kate hall diabetes athlete

The T1Dialogues – Ep.14: Kate Hall – Celebrating an inspiring T1D athlete and her remarkable courage

This month we’re joined by Kate Hall Kate Hall-Harnden who was diagnosed with type one diabetes at age 10. She took control from day one when she told the nurse that she was going to give herself her first-ever shot of insulin. Kate was never afraid of having diabetes and all that it entailed, but instead, she was afraid of it stopping her from doing what she loved most, sports. From that moment on, Kate turned fear into motivation and she knew that she wasn’t going to let diabetes get in the way of anything. Kate did everything that she could from a young age to control her diabetes so that she could try to not only live a normal life but also accomplish her goal of someday becoming an Olympian. Kate went on to set the national high school and American junior record in the long jump, became a 2x NCAA Division I champion, USA Indoor champion, and made the U.S. Olympic Trials final in 2016. By taking control and not letting diabetes stop her from anything, Kate is working towards her goal of becoming an Olympian every single day. 

After the 2020 Olympics were postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19, Kate tore her ACL while training for her first competition of 2021. This devastating injury delayed Kate’s dream of becoming an Olympian and required her to get surgery and undergo extensive rehab for several months. Instead of letting this injury get her down, Kate decided to take that time and pursue another passion of hers that is just as important to her as her track and field career. Kate Hall-Harnden started the DiaStrong Foundation to help other diabetics take control of their lives and not let anything get in the way of accomplishing their dreams

Hi Kate. It’s really nice to meet you. 

Nice to meet you too Pete. Thanks for having me. 

I’m really excited actually to talk to you today. You’ve got a fascinating story and I’m particularly interested in sports and I’m obviously type one diabetic too. So I know that you are also a type one diabetic and interested in sports. I think that the whole intersection of sports and how you manage your diabetes in that kind of backdrop is an area that I’m really keen to and really excited to explore with you for our listeners and viewers. 

Please give a quick overview of your history and background.

So my name is Kate Hall. I am 24 years old. I am originally from Maine. I was diagnosed with type one diabetes when I was 10 years old. From day one, I knew it wasn’t gonna get in my way and I wasn’t gonna let it prevent me from doing what I wanted in life. So I got into track and field when I was actually 10 years old and I started to progress really quickly from the get-go and I ended up becoming a high school national champion. Also, I set the national high school record. Then I won the NCAA championships twice and I went to the 2016 Olympic trials and it is my ultimate dream to become an Olympian. Unfortunately, I tore my ACL (injury) So it’s not going to happen this year. But I’m still looking towards the next one. And yeah diabetes isn’t going to act in the way. 

Wow! Amazing to hear that! Let’s go back to the age of 10. What are your memories like of that period? Because it sounds like two big things were happening simultaneously;  your diagnosis with type one diabetes and then the sporting stuff. What are your memories of that period? 

Yeah, so I started with track as I said when I was 10 and it was before my diagnosis. So it was like my first ever year falling in love with this new sport that I just tried out at such an exciting time because I already love sports to begin with.

I played all kinds of sports growing up but then there was this new sport and I was really really good at and absolutely loved it. And then just a few months after, that’s when I started not feeling right,  I just didn’t want to go anywhere, I was peeing all the time, drinking all kinds of water, eating lots of food, losing weight, I was in a bad mood all the time, which wasn’t like me at all, I was always a very positive happy kid and I didn’t really want anyone other than my immediate family to see my negative emotions ever. 

I remember, I was at a birthday party and I got upset about something and I started crying and my cousin said “Well I have never seen you cry like what is going on”, no one has ever seen that side of me and only my parents knew something really wrong was going on. So they took me to the doctor and the doctor just said, “Oh, you’re going through a growth spurt because you’re eating more”. And that didn’t make sense at all to me or my parents because I was losing weight rather than gaining. I just looked really unhealthy so he said, “go home and if you’re not feeling good in a couple of weeks, come back, we’ll do some more tests.” But my parents didn’t wait and as soon as we got home, they pretty much started Googling on the internet about my symptoms. During our search, the first thing that came up was Type one diabetes and they’re like “Oh no, these are the exact symptoms”. They went to the doctor and actually got a ketone test strip to test my urine right at home that came back really high. So they somewhat guessed that she has type one diabetes. Then I went to the hospital shortly after and they checked my blood sugar. It was around 500s which is very high. And I remember I was just not being scared. I mean, I was very young, so at the same time, I probably didn’t really understand what was happening or I just didn’t know what I meant for the rest of my life. But at the same time, I knew it was bad. Um but I just had the mindset that, whatever it is, I’m going to get through it. I’m going to be fine and I have to deal with it. So the nurse was going to give me my first ever shot of insulin and I took the syringe from her, I was like no, I want to give myself my first ever shot. This was the very first moment I just took control of the situation and decided it wasn’t gonna stop me. 

