Ryan Shafer, 44, Professional Bowler, Horsehead, NYHealthline: Can you give us a little background about your experience with diabetes?
Ryan: I discovered I was diabetic before my sophomore year in college. During the summer of 1985, I had lost about 25 pounds, was lethargic, my vision had changed, I became thirsty all the time, and I constantly had to urinate. I was playing 27 holes of golf everyday with my friends, was so tired that I would lay down between shots. I drank a Coke or a glass of water almost every hole, and then had to urinate. I tried to ignore that something was wrong with me, when my brother-in-law finally suggested that I might be diabetic. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed as Type 1. I was instantly put on insulin [Humulin R and Humulin N]. I was also put on a diet to regain all the weight I had lost. After a few weeks, my vision returned to normal. I never stayed in the hospital. I made daily visits to the doctor and continued going to school. My diagnosis did not adversely affect me. I was just relieved to know what was wrong with me and what I needed to do to feel normal again.
Healthline: Does diabetes run in your family?
Ryan: Diabetes did not run in my family. My father has recently been diagnosed as Type 2, but he is in his seventies.
Healthline: Once you discovered you were a type 1 diabetic, did the condition affect your relationships with your family and friends?
Ryan: My family and friends were great about my condition. They were concerned, of course, but they took it upon themselves to be educated about the dangers I faced. Everyone was taught how to recognize symptoms of low blood sugar and how to help me if I was unable to help myself. I never wanted to be treated any differently, so eventually my friends were comfortable enough to pick on me about candy bars and things like that.
Healthline: Did it have any effect on your career?
Ryan: As previously stated, I was in college when I was diagnosed. I was planning on continuing my education at Cornell University while pursuing a career in law. After I was diagnosed, I decided to change my career path. I had always planned on giving the Pro Bowlers Tour a chance at some point in my life. Because of my diabetes, my family and I decided that I should pursue the bowling while I was still healthy enough to compete. School would always be waiting if I failed at bowling or I wasn't in good enough health to compete. You must remember that advancements in diabetes care were nowhere near what they are today. So, in the fall of 1986, I embarked on my pro bowling career. Twenty-five years later, I'm still going strong.
Healthline: Has your experience changed your overall outlook on your health and/or on taking care of your body?
Ryan: I was not always the best diabetic. I took my health for granted. At different points in my career, things were not always ideal financially. I had no health insurance. Insulin, syringes, and test strips were expensive. I did not test my blood sugar as often as I should have. I didn't visit my doctor regularly. All that changed when my wife graduated from college and was hired at her current place of employment. They offered health insurance and I took advantage of it. I was referred to an endocrinologist, Dr. Barbara Mols. Dr. Mols changed my life with her method of treatment and her constant suggestion that I try the insulin pump. When my bowling schedule changed in 2004, I was convinced I needed the pump. The PBA changed our tournament formats to include more games in a fewer amount of days, with longer hours per day. Taking insulin shots and chasing it with food would have been impossible. I owe my continued success to Dr. Mols, her staff, and the Animas insulin pump. The pump has made diabetes management better and easier. I also decided to make physical fitness a bigger part of my life. I now work out at the gym for an hour a day, four days a week. My wife and I also walk for 45 minutes nightly. This, along with my bowling, provides me with the right amount of physical activity to keep my A1C down and my blood sugars consistent. My diet has also changed to include a lot of fruits and vegetables. I also enjoy yogurt for snacking.
Healthline: Knowing what you know now, what kind of preventative measures (if any) do you wish you would have taken earlier in your life?
Ryan: Since I am Type 1, there really was no opportunity for me to take preventative measures. But my experiences in the last 10 or 11 years should be a testimony for Type 2's or those at risk. Exercise, visit your doctor regularly, and eat a more balanced diet to keep your weight at a reasonable level. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented. Obesity and poor diet are leading causes along with family history. Parents should make sure their kids exercise and eat right. This will lead to a healthier existence and help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes in our children and young adults.