“Diabetes only gets in the way when you let it.” – Olympic Cross-Country Skier, Kris Freeman.
The Olympics are a competition that celebrates the best in human physical achievement and athleticism. Yet, many Olympians suffer from diabetes. This condition can be debilitating if it’s not taken care of properly, but their diagnosis with diabetes has opened up new doors and closed some old ones for some athletes. Yet, these athletes’ fighting spirit never slows them down, and neither does their diabetes.
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Current and Former Olympians With Diabetes
Kris Freeman – Cross Country Skiing
Kris Freeman was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 19 years old after he’d already been a competitive cross-country skier for years. Doctors told him he’d have to quit because it’d be impossible to meet the endurance requirements of such a sport, having diabetes. Kris proved them wrong.
He went on to compete in the 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014 Olympics. He never won gold, but his inspirational story has pushed many others to fight for what they believe in. Now a former olympian, Kris focuses much of his time spreading awareness and education about diabetes to people all across the country.
Gary Hall, Jr. – Swimming
Gary Hall Jr. came from a family of Olympians with both his father and grandfather competing and winning gold. So, Gary was destined to be an olympian. He competed in the 1996 Atlanta Games, winning two gold and two silver medals! Three years later, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 25. But that didn’t slow him down. Gary competed again in the 2000 and 2004 games, taking home six more medals in all. He just goes to show that this disease can be well maintained and shouldn’t have to slow you down from what you love to do.
Sir Steve Redgrave – Rowing
Steve Redgrave is a retired Olympian and arguably one of the best rowers out there. In his career, he won rowing gold in five consecutive Olympics (1984-2000). But before all this, Steve was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 35. He had to manage his blood sugar levels carefully but never let it slow him down.
In his words, “Diabetes is a lifelong condition, and it’s not going to go away any time soon.” When he first heard the diagnosis, he was afraid that diabetes would eventually wear him out or stop him from reaching his goal of rowing gold in five consecutive Olympics. But Steve doesn’t let anything get in his way. Instead, he pushed himself to the limit, and now he’s a well-decorated olympian and an inspiration to all of us that anything is possible with diabetes, no matter how difficult it may seem.
Chris Jarvis – Rowing
Chris Jarvis is yet another Olympian who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age. He wears an insulin pump when he competes to ensure his diabetes is well managed and to mitigate the effects. He was once told by his coach that diabetes would hinder him too much, and he’d never go any further. However, the following year he was captain of his college varsity team, and rowed for Canada for eight years, including the 2004 Olympics.
He’s since retired, but went on to found the non-profit, I Challenge Diabetes. They focus heavily on those with type 1 diabetes who want to take hold of their disease and go on adventures, play sports, or just live a life full of activities and fun. The organization puts on tons of workshops and events for diabetic youth and has grown into a vast operation helping people with diabetes all across the country.
Bob Beamon – Long Jump
Bob Beamon was one of the most famous Olympians in history, having one of the most epic moments in Olympics history. Bob won gold for the long jump in the 1968 Olympics, jumping an astounding 29.2 feet! He set a world record that day which held its place for 23 years until he was dethroned by American athlete Mike Powell with a 29.36-foot jump.
Since then, his record has been broken three times, and he’s no longer competing on an international level. Instead, he has spent time coaching, fund-raising for the Olympic committee, and staying very active in sports-related activities. This is why he was shocked to learn he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2006. It runs in his family, but he was surprised someone as athletic and in shape as himself could end up having diabetes, still, he persists and stays as active as he can.
These are just a few of the amazing athletes who, despite living with diabetes, have conquered themselves and reached the pinnacle of athleticism—the Olympics. For more inspiring stories, check out our list of some other non-Olympic athletes with diabetes in the past that have surpassed all expectations of their doctors and excelled in their athletic careers with their well-controlled diabetes.
Just like these inspiring Olympians have said, their diabetes is a part of them, and whether they were diagnosed early or later in their careers, they never let it bog them down. Instead, they learned how to control it and rose above the disease to go down in history as some of the best athletes in the world.
With proper diabetes management, you honestly can do anything if you set your mind to it. So make sure to follow along with our blog for incredibly helpful tips and tricks for diabetes management, pairing diet, exercise, and medication management together for well-rounded treatment.