I vividly remember staying the night in the hospital and my mom was in the bed with me and she was crying. I asked why are you crying, stop it? And I think after I said that to her, she kind of just felt so much better because she knew that I was going to be okay. Just from that moment on, I went home and I was never really afraid of all that it entailed: checking blood sugars and dealing with it all day every day, but I was scared that it was going to stop me from doing what I loved, which was sports and specifically track. When I first got home, the doctor had told me, “hey, you have to sit out of your championship soccer game because you’re still getting used to this, so just take it slow” and I remember being hopeful that I had to sit on the sidelines and watch my team lose. That was really hard for me, but at the same time, I’m glad that I went through that because that was like a very pivotal moment for me. It just motivated me, even more, to not let it get in the way of anything. I was like, oh, it was awful like I never want to go through this again. So just from that time on, I didn’t let it stop me, and that’s pretty much what I remember from Being diagnosed at 10 years old and how I dealt with it. 

I was also very open about it too, and I told all my friends that I was checking all their blood sugars and telling them all about it. 

So what do you think enabled you to handle it so positively and not get too down about it at that age? Do you think it’s just an innate kind of perspective that you had back then, or from what your parents taught you?

Yeah, I think it was a perspective that I had. I had just always been a very positive child and I always dealt with change pretty well. I think it’s just kind of how I was and I decided in my mind that, yeah, it’s gonna be hard, but it’s not gonna be stopping me, I’m gonna be fine.

That’s really cool. Like, sometimes I look back on my diagnosis. I was 30 years old and I was really stressed at work and 10 years later I wondered if that stress had anything to do with my type one, the initiation, and the onset. So do you ever look back or do doctors ever talk about it? Did you talk to anyone about it or wondered why and what maybe caused it, is it there a clear genetic lineage or? What are your thoughts on that? 

I had a distant cousin that had it, but other than that, no one really in the family and we can’t really think of a time when I was really sick before then. From day one, I always was just younger than everyone. I have a picture from when I was in preschool and it seemed like I was like a foot shorter than every single person in my age group. My friends used to make fun of me because I just weighed nothing. I mean before my diagnosis I weighed under £50 at 10 years old and even before that I was just super skinny. 

And have you ever asked a doctor or has it ever come up in conversation with anyone with this expertise? 

Actually, I haven’t, it’s never been like an in-depth conversation that I’ve had with a doctor, but it would be interesting to have one for sure. 

I don’t know if you call it timely but like the intersection of the beginning of a real passion for sports at that time. So tell us what it was like managing back then? Because there were CGMs back then? I think I’ve done a marathon way before CGMs were around but I think as a kid it’s even more impressive that you knew and you were somehow figuring out how to keep an eye on your sugar level. 

Yeah I mean I remember I was constantly checking my blood sugars. My doctor even said, “Hey you’re checking it too much so stop checking it so much.” I was checking it around 15-20 times a day. Which is something crazy. They had to tell me to stop and I also remember that they literally want me to stop to just relax myself a little bit and I can understand at the same time as I was comfortable with it and I didn’t mind doing it, so I also remember using a pen as I wasn’t using a pump or anything, I started out with a pen, giving myself shots around 66 times a day whenever I ate. And it’s so weird looking back because that’s crazy. 

Thinking about what it was like when I was first diagnosed, I believe that I dealt with it really well, I didn’t mind it, I remember my doctor had told me after a certain amount of time I could try to get a pump. So I got my first pump after a year or two since I was diagnosed and it was a tube pump. Actually, I found it was harder once I got on a tube pump, because with sports, especially track, I did three or four events at a time and it was over the course of like three hours and when you’re sprinting, jumping, and warming up, it’s really hard to do that with the pump. So I found that it kept falling off me and eventually I was going to take it off, which was a really bad idea, I didn’t know what else to do because I wanted to compete. So I had to leave for the competitions with my blood sugar at 300, sometimes even with high ketones because I have it all for so long. 

