Fellow type 1 Kris Freeman has learned he’s heading to his 4th Olympic Winter Games.
On Wednesday, the 33-year-old professional cross-country skier who’s been living with diabetes for almost 14 years got official word that he’s been named to the 2014 U.S. Olympic team and will most likely be skiing on the slopes of Sochi, Russia, in February. Not only is he inspiring as one of 14 skiers representing the United States in a few weeks, but he’s the only known Olympian cross-country skier to ever compete with type 1.
Way to go, Kris!
As a three-time Olympian who’s already considered one of (if not THE) best long distance racers on the scene in the past decade, this is something that any pro athlete just can’t top (short of winning an Olympic medal, that is!). I had the chance to chat with Kris last week before “official” word on his qualification came down, and he was pretty confident that he’d be skiing in Sochi based on his past performances in recent months.
Kris is certainly no stranger to the ‘Mine, having been featured in a number of posts through the years — including an interview following his last Olympic experience at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver that didn’t end as planned.
But since then, Kris says he’s better able to cope with the stress that comes with Olympic skiing and he’s hoping this fourth time’s a charm. He’s gunning to come home with the first men’s Olympic cross-country skiing medal for the U.S. since Bill Koch earned a silver medal in 1976.
Of course, getting to this point hasn’t been without unexpected challenges… Last spring, Kris was shocked to hear that for the first time in a decade, the U.S. Ski Team had cut him and wouldn’t be supporting him any longer, and that meant not only losing their training and financial support but he also was left without health insurance (something any PWD fears). Since then, he’s been training on his own and doing quite well competitively, and the local Waterville Valley ski resort in New Hampshire that he’s been skiing at since he was 4 years old even stepped up to give him a ski instruction job with benefits.
It’s been great to see Kris staying the course and keep fighting to where he is now, leading up to Sochi. All the more to admire and appreciate how he’s performed over the past nine months!
I had the chance to meet and hang with him in May, and that was the last time we talked before our phone conversation last week. This time we went over all the big news since May, and how he’s been prepping for the 2014 Winter Olympics:
DM) OK, before we talk Olympic skiing: How was your summer?
I was training hard as usual, but more on my own than in the past with the changes. I’ve been lucky to have Lilly’s support (as a youth ambassador) and it was a lot of fun last summer going to 10 diabetes camps this past summer. I have done a total of 100 camps on their behalf. Where I go really depends on my training schedule, and sometimes I do wish all the camps were in one area. But no matter where I’m going, it’s great seeing and talking to all the kids. That’s become a tradition for me!
I’ve been with the USOC (U.S. Olympic Committee) since I was 19, so this is a change. I have tried to not let it affect things, but it’s just added extra stresses and external logistics that I haven’t had to deal with, like finding health insurance and paying for travel and skiing. Luckily, after all that happened, Waterville picked up on the Wall Street Journal story about my being cut and hired me as a full-time ski instructor. That includes a full health package, and it’s been really cool.
So, with this being your 4th time at the Olympics, what’s different now?
Really, I feel more relaxed this time around. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and in dealing with the pressure of being an Olympian, I’m more confident going in. That’s how I came into my first Olympics, which was my most successful, and I think that allows me to focus more on the outcome.
I’ve not been to Sochi before… actually, I had the flu last year at the time I would’ve been there for a test race. I have done a couple races in other places in Russia before, but this will be my first race at Sochi. I’m excited about the venue, and with my mantra of “expect the unexpected,” I’ll be ready. That means having extra food for standing in line, if needed, and just being relaxed and going with the flow.
How’s your training been leading up to this point?
Everything’s been going great, and I’m 99% sure I’ll be named. I was on the podium twice and finished third in two U.S. National races, and those were my two focal races and should be enough to qualify me. And there was a spring event that I really haven’t trained specifically for, but decided to go for it… and I was surprised that I actually skied so well.
How have you tweaked your diabetes management to handle this kind of training?
I’ve changed things up so I’d be skiing my fastest in February, rather than what I would normally be doing in November and then tailing off. I always change bolus and basal rates based on what training I’m doing and how the intensity’s going. At this time in my prep, I don’t do a lot of hours, but the hours that I do train are very hard. I’m maybe training 12 hours this week versus the 30 that I’d do in the summertime, because this time is more about resting and fine-tuning. I use more insulin than I normally would during most of the rest of the season. For example, today I’ve used 34 units and it would normally be 20. Stress hormones and altitude and all that add in extra things to think about, so it can be challenging. (Note: Kris uses an OmniPod and CGM.)
You wrote a blog post in December that mentioned you were having “short-term diabetes depression”… can you talk more about that?
When I go through periods of instability, I get very moody and stressed. It’s hard to ever feel out of control. Sometimes it just happens. I’ve learned to recognize when I’m thinking unreasonably, and so I try to shield myself and my teammates from it as much as possible.
So what’s the next step right now?
If all goes according to plan, I’d initially fly out on Jan. 24 to Italy and train there in preparation for the World Cup race on Feb. 1. Then I’d go to Munich, where the U.S. Ski Team will go through processing, get uniforms, and all that. We’d head to Sochi in early February, and then the plan would be to return to Munich on Feb. 25. I’m not sure what happens after that. I would probably focus on the World Cup for the rest of the season, based on the Olympics and just how I’m feeling. Right now, Sochi is the focus for me.
No matter how everything plays out in Sochi, what do you hope the Diabetes Community takes from your story?
I look to the instability at the U.S. Nationals in December, when I had a blood sugar crash on the 15k. I had short-term aggression and that really bummed me out, and I only had three days to turn it around. To focus on the task at hand and not all of the extra obstacles. As it turns out, I did great. It wasn’t a win, but it was a third place that likely got me to the Olympics.
I’m pretty proud of that turnaround and think it’s something that anyone with diabetes can appreciate. You know how it feels when blood sugars do that, and I hope what I went through encourages people to remember that staying focused on your goals is what matters. Yes, you may crash, but it doesn’t have to stop you.
You’re such an inspiration, Kris! Wishing you the best, and can’t wait to see what materializes. We’ll definitely be following the news, along with your blog and your Twitter updates. Break a leg!! (Er… please don’t)