Incredibly Inspirational Stories Of Five Olympic Athletes With Diabetes

People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes have successfully competed in the Olympic Games. Their amazing stories prove that diabetes is no match for education and determination, and remind us that being in excellent physical condition does not provide immunity from diabetes onset.

Gary Hall, Jr.

Competing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, U.S. swimmer Gary Hall brought home two gold and two silver medals. Then, in 1999, when the 2000 Sydney games were only months away, Hall was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. He wasn’t sure competing in Sydney was an option.

However, Hall excelled at the Sydney games, winning two gold, one silver, and a bronze medal. Four years later in Athens, he swam for another gold medal, and a bronze.

“If I can compete at the highest level against the world’s greatest athletes despite having diabetes, then certainly an 8-year-old can go out and join the soccer team and a high school football player should not be benched as a liability by a coach that doesn’t understand a thing about diabetes,” said Hall.


Bob Beamon

Olympic athlete Bob Beamon set a world record in the long jump at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. His first jump in the final was so long the optical measuring device slipped off its track before reaching Beamon’s mark. So, an old-fashioned steel tape was used to measure the 29 ft. 2 1/2 inch jump. It was a record that remained unbroken for nearly 23 years.

Beamon was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2006. “Diabetes runs in my family,” said Beamon. “Yet I was shocked when I was diagnosed. I couldn’t believe that someone as active as me could have diabetes.”

Sir Steve Redgrave

The British rower Steve Redgrave won gold medals in five consecutive Olympic Games, from 1984 to 2000. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1997, at age 35, but won gold at the Sydney Olympic Games three years later.


“At breakfast, I test my levels and take some units [insulin]; between the morning training sessions, I test again and take some more units; it's the same at lunch, in…the afternoon and at dinner; and then just before…bed I have another injection with what I call the most important meal of the day because it sets the right levels of blood sugar for the following morning's training,” said Redgrave prior to the Sydney games.

Kris Freeman

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2000 at age 19, cross-country skier Kris Freeman competed just two years later in the 2002 Salt Lake City games, helping the U.S. team achieve their best-ever finish. He went on to participate in the Olympic Winter Games through 2014 at Sochi.

“Diabetes only gets in the way when you let it,” says Freeman. “It can be very difficult at times, but you’ve got to push through the hard times. It’s not always going to go right, but if it doesn’t go right, you can learn better for next time.”


Freeman has also served as an ambassador at diabetes camps in the U.S, on behalf of Eli Lilly.

Billy Mills

About one year after getting a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, runner Billy Mills brought home Olympic gold for winning the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Summer Games.

“My moment, my Olympic race, I felt like it was a gift,” said Mills. “I choreographed it, I orchestrated it, but when it happened I felt like it was a gift from a higher power. I wanted to take that inspiration given to me and give it back.”

A member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, Mills “gave it back” by co-founding Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a nonprofit that promotes self-sufficiency, self-esteem, and combats diabetes among Native American youth and adults. In 2012, Mills was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Obama.

Sources: Diabetes Mellitus, Diabetes Forecast, Olympic, The Guardian
Photo: Pixabay


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