Also, I remember that it specifically was a really hard time for me because it was when I was just starting to get really good in track and I was around 12-13 years old when this was all happening. It was interesting because I was excelling so much in track, but then struggling so much with keeping my blood sugars in range. So that was really hard and it took me a while to find an alternative because my doctors said, you know there is no alternative, this is what there is and there is nothing better, so don’t even go out there and look. Unfortunately, there were better options out there and it took us a while to find them. But once I found a pump that wasn’t tubed, an Omnipod.  It just got so much easier for me and I was able to excel on and off the track. 

Omnipod was around for a while and I think at the time the doctors really wanted to tell me about the pump that would better fit me at that time. I think everything happens for a reason so I found it at the time I was supposed to and I just think it’s so much easier for me. It was one of the reasons I started to excel even more on track and got even better. 

So I think we’re getting an Omnipod in Australia soon. We don’t have it at the moment, which I find weird, but then saying that there’s a lot of variation country to country in terms of what medical technologies get there and get registered and so forth. I don’t wear a pump at the moment, but a lot of people keep telling me to get a pump. So what guidance did you have back then? How did you figure out how to manage not just diabetes but with these high levels of physical activity? Were there other people as if they were role models and I guess there have been Olympians right? And there have been impressive athletes out there doing stuff. How did you figure out how to manage it? Where are you getting that guidance from? 

It was really because of the support system that I had in my life. I didn’t have role models but I think it was really the people around me that helped me and motivated me to be the best that I could be. My parents needed a really good job of letting me do my thing with diabetes, they weren’t overbearing. I was a very independent child and I wanted to do everything by myself and they did a really good job of letting me do things by myself and they were there for me when I needed them. They came alongside me with my diabetes management and with all my sports and everything. However, they weren’t constantly over my shoulders saying things like, hey, what’s your blood sugar, check your blood sugar, do this or do that. 

I imagine as a parent that I want to keep my kid alive, right? 

I don’t know how they did it, but they trusted me because they knew that I wasn’t going to do anything crazy, I was gonna manage it, they were there all the time, making sure I was okay. They just didn’t constantly tell me what to do. So there was a really good balance that we had and I think that was kind of key for helping me not only with my diabetes management but with Track as well because from a very young age I had to have that work ethic to control my diabetes. I had to check my blood sugar several times a day and count carbs and figure all that out from age 10 and I wanted to do it by myself but that kind of instilled in me a really good work ethic from a really young age. So I think once I fell in love with track, I started to get better. It was not difficult because I had been doing it since I was 10 years old with my diabetes. 

So working out and doing everything I could to improve was for me. Indeed, it was actually fun because I was able to set goals for every season, and I had goals for each event and for every year and I’d cross them off if I achieve them, and if I didn’t, I would right next to it and say, “oh, next year I’ll get it”. So,  it was really fun for me and I really think that I was able to work so hard because I was diagnosed at a young age. 

Even I sometimes look at it in some senses, I feel that I have an advantage in that I have an insight into my metabolism or into my glucose levels and the impact that food has on me that actually, the average person doesn’t necessarily have because they’re not constantly monitoring the impact of food on their bodies. And you know researchers mounting nondiabetics using insulin for things like bodybuilding. So I imagine in some sense it is like the relationship that you gain with your body and the system of your body. It gives you an advantage being an athlete because you have a better sense of what’s happening because you’re monitoring it so closely. 

Yeah, I definitely agree with that for sure. You know, I am so in touch with my body, like I know what I can and can’t take in my training. So like I found in college when I was training with my teammates and we’re all doing the same thing every day and I wasn’t fully recovered when they were. So I felt like I was training at maybe 80% in practice when they were at 100%. So now that I am the coach that knows about Type one, I am just really in tune with how my body reacts to workouts and the recovery I need, and that’s really an advantage for me because I’m so in-tuned with it. So I definitely agree with what you said about that. 

When you’re a kid, you’re saying you had to figure it out on your own, with your parents, and so forth. Do you have better help now? And do you have any role models like Type one diabetics who are operating at the same physical performance level as you are at? 

Yeah, I follow other type one diabetics on social media that are really good athletes and not just athletes, but they also make a positive impact in the community. So definitely I look up to them. It’s really cool to be part of the community that can make such a big difference all over the world. So it’s awesome. 

What’s your biggest source of information and what are the things you’re looking for? What were the biggest challenges when you’re a kid with type 1 diabetes? Because you talk about it really positively so what was it all positive or were there any times where you looked around and went to the people you’re competing against who didn’t have type one diabetes? Did you ever have moments where you couldn’t keep up or was there something that impacted your relative performance? What were the challenges back then and now? 

