When Delaware resident Tom Kingery, 35, was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, he thought his athletic career was over.
As it turned out, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Kingery, a former football player at Kent State University turned avid runner, was in the process of training for his eighth marathon when he noticed the symptoms: frequent thirst and urination, blurred vision.
Then 28, he consulted the Internet, which suggested he had diabetes. His family doctor referred him to an area hospital, where an endocrinologist confirmed it.
Kingery was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes.
There is a prevailing stereotype that diabetics, whose pancreases don’t function adequately enough to regulate their blood sugar, can’t live an active lifestyle. That’s because their blood sugar levels, which vary based on diet, stress and other environmental conditions, require constant monitoring, Kingery said.
“I was completely depressed for about six months,” Kingery said. “And thinking how all the athletics I was involved with… everything I read on the Internet (said) how diabetics can’t do things like that, and that just popping a pill every other day was probably the best way to manage it.”
“I decided, ‘I’m not going to be one of those statistics,’” he said. He set a goal to perform an Ironman competition (a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 bicycle ride and a 26-mile run).
Today, Kingery has completed five Ironman competitions to date.
Kingery spoke with the Gazette for about 30 minutes from a California airport on Thursday afternoon; he flew there overnight because around 1 a.m. today, he and his 10-man running team will launch a 24-hour-a-day, 3,000-mile relay run across the United States.
Kingery’s team is called Team Type 1. All 10 participants share Kingery’s diagnoses, hence the namesake. All 10 members also are elite endurance athletes: one team member regularly runs grueling 100-mile races, while another once climbed Mount Everest.
For the duration of the run, the team will break up into two five-man groups — group A will run for eight to nine hours before being spelled by group B, and so on. Alternating back and forth, each member of the group will run 18 to 20 miles a day, resting only between running shifts.
The team departed this morning from Oceanside, Calif, with plans to arrive in New York City on Nov. 14, which is World Diabetes Day.
“We hope to appear on a morning television show (in New York City), although that’s not finalized yet,” Kingery said. He paused before adding: “It’s a little out there for sure.”
Team Type 1 is sponsored by SANOFI, a global healthcare provider, and aims to show that people with diabetes don’t have to let their condition hold them back. The team will receive medical and logistical support, with doctor visits scheduled at three checkpoints along the way.
Kingery is the director for and participates with the Team Type 1’s running and triathlon teams. Kingery, who has lived in Delaware for a decade, was recently hired as director of amateur athletics for the group, a promotion which will require him to move to Atlanta, Ga.
In 2009, Kingery and the Team Type 1 cycling team set a world record in the process of riding 3,000 miles from coast-to-coast in 5 days, 9 hours and 5 minutes.
Kingery considers himself more of a triathlete than a pure extreme distance runner, and called the task facing him in the next two weeks “daunting.” To prepare for the grueling cross-country run, he has this year completed “seven or eight marathons, which is basically every other week,” Kingery said.
He also did regular interval training, running in five hour shifts, up to three times a day.
Ironically, the discipline elite athletes adhere to in order to maintain their bodies in a way dovetails with the discipline diabetics have to demonstrate to monitor their blood sugar, Kingery said.
“It’s definitely an added advantage in terms of athletics to have tight control and knowledge over what your body’s doing,” Kingery said.
There is a learning curve in learning to manage one’s blood sugar levels. It can be intimidating to some, but Kingery said diabetics don’t need to allow it to limit them.
While out on the road, the group will post online updates and blog along the way about how many calories they are consuming, and what their blood sugar levels are. Everyone’s body is different, but Kingery said he hopes the information will be helpful to other diabetics.
“There is no one size fits all approach to diabetes. You have to write your own manual and adjust it as you get older,” Kingery said.
When he’s not running or training, Kingery speaks to children about managing his disease. He hopes his work is an inspiration to others who are today where he was as a 28-year-old, coming to grips with a new diagnosis.
There are 25.8 million people in the United States with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. An estimated 7 million are undiagnosed, and 1.9 million new cases among those ages 20 years and older were diagnosed in 2010.
“Our message is to encourage these people, and to provide inspiration for them to go out and take that first step on their own,” Kingery said. “It might not be 3,000 miles over the next 14 days, but it just starts with the first step to a healthier lifestyle.”