There is a champion within each of us

It’s been a busy week with Diabetes Day having fallen this past Wednesday. I’ve been involved in various activities around town, and like my fellow A1c Champions, been giving our motivational presentation to fellow diabetics. Yesterday, not far from my home, I spoke to a roomful of type 2 patients. The good news was almost everyone knew this is Diabetes Awareness Month. The bad news was very few knew what an A1c is. You’d be amazed to know just how few people with diabetes know how to manage it.

I was speaking at a medical center in Bedford Stuyvesant, a lower economic area of Brooklyn with signs of gentrification spiritedly popping up amidst the shuttered buildings and bodegas. Most of the patients who attended have had diabetes for several years and one patient was a newbie – diagnosed just two days ago, and he was reeling. While I know full well the initial response to a diagnosis of diabetes: shock, loss, grief, anger, shame, fear…he felt he’d lost his life. I acknowledged his feelings and then said, “You know, there’s another way to look at this. You didn’t just hear a doctor say you have terminal cancer. Diabetes is manageable once you know how. Now it’s your job to find out how and take the steps necessary.”

I wish I had also remembered to tell him, and all of them, about a news story I had seen some months ago on TV. It was about a one-legged black skier training for the Special Olympics. His story is remarkable, not only because he has become a masterful skiier, but because he came from the neighborhood where I was speaking yesterday. Years ago as a teen he was caught in a neighborhood shoot-out. A bullet cost him his leg, and three months of his life as he lay in a coma.

When he awoke, this active boy couldn’t participate in the usual pick up game of basketball, but one day he tried skiing and loved it. So with a dream and much determination, he moved away from his family, friends and home to Colorado to train for the Special Olympics.

Today he is part of the Special Olympics training program. He works as a sales rep at Home Depot and gets time to train. I was awed by this young man. Not just because he can stay erect on one leg whipping down a mountain, but because of his relentless positive spirit, optimism and good will. 

When not on the slope or in Home Depot’s paint department, he’s touring — influencing kids to stay in school and spreading his good cheer and message about what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. 

I really wish I had remembered to tell my diabetes group this story. A man, from just where we were gathered, had turned his life around after tragedy struck. They would have seen how much is possible, how you can come through life on top — including living with diabetes — when you put your mind to it. And that goes double for my newbie who’s just starting to wrap his hands around diabetes. Right now he can choose to look at his diabetes as a terrible thing or a stimulus for getting healthier, and also help his family members who’ve all been “suffering” with diabetes for years. 

At the end of the TV segment the reporter asked the skiier how he stays so positive. He said, smiling, that when he was a kid his grandmother told him something he’ll never forget. She said, “No matter what, you’re already a champion because of who you are, and the influence you have on yourself and others.” I think we’d all do well to heed his grandma’s words. 

Know that there is a champion within you and that your champion will carry you as high as you aim to go. Then when you get up there, take a look back, reach out your hand and help pull someone up who’s struggling below you. 

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