Yeah. That’s a great question. Um I mean, I have had some of the challenges in the past and I remember my first ever pretty big challenge was that at a conference championship in my high school. It was really exciting because it was one of the biggest meets of the year. And I was competing and trying to win all three events and to set records. So I remember I didn’t have my CGM at that time. But I checked my blood sugar on the bus and it was really high. So I gave myself a bolus of insulin and when I got there I started warming up and all of a sudden I found that I had very little blood sugar and I realized that my blood sugar that I checked on the bus probably wasn’t accurate and it wasn’t actually that high. It was very low and I was just about to compete and I was not feeling good. I was doing the long jump and when I pushed off of the runway to start my approach, my calf cramped. And yeah. 

My doctor and my coach told me that when your blood sugars go high and low, your pH level changes, which can cause muscle cramps. So I instantly knew it was because of my low blood sugar. I had no doubt in my mind. That’s my cramp. Then I had to sit out the rest of the meet and  I couldn’t compete in the rest of the long jump competition and it was devastating because I absolutely loved the track. So that was a huge struggle for me. But at the same time, I believe, I had to go through that so that next time I could do better. So now, I make sure that I check my blood sugar well before I’m on the bus, probably when I am 30 minutes away from the competition. Even though that was hard, I’m glad it happened so I didn’t have to deal with it later in life at bigger competitions. That was the struggle that I had back in high school. However, to this day I still have struggles. and I think my biggest one is adrenaline, I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with my blood sugars at a really big competition, as I have a lot of adrenaline and I get really nervous, but in a good way, so I have a lot of adrenaline in my system which skyrockets my blood sugar every single time. I almost always go into a competition with my blood sugar 140 to 150 or maybe higher than that. Then as soon as I start competing, it goes straight up to 200 or 300 or sometimes 350. Since it goes up that high, it affects me even after the competition, as I have to deal with it coming down, my muscles feel like they’re going to cramp and then I can’t sleep at all at night. 

It’s really frustrating when I go through times like those because that’s when I feel like I have a disadvantage and I never want to feel like that because of my diabetes. I do realize that there are ways to prevent that and fix that. It’s finding the right methods that work for me. So that’s still something I’m trying to learn and something I struggle with. But I know it will get easier, the more I can repeat and the more I learn. 

So does being high during an event affect your performance? Like, let’s say, you know, you’re about to go and do a long jump and your blood sugar is high. Is there any sort of research or evidence around whether that’s a good or bad thing for your performance at that moment? 

I don’t know if there’s specific research, but from what I have experienced, I don’t think that having my blood sugar a little high affects my performance. I think if it’s really high which I’ve had a couple of times, it could affect it. I actually remember the first time I won the championships, my pump fell off so I was competing with no pump and the competition was like an hour and a half. So my blood sugar was really high throughout the competition and continued to go up because I had no pump. I won the competition and jumped one of the best I’ve ever jumped. So I haven’t noticed anything negative about jumping with high blood sugar but I’m sure that if it was at a good level, I might jump a little bit better. 

Yeah, really interesting. So you’ve had some big wins at a high school level and at the NCAA level. Please tell us about those experiences. I imagine a massive amount of focus and effort went into them. How did it feel to be making those achievements? 

I’ll go back to the start but when I was a freshman in high school I was watching the 2012 Olympic trials on T. V. and I said in that moment that I was going to be at the 2016 trials. At that point, I was only jumping 16 ft. Which has a huge difference to what the pros were jumping at the trials. So I told my parents that I am going to be at the 2016 trials, competing with the best of the best, and they kind of laughed inside but obviously, they supported me and did everything they could to help me to get there. So from that moment on, in high school, every year I was setting goals. For my freshman year, I wanted to jump 17 ft, and then for my sophomore year, I wanted to jump 18 ft. This really motivated me to work as hard as I could every single year. And my junior year of high school was when I really had a breakthrough and I was jumping just under 20 ft and I was runner up at the high school nationals. Then my senior year was the year that I just absolutely was at the top of my game and ended up totally skipping over 21 ft and jumped 22 ft at the high school nationals. 

Which was my last ever jump of my high school career.

Wow. So actually, what’s the recurrent world record for women’s and men’s?

So the world record is around 760 m and that might not be completely accurate, but it’s around there. I’m not sure what the men’s world record is, but if you check the internet, someone jumped like 899 m and that’s absolutely incredible. 

