Olympic Swimmer Gary Hall Jr. Talks Competing as a Diabetic

By NeNa | Articles

Nov 28

Gary Hall Jr., a former Olympic swimmer, talks about how his life and career changed after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

About His Diagnosis and the Attitude toward Diabetes

Gary Hall Jr. doesn’t have a family history of diabetes, so he was quite surprised to hear he has type 1 diabetes. In the beginning, he couldn’t make a difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and the doctors told him it’s the end of his career as a world-class swimmer.

But, Gary knew he needs to have a perfect diabetes management in order to compete with the best swimmers in the world. Just like swimming, diabetes management is all about consistency and hard work. Especially type 1 diabetes which requires finger pricks and insulin injections over and over again.

The Link Between Exercise and Type 1 Diabetes

According to Gary, consistent exercise is essential for both, type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It’s better to do light exercise every day than doing an intense exercise 3 times weekly.

Exercising for 2-3 times a week can cause blood glucose fluctuations, thus scaring people with diabetes away from exercising.

His Reaction When Doctors Told Him Diabetes Is the End of His Career

At first, he was suicidal and couldn’t find a motive to continue. But soon, he realized he should live his life as before his diagnosis.

Over time and the stages of dealing with grief, Gary recognized a chance to make the frightening diagnosis a little less scary for children. This appeared more noble for him than winning gold medals.

His Way of Handling Blood Glucose Ups and Downs while in Competition

Even though Gary did his best, he wasn’t always successful. He didn’t tell anyone about his dangerously high blood glucose levels during his first Olympic race as a person with diabetes. It was the 4×100 freestyle relay in Sidney when he lost the race, probably due to ketoacidosis.

And, he can’t remember receiving the gold medal in the 4×100 medley relay in Sydney. This happened because he was barely conscious and his blood glucose level was 28.

At the Goodwill Games, he drank 3 bottles of Powerade to treat his low blood sugar before the race. Even though he threw up during the 50-freestyle relay, he managed to place second in the race.

The Hardest Part of His Diagnosis

Although Gary won individual gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, he wasn’t healthy enough to purchase health insurance. The annual cost of his insurance before the Affordable Care Act was almost $40,000, being self-employed.

He uses an insulin whose price can reach up to $1,000 a month. He emphasizes the need to reel in drug pricing and prevent exploiting the sick.

Positive Changes in His Life after the Diabetes Diagnosis

His whole life is different because of his diagnosis. He is honored to represent the U.S., as well as the diabetes community. His is proud to be Vice Chair of the NYSHSI Leadership Board and Sanford Health International Board.

He has contributed to the IOC Consensus Statement on Youth Sport, and is part of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society program.

Gary hopes he teaches everyone, including parents, doctors, athletes, and coaches, that diabetes is manageable. He is proud to show the world a diabetic can be the world’s fastest swimmer. Also that the same person can be part of the Olympic Hall of Fame.

In other words, he hopes he will make type 1 diabetes less scary for children and those around them.

You can read the entire interview with Gary Hall Jr. here.