I know Phil Southerland wouldn’t want me to call him a hero, but I can’t help myself. He has achieved what many thought impossible: creating a team of competitive cyclists with type 1 diabetes on track to become world-class. His efforts in recruiting athletes for Team Type 1, finding pharmaceutical sponsors, training like a maniac, and yet still finding time for motivational speaking around the country are beyond inspirational for people with diabetes everywhere. I honestly don’t know how he does it. So I thought I’d ask him. Please enjoy, five minutes with the legendary young Mr. Southerland:
DBMine) Competitive cycling is such a grueling sport. What drew you to it? Especially with an illness that seems to make it “next to impossible”?
PS) Oddly enough, it was diabetes that drew me to riding. When I was about 12 years old I started riding bikes so I could eat snickers bars. Then I ate so I could ride. I learned early on that if my legs hurt, or I was having trouble keeping up, I needed to eat. So I could go out and ride for hours without checking, no shots, all I had to do was eat just like the other guys. That turned into racing, and I got hooked on the weekend trips, and vying for the win every weekend.
DBMine) Other than reducing insulin and eating a lot of carbs, what is the trickiest part of cycling so hard with diabetes? And how do you “keep the balance” so you don’t ever pass out?
PS) The trickiest part is just nailing the blood sugar before the start. If you hit it right, then it sets the mind up for a good day. But if blood sugar won’t come up, or went too high, then diabetes is taking part of the focus away from the race.
Making the switch back to Lantus has allowed me to be much more consistent on this level, and then using the FreeStyle Navigator (CGM) during races helps to prevent those lows, which can spell the end of a bike race.
DBMine) What diabetes devices / equipment have made the biggest impact in your life? And why?
PS) As far as devices go, the FreeStyle Navigator has had a huge impact. I have been able to lower my A1C (now 5.5) and reduce the amount of blood sugars below target (now 3%.) In the insulin world, having the combo of Lantus/Apidra allows me to essentially have a guessing pancreas. The Lantus acts a metabolism which keeps the BG good/flat throughout the day, and Apidra is so fast that excursions are rare.
DBMine) You have huge ambitions for Team Type 1. Do you really think a team of all-diabetics could ever compete in the Tour de France?
PS) I know it can happen. The questions is when? If everyone with type 1 were to hop on a bike, start by doing your local ADA Tour de Cure, followed by some racing, we might be there faster than I think. Getting a type 1 in the tour by 2012 is the goal, and then we will look to getting a team solely of type 1′s in there some years down the road.
DBMine) Now that the team includes non-diabetic members, in what way has that changed the dynamic or the mission of your team?
PS) It has allowed us to have great athletes as ambassadors to the diabetes world, and educated a lot of people about being succesful with diabetes. One of my non-diabetic teammates, Ian McGregor had a close friend’s brother diagnosed last winter. The family had gotten horrible advice, and the guy was told to quit cross country skiing. Ian put us in touch, I talked with him for 30 minutes, and his whole perspective changed. The next weekend he was out for 5 hours on the slopes loving life.
We have also begun studies, with Howard Zisser, trying to determine the optimal blood sugar for performance in both type 1 and non-diabetic athletes. We had 6 guys at camp using CGM, and it was cool to see a blood sugar of a teammate at 177 climbing a mountain fast, and also seeing the same guy struggling up the mountain the next day with a blood sugar of 91. We want to pave the way for all future athletes with type 1, and have concrete data info so people know what to do, and how to do it.
DBMine) What would you tell anyone with Type 1 who wants to get involved in competitive sports? What’s the most important first step: finding a great doctor, or getting to know your body’s reaction by trial & error? Or…?
PS) I am going to borrow the Nike slogan and say “just do it!” But be prepared in the process. If I am trying something new, I will always carry some Dex4 glucose with me, just in case. We all react differently, but know that diabetes will never hold you back.
DBMine) If you could wish for one major advancement for us diabetics other than a cure, what would it be?
PS) Group Health Insurance, that paid for all the tools, and the new technology so that everyone has an affordable best chance of success. I am working on this one, and will keep doing so until we have it!
Thank you Phil! Definitely my hero(es)