That’s amazing. So that was your end of high school.

Yeah, after that, I had already committed to attending a college, but I ended up transferring after only a semester there because the training just didn’t fit with what I needed. I just felt like it was breaking down and I wasn’t being taken care of on the diabetes side. I also have celiac disease and I remember being in Boston, they would order everyone like sandwiches but not get me a gluten-free sandwich so I would like to go without eating. So it was really a big hit in my first year because I went from absolutely excelling in high school and setting the national record to just kind of going downhill and feeling like my body was breaking and not having the support that I needed. 

Eventually, I ended up transferring and then going to the University of Georgia where I ended up winning the NCAA Championship and it was so much better there. But I decided to leave there a year early because I was going back into that same feeling that I had in my first year when my body was breaking down. So I just realized that the NCAA wasn’t for me. I needed to be with a coach that knew about type one and how to train me with the recovery that I needed. So I dropped everything without really knowing what was next. I didn’t really have a plan other than I wanted to make the Olympics and I knew that I had to be with his coach to do that. So I left before my senior year and went back to Maine and started training with the coach that I have now. And it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. 

What is the NCAA championship? 

So these are the championships that are like the best of the best and it’s very cut through and has a lot of pressure and people travel from all over the world to compete at the NCAAs colleges in the US. 

Do you have the coaches that are at your university or the college? Is it the coaches that you choose or you’re part of a group where you get what you’re given. 

Yeah, exactly you’re part of a team. And so I was recruited by all kinds of colleges from all over the US. I pretty much had my pick when I was in high school like which one I wanted. But it’s hard because a lot of the college coaches have one personality when you’re being recruited and then a totally different personality when you’re actually there. It was kind of devastating to learn that my dream for the NCAA wasn’t gonna come true because it was totally different than what I imagined at this time. I wanted to do everything I could to accomplish my dream even if that meant dropping everything and leaving early and not finishing my degree at that school at that time. 

So yeah it must be hard if you are an athlete who does have different or specific requirements that are different from the group and need to get those catered would be challenging I imagine because my body is different and I need different training regimes and different diets and so forth. And I imagine that it sounds like a really intelligent decision to go and do your own thing. 

Yeah, it was a hard decision, but it was the right one. But I think that these colleges weren’t prepared for everything that diabetes entails. So they were actually in charge of ordering all my supplies for me since I went there so that I could get it free through the school and I remember I had run out of my Omnipod and I only had a few left. They were supposed to order them weeks and weeks back and we want to leave for the championships in 2017, so I only had one more left. I was wondering if I was going to get my Omnipods before I go, or what’s gonna happen? so they ended up contacting a local rep in the area and got me a box of pods, but they should have been ordered like weeks ago, but they didn’t really care or just do their job. And for me, that wasn’t acceptable because, at that point, I should be worrying about my competition. But instead, I was worrying about getting my pump supplies and it’s extremely stressful. When that started happening, it just wasn’t working well for my body, it was like I need to be done with this, I need to move on, so it was a good decision. 

How did you end up in the long jump? I imagine you’re in track and field and it’s the thing you’re doing the best at. 

So when I was younger, I was always jumping around everywhere. I would, every time I went under, like a door frame, I would jump up and hit it with my hand every single time. I would jump up and try to hit ceilings in my house. I was just always jumping all the time and I didn’t really think about it at that time that I wanted to be a long jumper someday, it was just something that I just did naturally. 

When I first got into track, I didn’t really even know what long jump was, but once I tried it, I became a natural at it. I was just always really, really fast as a kid, and then when you combine that with being able to jump high and far in the air, it’s just the perfect combination. So I was just a natural from the start and I absolutely love the feeling of flying through the air, so right, when I started doing it, I was like, yeah, this is what I like to do. 

So I’ve seen some of the posts on your social media of your training and like some of the stuff that you’re doing is pretty bizarre. It’s like pretty bizarre types of exercises or techniques that you’re practicing. 

Yeah, a lot of the things I do, you wouldn’t see many other people do because part of it is just getting your body stable and moving correctly and functioning well before you even do anything else. So before I do all these crazy lifting or crazy jumping exercises, I need to make sure my body is moving correctly. A lot of these weird little exercises that I’m doing are to make sure that I am moving correctly so that I don’t get injured and I can perform well. 

Also, tell us about the Olympic trials in 2016. 

