Diabetic skier inspires kids with tales of triumph

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PRINCETON, Ind. (AP) — It's hard enough making it to the Olympics. Try doing it with Type 1 diabetes.

Kris Freeman did just that - four times. He's competed in the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics as a member of the United States cross-country skiing team, placing in the top 25 in several events.

Monday morning, the New Hampshire native visited Princeton's Camp Carson YMCA facility, where he met with children and teens in the INdependence Diabetes Camp, the Princeton Daily Clarion reported (http://bit.ly/1it3W98 ). He opened the discussion by asking if the kids had any questions. They did, and not questions a typical sports celebrity would field.

"When you ski, do you supplement your basal rate?" asked Owen Fischer of Indianapolis, referring to a key way people with diabetes control their blood sugar. The answer, by the way, was yes, when needed. The key is to control everything, to plan for all contingencies, to accept that you have the disease and simply out-think it.

Freeman has had trouble twice in 200 races since he was diagnosed with the disease 14 years ago, he said in response to another medical question from a teen. Once, the 33-year-old missed his coach holding the Gatorade needed both for hydration and keeping his blood sugar levels high. The next coach in line was a Russian, who motioned in no uncertain terms that he could not have any Gatorade. Freeman simply took a bottle from his hands.

"I was able to finish the race, but the result wasn't very great," he said.

"What I learned from that race is you've gotta do what you've gotta do. And you've got to have a backup."

That was Freeman's takeaway advice Monday: Plan. Have a backup. Overpack medications. Don't allow bad things to happen. Stay on top of it.

More questions:

"Do you use a pod or injections?"

A pod, or pump. When he skis, he often wears it on his chest, which hurts a bit but doesn't get bumped as often as a skier's arms. The kids thought the idea was funny.

"Did your pod ever expire during a race?"

No.

"You ever hear one fail?" he asked, grinning with delight as young Owen began imitating the loud "beeeeeeee" sound made by a failing pod.

"I see more and more people with diabetes competing in sports," Freeman told the kids. "I'm just adjusting and I'm still learning about the disease every day. ... It doesn't go away, it's still a pain, but it gets easier as you learn to manage it."

When he was diagnosed with the disease, the first two doctors he spoke to were negative about his chances of continuing to compete in the sport he'd loved since age 4. But he didn't give up, and he urged the campers to follow that example.

"I've never identified myself as the first diabetic Olympian. I am an Olympian ski-racer and that's how I think of myself."

Afterward, Owen was a bit star struck.

"Pretty cool, pretty cool," he said. "He's an Olympic skier and it's just really awesome to me that somebody with my disease plays in the Olympics."

Owen promptly asked for and received Freeman's autograph.

Freeman later explained his motivation for speaking to young diabetic groups: "The negative message I got when I was diagnosed was so devastating to me, just being told I couldn't do something I love, I want kids to believe they can go for their goals. I think the more kids believe in that, the more they'll have highs than lows."

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Information from: Princeton Daily Clarion, http://www.tristate-media.com/pdclarion

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