By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Diabetes isn’t any fun, but that doesn’t mean it has to keep you from chasing down your dreams.
South Carolina triathlete Jay Hewitt, who will share his story and vision at a Sept. 16 diabetes education event in Tupelo, didn’t let diabetes keep him from swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 110 miles and running 26.2 miles to complete the Ironman triathlon multiple times.
“It’s really inspirational,” said Tim Lyons, a member of the CADIM – Concerned about Diabetes in Mississippi – who with the NMMC Diabetes Treatment Center, is hosting the education event Sept. 16 and the Diabetes Dash 5K Sept. 17.
But you don’t have to be an Ironman finisher to get the best of diabetes.
Coltin Milner, 10, of Tupelo doesn’t let Type I diabetes keep him from playing ball.
The Rev. Wayne Berry of Saltillo, who has battled Type II diabetes for 20 years, hasn’t allowed it to keep him from sharing the good news of the Lord.
The lessons in discipline and determination that come from managing diabetes well can benefit anyone, Hewitt said.
“Make the bad things that happen to us the best things that happen to us,” Hewitt said.
In a strange twist of fate, Hewitt owes diabetes for his athletic achievement and his current career as a speaker sharing the lessons on reaching the finish line.
“I would not have raced the Ironman if I did not have diabetes,” he said.
Hewitt had already run a gauntlet with diabetes. He was diagnosed with Type I diabetes during his first year of law school.
“The first year of law school, you’re supposed to be miserable,” Hewitt said. “I thought I was supposed to feel bad.”
He got through law school, but eight years later, he was ready for a fresh challenge. He entered a marathon.
“I signed up to just see if I could do it,” Hewitt said. “I was scared to death.”
Buoyed by his success in that first marathon, he started to train for a triathlon. It took two and a half years of work before he took on the Ironman. In a way, the physical punishment of the extreme distance let Hewitt pound on the diabetes.
“The Ironman is so intimidating, so hard, so difficult,” Hewitt said. “To do it and compete with the best felt like I had conquered it … I am stronger than diabetes.”
Hewitt had more logistics to deal with than his competitors – checking blood sugar levels, making sure he has adequate nutrition and liquids and carefully balancing carb intake – usually about 3,000 calories during the race – with the output – usually 13,000 calories.
“I have such a small margin for error,” Hewitt said. “But it’s usually the smartest athlete that wins the Ironman.”
Hewitt did so well he was able to qualify for the U.S. National Team for long course triathlon. He also wrote a book, “Finish Line Vision,” where he shared the lessons he learned from his triathlon experiences – overcoming obstacles, setting ambitious goals and earning your finish line.
These days, he still runs and bikes every week, but it’s more for fun and exercise. Hewitt splits his time between his family in South Carolina and sharing his vision as a speaker with groups around the country. Whether it’s a corporate group or a group of people with diabetes, he tells them the bad things that happens to them can become the best thing.
“You can use that as motivation,” Hewitt said.
Nevermind the diabetes, Coltin Milner wants you to know he is not sick.
“Nothing can slow you down,” Coltin said. “You can do anything you want.”
Coltin would rather talk about basketball, baseball and football. He’s participated in the running and sports club at Lawndale Elementary. His Dizzy Dean baseball team won the state tournament in the 8-year-olds division. Coltin made the all-tournament team at the USSSA World Series.
Coltin’s responsible about checking his blood sugar, but he doesn’t like any extra attention, says his mom Ragan Milner. The 10-year-old athlete and his family take a no-nonsense approach to diabetes. They take care of business and move on to other things.
Coltin was 5 when he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. At that time, the family was split between Montgomery, Ala., and Northeast Mississippi because dad Chuck Milner had just started a new job.
“I remember I was going to the doctor because I didn’t feel good,” Coltin said. “The doctor told us I had diabetes, and my mom cried. I didn’t know what was happening.”
The family was sent to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham so Coltin’s blood sugar could be stabilized and his family could go through education sessions.
As they were getting ready to be discharged, Chuck Milner remembers asking the doctor with trepidation about how long it would be before Coltin could resume the sports he loved. Coltin’s team had a soccer game the next day.
“Why can’t he play tomorrow?” the doctor told Chuck Milner. “Coltin scored eight goals.”
Since then it’s been full speed ahead for Coltin – with the proper sugar checks and emergency precautions. Coltin carries of bag with him that includes a blood sugar monitor, remote control for his insulin pump, cell phone, a mini-Coke and Smarties to remedy low blood sugar and glucagon shot, which can be used for a low blood sugar emergency.
He checks his blood sugar at school and calls one of his parents with the results. His mom usually drops by school at lunchtime to oversee the adjustment of the insulin pump based on his meal.
The Milners had to manage injections for the first few years, but now Coltin uses a pump, that provides a continuous stream of insulin and can be programmed to give him extra at meals.
That ability to adjust insulin levels means that gives him the freedom to enjoy an occasional cupcake or piece of candy, an option he didn’t have with injections.
“He still focuses on making smart choices,” Ragan Milner said.
There has been a lot of trial and error. The Milners discovered that adrenaline during a game can throw off blood sugar readings. It appears high, but if they give Coltin too much insulin, he risks a crash when the excitement is over.
For now, Coltin and his parents have perfected the quick check and adjustment between innings
The biggest misconception the Milners run into is the belief that Coltin can take a break from managing his diabetes.
“Some people think he’ll outgrow it,” Chuck Milner said. “They don’t understand.”
Nearly 20 years ago, the Rev. Wayne Berry got serious about taking care of the body God gave him.
In 1993, the Baptist minister was diagnosed with Type II diabetes when he went through a quadruple bypass heart surgery.
His wife, Joan, adjusted her cooking with more healthful recipes. Berry got busy with exercising with a stationary bike and walking. He lost 44 pounds initially, and has largely maintained the weight loss.
Through it he kept on preaching. He’s been able to lead mission trips to Honduras, pastor large churches in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. His last full-time job was serving as a hospital chaplain in Birmingham.
Now he’s semi-retired and lives in Saltillo; he works with a nonprofit Bible software company and still preaches around the region.
“I haven’t really retired,” said Berry, who will be 72 on Saturday. “I’ve just slowed down. … I still preach as many as three times on Sunday.”
Until this past February, he was able to manage his diabetes with diet, exercise and oral medication. Now he requires some insulin.
When Berry went to a new doctor recently, he surprised him with a long list of medicines and medical history.
“Anybody who was on all of this would have died years ago,” the doctor told Berry.
Berry figures he still has work to do on earth before the Lord calls him home.
“I’m very thankful,” said Berry, who didn’t need any additional heart surgery again until this February, when he had a few stents placed. “The Lord has blessed me, and I can’t complain.”