Yeah, when I set the national high school record that had qualified me for the Olympic trials, It was that I hit the Olympic standard, and then when I jumped that I accomplished my goal of hitting the mark to go. 

When you qualified, how many people were jumping around the same distance as you? Is there a fairly small group at that point? Is there 100? or what’s the general US landscape in terms of those people at those sorts of distances? 

At that level in high school, I was definitely the only one jumping that distance, but before I jumped 683 m, there was probably a group of two or three of us that was jumping like 640 ish. And then when I jumped the record, there wasn’t really anyone close to that. 

Is that the all-time record that you set at that point? You had jumped the longest for anyone at high school, was it at that point? 

Yeah, so the record stood for about 39 years. It was a really old record and then I broke it in 2015. So that was an incredible moment. It wasn’t even on my radar to break the record and I just wanted to win the competition to become a national champion. But I had the perfect jump and everything went perfectly and I was able to set the record and there’s a really cool video of my reaction when I see the board with the distances. 

I didn’t know the conversion from meters defeat so at first, I saw meters, I was like, oh, that’s pretty far. And then when I saw it on feet, I was like, What did I just do? And my hands were up in the air and I was crying and it was just unbelievable. And that qualified me for the trials and that was my goal since I was 15 years old, a freshman in high school. So I was able to go to the trials in 2016. Unfortunately, that was right after the time that I had transferred from my first school that I went to. So my body wasn’t really at its peak condition at that time, because I only had a couple of months to recover from my body changes. 

I had a really good first day at the trials and qualified for the finals the next day, but the next day my body just felt really tired from the day before and I wasn’t able to go on from there. But I always told myself that my goal in 2016 ways to make the trials and compete and do as I possibly could. 

Was that difficult for you? How did you feel? 

Yeah, so I’m actually not really hard on myself when I don’t compete well, so I’m a very positive person in general and I don’t let people see when I’m struggling with something, I’ve always been like that, but when it comes to competing and if I don’t do it well, I get really hard on myself for days. 

I was happy with my performance on my first day. It had been better than I had jumped in a while because I was back with the coach who was best for me. So he got me to that point, and I was jumping pretty well, but I also wanted to do really well on the day of the finals.  You know it was a really hard year. I struggled but I got past it. At that point, I was only 19 years old. So huge career was ahead of me. Once I was able to process it in that way then it was fine and it just motivated me to keep working hard. 

Let’s jump into the ACL. Injury. I imagine it is a pretty challenging experience. So like let’s say I’m watching the NBA and I see a person injured like I think about a guy you know, Clay Thompson, who had been out for like two years or something so I suppose that people who have an injury sucks. So tell us how you dealt with it?

Yeah, so it was funny but ironic because it was actually a week before I was going to compete for the first time in a year because of the pandemic. So I hadn’t competed for a full year due to Covid. I was finally just one week away from my first competition and I was going to compete on a really nice track and I was really excited about it. As there are always really far jumps there and it’s super bouncy.  

I was training in the weight room and I was doing a plyometric drill so I had to jump to smaller boxes and then a larger box and I was starting on a smaller box, then I was taking a quick step down to the ground and then another quick step onto the other smaller box and then jumping off of that smaller box onto the biggest box. I was landing on one leg, so it’s almost like I was running up to the bigger box, but I was stepping on the smaller boxes on my way. 

On the first attempt, I took it easy just to get a feel for it. And at the second attempt I was a bit more comfortable and went out a little bit harder and then on my third attempt I just gave it everything I had, and unfortunately, because I went a little bit faster and a little bit harder, I landed on the outside the edge of the box instead of the middle, so when I landed on the outside edge it tipped over and I was falling as the box was rolling where I was falling. So I stuck my left leg out to try to catch my fall and I hyperextended my knee and then landed on the box. As soon as I landed, it felt so much pain in my knee and I was like oh no, I think it hyperextended. 

At that point I thought it was just a hyperextension, I didn’t think it was anything else. And then my coach came to me and he was worried that it might be something else. But in my mind, I thought no, I’m fine and I feel better now. It’s just because I hyperextended it but I wasn’t letting my mind go like that it could be a major injury. But then I ended up having an MRI two days later and that’s when they said it was an ACL tear. So, that was really hard because I was just about to compete in the Olympic year. I’ve been working for years and years for this. And then I got an ACL injury which was something that I never ever imagined for.  I’m still processing it to this day and this week is honestly going to be really hard for me because it’s the week of the trials and everyone’s there right now, everyone’s getting ready for it and I’m here at home recovering from my injury just trying to get back to jogging. 

