Admittedly, I’m a bit tardy here in publishing the final installment of my Winter Olympics conversations with cross-country skier Kris Freeman. He has type 1 diabetes and was America’s best hope for a medal in his sport in Vancouver this year — but alas, things did not go well for Kris this time around. He suffered a BG low in the 15k, his best event; fell far behind in the 30k; and ended up dropping out of the 50k last Sunday, as the Olympics came to a close.
I spoke to him on the phone that day, as his driver tried to navigate his way to the airport through throngs of reveling Olympians.
DM) Kris, if there were ever a time when you felt cursed by diabetes, I guess it would be now….?
KF) My whole thing is that you can do anything with diabetes, but sometimes it is harder.
This week one of my races was affected by diabetes, but it’s hard to say how much the others affected by it. I have very little answers about what went wrong right now. I was sitting with my coach for last couple of hours talking it over…
Having diabetes definitely throws another variable in there, but it’s a challenge I’m going to continue to tackle.
It must be really difficult to tell where diabetes issues leave off and other barriers to optimal performance kick in?
Well, (on Sunday) I didn’t have any diabetes issues at all. I just felt like I was running on empty.
I don’t have any regrets about finishing the (15k) race after that low, but I haven’t been feeling the same since.
I’ve been ski racing with diabetes for the last 10 years, and I’ve had the most media attention ever in the last two weeks. And it was the worst time of my career. That’s unfortunate, because that’s not the message I want to send out there — that diabetes makes it impossible.
I messed up my blood glucose once and other than that, I was just flat and bad.
You’ve said you didn’t want a “DNF” (did not finish) in the Olympics, but you didn’t complete the final 50k race on Sunday. What happened?
The reason I stopped that race was not that I couldn’t continue. It was just clear at the halfway point that the chances of scoring a medal were gone, and competing for nothing just made no sense. I felt out of shape — and I was emotionally and physically drained.
What’s next for you then?
My coach and I decided it’s best if I go home now, rather than going on to the World Cup event in Finland. This week has been exhausting. The last three races were so far off the mark for me, we don’t see any point in my continuing right now.
I will go to US Nationals in Maine at the end of March; I believe I can turn the corner and get back into shape by then.
I got a cold after the last race. I feel I’m susceptible to illness at the moment. And I’m not in the best frame of mind right now. Just going home and getting back in shape is best — sleeping in my own bed.
The organization was great. The Olympic Village was great. It’s always amazing to be around the top athletes from around the world — always a good atmosphere. I just wish I could have added a little more to it.
But Gary Hall Jr. (Olympic swimmer with type 1 diabetes) says the food choices there are especially challenging for diabetics…?
This time around the food was quite good. Anyway I’m used to having to make careful choices with my food. But that was definitely an issue for me in Torino.
It’s always a little frustrating because I’m around hundreds of athletes who’re hungry and don’t have to think a thing of it. They can down a quart of Gatorade all at once and not think twice.
What are some of the particular challenges of being diabetic and training with other athletes who are not?
It is a much different deal. Sometimes I do look over at my teammates with envy when we finish a workout and they whip out a Power Bar and a quart of Gatorade and down that in about three minutes. That’s about 115 carbs right there, and I just can’t do it that way.
What’s really hard is when we’re on the road. The hardest thing is balancing food and insulin needs between racing as hard as I can for 2 days then sitting on airplane going to our next event. The levels of activity are so different and my insulin needs change so rapidly.
Will you be employing some new D-tools when you get racing again later this month?
I realized that most of my training and most of my data is built around the 15k race – which was by far the most disappointing I had here. We’re gonna work up some new tests, and I’ll get my hands on a CGM as soon as possible and use that as best as possible.
What about connecting with other diabetic athletes — like competitive cyclists and triathletes — to share CGM strategies?
I’m open to anything at this point. It really depends on the level at which they’re competing; it’s not just about finishing a race. I want to lead and win races.
So was switching to the OmniPod pump a good choice for you?
I definitely feel like at this point that I haven’t learned how to use it properly in the 30k and 50k events.
If I made a mistake it was that once I had the 15k figured out, I thought it would just be a variation of that. But twice the distance really changes your insulin needs.
And the Pod stays on without any trouble?
Yes. I always shave the area that I put it on to maximize adhesion. I also always thoroughly alcohol the area to remove any body oils.
I wear it on my chest sometimes, on my upper pecks. I haven’t noticed any differences in absorption between my arms and chest.
You should know that you’re still an inspiration to all of us with diabetes! You should feel good about your efforts…
I do feel good about it, but I try never to think about myself as a ‘diabetic’ person. I don’t ever like to think, ‘I’m doing OK for a diabetic.’
Diabetes is part of who I am, but it’s not the way I identify myself. I have very little doubt that I’ll be back at the Olympics in four years, and I’ll have that much more information next time around.
Will you continue to act as a Goodwill Ambassador for Eli Lilly?
I’d very much like to continue the relationship with Lilly. I love that they send me to diabetes summer camps. They put me in a position to make a difference.
And you use their products?
I’ve been using Humalog insulin for 10 years and I have no plans to change at this point.
I know this is a tough moment for you. Do you have anything special to say to the diabetes community?
I just want to reiterate that having a top result in cross-country skiing involves so many variables, and diabetes is just one of them. I’m not blaming that at all. Other things went awry. Sometimes you do your best and it still just doesn’t happen — and that’s what happened this week.
Thank you again being so candid, Kris. We hope you do know that you truly are an inspiration to PWDs all over this country, and beyond.