Joanna Hanner swimruns for diabetes

Mar 13, 2018

Pierre Mangez

By Joanna Hanner

In 2012, smack in the middle of my senior year as an elite swimmer at Cleveland State University in Ohio, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Stubbornly, I competed anyway at the championship meet just three months later even though it proved to be a challenging task.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 (what used to be called Juvenile diabetes) affects 5% of those diagnosed and requires insulin, while the other 9 out of 10 are diagnosed with Type 2, which is not life threatening.

According to figures in 2014 from WHO, diabetes globally affects 8.5% of adults over 18 (a rise from 4.7% in 1980). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 1 in 10 adults in the US have diabetes, but by 2050, this number could rise to 1 in 3.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition where your immune system attacks and destroys the part of your pancreas that makes insulin, a life-sustaining hormone that allows cells to receive energy. Put simply, without insulin you die.

Our goal was to finish with my blood sugar level being as good as possible. We did it, but my diabetes gave me hell during the first part of the race and I had to dig deeper than ever before to finish the race.

Healthy individuals have a pancreas that naturally produces the amount of insulin the body needs, while those with Type 1 have to calculate how much insulin they think they need and self-medicate either by a pump or a needle. This works out to be something like 2000-3000 shots a year, plus the same amount or more of finger-pricks in order to TRY to maintain their blood sugar in a healthy range.

Think of it like this: at the Winter Olympic biathlon event, athletes have a 50m distance between them and the bullseye. Imagine trying to do that with blurred vision, and the target is half the size, say, the size of a quarter. And you don’t get five targets, you have one and if you miss it, the consequence is more severe than a penalty lap. Insulin is not a cure, it just keeps us alive and prevents possible side-effects like blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.

However, by regularly measuring your blood sugar and adjusting your lifestyle in regards to the amount of insulin, food intake and activity output, you can lead a long and healthy life with Type 1 diabetes.

Shortly after ending my swimming career, I moved on to triathlons and within a year and a half of my diagnosis, I did an Ironman. Realising that cycling really wasn’t my thing, I dove into swimrun at the age of 27.

It was my dad, Lennart Olsson, who put me in swimming when I was little, and then got me into triathlons and more recently swimruns. So it made sense that on September 4, 2017, we were tied together for 11hrs and 40min completing our first ÖTILLÖ World Championship together.

Our goal was to finish with my blood sugar level being as good as possible. We did it, but my diabetes gave me hell during the first part of the race and I had to dig deeper than ever before to finish the race.

A few weeks ago we found out we had got a spot for this year’s ÖTILLÖ WC edition through ranking. Having my dad as a teammate makes a world of difference and for this second time around, we not only want to finish but to fundraise for diabetes research.

We also want to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes, as there are a lot of misconceptions about this disease. There is no prevention for Type 1 diabetes but eating too much sugar or being overweight is not the cause. We don’t have to eat differently than everyone else, nor does the disease prevent us from maintaining an active life.

We have started a fundraiser page on Diabetesfondens website and you can follow our journey on Instagram: swimrun4diabetes. Our goal is to collect 1kr for every meter we have to run or swim to reach the finish line at Utö in May – 75.000kr (€7,400).

Truly, what better way to spread the word about diabetes than though swimrun, where even if you’re not blood related you’re still a part of the swimrunning family. This is why it feels so right for us to race as father and daughter for a greater cause at the 2018 ÖTILLÖ Swimrun WC in September.

Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #6 (March 2018)

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