Sunday, May 15th, the Team Novo Nordisk’s professional cycling team will traverse the 800 miles of challenging terrain that makes up the Amgen Tour of California. They’ll be cycling for a place on the podium, but also for the hope of the 400 million people with diabetes worldwide.

Modeling excellence 

“The tour of California is one of the best races in the world and it gives us a sense of pride to be among the best,” says Phil Southerland, who founded Team Novo Nordisk in 2012. “When you succeed at California it gives you the chance to spread the message of inspiration and empowerment to the world about diabetes.”

Southerland, the author of “Not Dead Yet,” envisions the athletes as the face of positivity for others recently diagnosed or living with diabetes. “For those told they’d never ride a bike again, I want them to know they can dream big and their dreams can come true.”

Lifelong diabetic 

Southerland has been proving people with diabetes do not need to give up on athletic dreams since he began cycling at age 12. Diagnosed at seven-months-old, his mother was told it was unlikely he’d live past 25.

“'For those told they’d never ride a bike again, I want them to know they can dream big and their dreams can come true.'”

Managing the disease, however, he has not only thrived but also proved a synergy between exercise and diabetes maintenance—a lesson crystallized after passing up his normally healthy diet for a Snickers bar. When his blood sugar shot up, Southerland would get on a bike rather than inject insulin.

He’s been riding ever since, now along with the all-diabetes Team Novo Nordisk’s nearly 100 triathletes, runners and cyclists from 19 countries. Among them is New Zealander Scott Ambrose, who earned the team’s first victory in the Tour de Filipinas last year and Kevin De Mesmaeker who sprinted to third place and the team’s first podium finish at a major U.S. stage race at the Tour of California in 2014.

THE NEXT ROTATION: Southerland and the rest of Novo Nordisk are hoping to participate in the Tour de France come 2021.

Getting to La Grande Boucle

In just four years Team Novo Nordisk has improved from 140th in the world to 83rd, a 41 percent year-to-year hike. Southerland is enthused with an “influx of young kids with diabetes who want to use sports as a platform to change the world.”

He has a vision to field a team for the prestigious Tour de France. “We hope to achieve that by 2021, which will be the 100th year anniversary of the invention of insulin,” adds Southerland. To get there, it will take a pool of young talented athletes with a bike and a dream—just like him.