So do trials take place every four years? 

Yeah, they happen every four years. They got delayed because of Covid so it was supposed to be last year but it’s happening this year so everyone’s there now as the trial starts on Friday.  If I was totally healthy I would be getting ready for it right now. So it’s been a hard past week. I know it’s only gonna get harder for the next 10 days, but it is what it is, and I’m trying my best to recover and get back to where I need to be. 

When will the next trials be? What’s the rehab process been like? And like, what, what are your thoughts about the next trials? 

The next trials are actually gonna be three years from now because they are still calling the 2020 Olympics. So, I’m happy that it’s going to be three years from now instead of four years. But my goal is to be ready for the indoor season, which will start in January and the World Championships are also next year and they’re going to be in Oregon. So it’ll be pretty local and will be in a different country. As long as I’m ready by then, then that’s kind of what I’m working towards right now. 

The rehab process is harder than I thought because obviously, I haven’t been through a major injury before, I’ve seen others go through major injuries but you don’t really know what it’s like until you go through it. 

The first couple of weeks were really hard because I couldn’t walk, so I was on crutches, but it was also very painful at the same time, and moving around was really scary and really hard and it’s very weak. Then at four weeks I was off of crutches and walking around in a brace, and then by like six or seven weeks, I was out of my brace. Then I think it’s been like the past three or four weeks I finally started walking without a limp. So now I’m walking completely normal, I am doing a little bit of jogging. Today was the first day that I was able to jump rope.  I’ve been doing some box jumps, which is really exciting just because jumping is my event, so I’m glad to be back to some jumping, but I think the goal right now is to get back to some faster running and some sprinting. That’s kind of the next step and I’m hoping to be back to some faster running by the end of next month, so that’s kind of where I’m at right now. 

Do you have memories of any of your favorite jumps that you would like to share with us today? Like I imagine that is it that one that you mentioned earlier or are there other jumps that stand out?

Yeah. I mean definitely, the best jumps that I’ve had were the ones that I remember the most. I would say my national high school record is a big one. But that was interesting because it wasn’t like that whole day everything clicked, it was just like that one jump. So my jumps before that were just okay. They didn’t feel that great, but that one jump made everything fell into place.

I think I have never experienced this before and then I’ve had some other competitions where everything felt perfect for the day. For example, I jumped in the middle of Boston a couple of years ago and they just built this runway in the middle of the city, and it was just built like boards. It was the most amazing thing. And on that day, it was just like everything clicked, every single one of my jumps just felt absolutely incredible and I was feeling like hitting the board perfectly and just shooting up into the air and going like getting so much height and then going so far out into the pit. It was really effortless that day. That’s definitely a feeling that I won’t forget. So, those are the best days of the competition, just like when everything clicks because then it’s just so effortless and easy and it’s enjoyable. 

So amazing. That’s really cool. Tell us about your current diabetes management. Give us some insight into your diet and I mean you’re using an Omnipod right? Give us a bit of insight into insulin dosing. What your days are in terms of diabetes, how you’re managing and different kinds of considerations that you have since you’ve been in rehab so has it been different to your general management? 

Yeah, yeah. It’s been interesting through the rehab. I mean, when I first had my surgery, I knew my blood sugars were going to be a little bit high because I wasn’t going to be as active.  So I ended up lowering my basil rates for the first week after my surgery that actually helped a lot. Then from there, once I started my rehab consistently, I was able to go back to a normal rate.

I’ve always noticed that whenever I’m exercising consistently, my blood sugars are always so much better. So whenever I take breaks from exercising for like a couple of weeks or a month, my blood sugars get so much higher and I always felt how to deal with that. But it’s nice to know that exercising always makes it much easier to manage. 

Once I started with my rehab, it went back to a nice spot that I used to have before my surgery and as far as training goes, my blood sugars tend to go low during my training, but like I said, they go high during competitions, so for when I’m doing my sprint workouts and my jumping and my lifting, I’m always having to either eat before my workouts or setting a basal rate about an hour and a half before my workout. So what I found works the best for me is if I decrease my basal rate by like 40% an hour and a half before my workouts, I won’t go low. So that was the game-changer for me because I always found that even if I had a little snack before, it still didn’t really help. It would still go low or it would just go high. But setting that basal before my workouts made a huge difference for me. 

When you’re competing or training really hard in those intense periods, do you need for short-acting insulin?

