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Learning Diabetes Lessons from Team Type 1

Joe Eldridge and Joslin Diabetes Center pediatric staff

Joe Eldridge (center) and Joslin staff

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In the Race Across America, teams of cyclists compete around the clock for more than 3,000 miles. “In 2005, people said we couldn’t do this because we had diabetes,” said Joe Eldridge of Team Type 1. “But we put together a team with eight people with diabetes, and we finished in second place by three minutes.”

“The next year, we actually won the race,” he added.

The win required good blood sugar levels and good attitudes about dealing with the disease, emphasized Eldridge, who spoke to Joslin pediatric staff and families last week.

Eldridge didn’t always have the best attitude about managing diabetes, he cheerfully admitted. Diagnosed at 10, he managed well with the disease until college. “I took a diabetes break,” he said. “I didn’t tell friends that I had it. I wouldn’t check my blood sugar in front of them.”

That changed after he took up competitive cycling. After one race, he saw the winner checking his blood sugar level. “I asked him, do you have diabetes?” Eldridge recalled. “He joked that no, he just liked checking his blood sugar.”

This quip was the start of Eldridge’s friendship with Phil Southerland. “My original goal in getting control of my diabetes was that I wanted to beat Phil in a bike race,” he said.

Competing successfully in cycling and spreading the word about diabetes and athletics, Southerland and Eldridge took the plunge to form Team Type 1 for the Race Across America.

In five years, the team has grown to 53 members, including a four-man professional team, a women’s team, a triathlon team, a development team and Team Type 2. And last month Team Type 1 set another record for the Race Across America, averaging more than 23 miles per hour between Oceanside, California and Annapolis, Maryland.

The team’s efforts at top-level cycle racing give them ongoing lessons about the intricacies of managing diabetes at extreme levels of exercise, with due diligence and proper medical support. When racing long distances, “I eat about 8,000 calories per day,” Eldridge said. “I also need continuous glucose measurement; I need to know where my blood sugars are all the time. Otherwise, it could be dangerous for me and others.”

He summed up the team’s message for children and teenagers with diabetes:  “You can do anything! But no matter what your goal, if you want to do your best and you want to win, you must have your blood sugars under control.”

Joe Eldridge and Joslin Diabetes Center pediatric staff

Page last updated: December 18, 2014