Olympic Skier Kris Freeman on Competing with Diabetes
Advocacy The cross-country skier was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 19-years-old, in a most unusual way.
“I was with the U.S. Ski Team at the time,” recalls Kris Freeman. “They performed monthly blood screenings to make sure we were handling our training properly and didn’t have any deficiencies— so they did a test on glucose and mine was twice the normal level.”
Silent, slow symptoms
They caught it so early that Freeman was barely showing any symptoms, and the diagnosis came as a complete shock. “I was told that I had this very serious, chronic disease that I didn’t understand,” he sums.
“'The first two endocrinologists that I visited basically told me that no one [with this disease] had ever competed at the Olympic level in an endurance event, or just that it couldn’t be done...'"
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease that’s typically diagnosed in children and young adults, and is characterized by an inability for the pancreas to create enough insulin for the body to function properly. It accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all diabetes diagnoses. In a professional athlete, it can be a particularly problematic diagnosis.
Higher barriers to competing
“The first two endocrinologists that I visited basically told me that no one [with this disease] had ever competed at the Olympic level in an endurance event, or just that it couldn’t be done; that I could continue skiing but not at an international level,” says Freeman. “That was a really crushing thing to hear.”
He learned as much as he could about the disease over the next few months, finally finding a doctor who supported his ambitions. It hasn’t been an easy road, but thanks in part to advancements in medical technology that give him the ability to monitor his glucose, he is one of the most skilled and accomplished cross country skiers in the world, having competed in a multitude of national and international races, including four Winter Olympics.
“Diabetes doesn’t have to be a hindrance unless someone lets it be,” he says. “It is a totally manageable disease; it just happens to be a huge pain in the neck. I would say that you can go on to do anything that you want to with diabetes as long as you’re vigilant about your care.”