Yeah, it depends on the type of workout. Honestly. If I am doing like a very high-intensity workout where I was going to be working really hard, then yeah, I might not need any throughout that whole period, but if I’m doing maybe like a short left for the day, then usually just decreasing my basal rate by a little bit does the trick. 

So it really depends on the work and your diet right? What’s the diet like in particular during high-intensity training periods? how often you eat, what do you eat? 

Yeah, so I have celiac and I have to take that into those considerations as well. Also, have to deal with a gluten-free diet and it’s especially hard when I’m traveling in other countries because a lot of countries don’t have gluten-free food, so that’s my struggle from here. But I mean, you know when I’m in an intense training period, I’m eating more because I’m working harder so my body needs more fuel, so I’m eating more, I’m having more carbs and then during that period I feel a bit harder to manage my blood sugars.

So any thoughts on the high-level athletes who are keto or who are doing a noncarb diet?

I wouldn’t do it because I think that if you’re training hard, you need carbs for energy. So I mean if it works for them, that’s great because everyone is different. But for me, I know that wouldn’t work for me. 

I think it probably speaks through your character, which I think we’ve kind of heard about from the beginning and you’re pretty resilient and you’ve got a pretty positive outlook. It sounds like you’ve been pretty productive. Tell us what you’ve been up to. 

Yeah. Well, I was injured back in January and then I had my surgery in February. Then about a month after my surgery, I had a friend come over and he was checking on me and he mentioned, oh, you know, it would be cool if you start a nonprofit. It was funny because at that time it was never something that had crossed my mind, but people always would ask me what I wanted to do after my track and field career. And I would always say something to do with diabetes advocacy and with training athletes, but I didn’t really know what that looks like. and what setting that would be. But when he said it, it just kind of clicked to me, it’s like well with the nonprofit, we could do both of those things and I wouldn’t have to wait until after my track and field career. I could do it now because I have all this time on my hands and I don’t want to sit there and look back about what if I did this, what if I did that? How do I change what happened?

I thought If I can do something productive and change someone’s life in the process, then I honestly think that my injury would be worth it because I think everything happens for a reason. So we worked really hard from March until now and we just launched “Dia Strong” about a week ago. And I honestly think it’s made the whole process so much easier for me mentally because I don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t doing it because I pretty much would have been doing my physical therapy. 

I think I was able to turn the negative thoughts into positive and yeah, we’re doing this so we can change lives and make it easier for other diabetics. We want to provide resources and education to them to show them how they can manage their diabetes in an athletic or fitness setting. 

Another big part of what we want to do is to provide financial support for diabetics out there because having diabetes is expensive and I mean a lot of people can’t even afford anything and that’s extremely sad. We really want to get the word out there so that we can help these people in paying for their supplies. So we are extremely excited about it and it’s been a whirlwind, but we’re really happy. 

So congratulations. I think setting up a nonprofit (not-for-profit) initiative is not that easy. I’ve never done it, but a little bit of insight I’ve had is like there are quite a few hoops you have to jump through, so many many congratulations. 

Yeah, there are quite a few huge hoops, but we have a good team and we are all there. 

I was curious about the support structures and kind of advice and information that exists out there for people who want to pursue something related to athletics with diabetes. I think that it sounds like a little bit of what you’re going to be doing and you are focused on supporting some of those people and giving resources which is awesome. I also like the idea that someone is sitting in the US and having to despair about their insulin because they can’t afford it, which is a travesty. It’s also why we give some of our profits back to insulin access for all because just that concept is mind-blowing. So it’s really cool that you’re helping anyone in that realm. 

Thank you so much. Yeah, it really is very sad and I know of quite a few people even in the area that I live that struggle a lot with it. And it’s really sad. So we’re hoping that we can make a difference not only in the community that we live in but just all over.

Thank you so much Kate for sharing such a fascinating story. You’re such an impressive individual. Just as we wrap up with regards to the dire strong foundation, please share with us how people and our listeners can support? 

If you want to support, you can go check out our page and subscribe, become a member, donate, get the word out there right now. Honestly, the more people help, the more we can get this out there and the more people we could potentially help. So, anyone that can help us get it out there, that’s what’s important right now. 

It was so good to chat to you Kate, I appreciate your time and the initiative that you do. I wish you all the best and if you do end up at the Olympic trials in three years’ time, I’ll definitely be cheering for you. I just really wish you the best. 

Thank you so much. I appreciate it. 

Take care, have a good evening. 

Thank you too! 

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