-day life. Sage shares what training and fueling look like as a competitive athlete with T1 diabetes:  

The Beginning

I was diagnosed with T1 diabetes when I was three years old.  My parents and I had completed a multi-day river trip in Idaho when I began to drink a lot of water and going to the bathroom multiple times an hour.  Knowing something was wrong, my dad rushed me to the fire station, where he worked at as a paramedic, to check my blood sugar.  My blood sugar was 350, significantly higher than 100, which is normal. We rushed to the hospital where I was officially diagnosed with diabetes.   

Being diagnosed with Diabetes was a very sudden transition and it has been challenging from the start. However, the obstacles I face as a diabetic have made me into a better, more understanding person.

Training & Diabetes

Managing my diabetes during workouts is very important. If I drop too low, I have to completely stop my workout. This is especially hard because I often only have an hour per day to train when preparing for competitions. Other times, my insulin pump malfunctions and I go too high to workout (working out with a high blood sugar is very bad for your kidneys). It’s a constant balancing act, but it makes me more in tune with my body.   

I’ve experienced at times both athletes and coaches misunderstand my unbalanced blood sugars for excuses or laziness in training. However, this is not the case.  Low blood sugar has a negative effect on athletic performance.  It cuts off oxygen to the brain, making all functions, especially vigorous activity, very difficult. If my blood sugar levels drop low enough, I lose the ability to speak and I get very dizzy, emotional, and confused. My entire body is affected for several hours, even after my blood sugar regulates to a normal level.  

Fueling & Diabetes

My diet plays a major part in managing my diabetes.  I am constantly aware of what, how much, and when I eat, and how that fits into my training schedule.  Mismanaging my blood sugars for too long is detrimental and could result in a coma from being too low, or result in blindness or kidney failure if too high.  Because of this, I am very intentional in how I fuel as a diabetic athlete. I have to have sugar on me at all times whether I’m training or not. I always keep Honey Stinger energy chews in my purse. For training, I eat a protein bar about an hour before my session to keep my sugars stable for longer. Honey Stinger energy chews and gels stay next to the river when I’m training for easy access to fast sugar when I start to get low.   

Although diabetes is hard to live with and people won’t always understand what you’re going through, I always try to be an example to diabetics and other athletes that you can do anything you want to no matter what anyone tells you. There will be days when you want to curl up in a ball and quit, but if you take a few deep breaths, get back up, and work your hard, it will be worth it.