By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – At age 19, Kris Freeman was an accomplished cross-country skier who was headed for the Winter Olympics.
He started being excessively thirsty. A routine training-camp blood test showed his blood sugar was greatly elevated.
Freeman had diabetes.
“When I was first diagnosed, the first messages I got were negative,” he said. “The first two doctors told me my Olympic dreams were gone.”
Freeman refused to accept that message, though, and he brought a different message last week to the kids at the annual Diabetes Camp at Camp Hopewell near Oxford. The week-long session serves children and youth who have Type 1 diabetes. While giving them a week to have fun without feeling abnormal, as some do when they have to check their blood sugar, inject insulin or tend their insulin pumps, the camp also helps them manage their disease without accepting limitations that well-meaning but unknowing people might try to impose.
“I don’t want them to feel like they have to change any goals in life because of their diabetes,” Freeman said. “The better you manage your diabetes, the less it complicates your life.”
The day he was diagnosed, the New Hampshire native missed the morning ride to the Park City, Utah, training site for his doctor’s visit. That afternoon, despite fears at what he’d been told, he was out kayaking – a summer endurance exercise for cross-country skiers – with his teammates.
“I resolved to learn as much as I could about it. I was looking for other answers,” he said. “The ability to care for yourself had improved exponentially in the last decade. I thought with all these innovations, how could anybody know what’s really possible?”
Besides his own research about the disease, Freeman was inspired by the story of Gary Hall, who won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Freeman visits with kids at several diabetes camps each year, sponsored by Eli Lilly’s diabetes division.
“I’ve found that kids respond really well to my story,” he said. “I don’t talk about just the highs I’ve had, but the lows in my career, too” – like the time his blood sugar dropped during an hours-long competition in 2010, and he went from a virtual tie for first place to 64th place before recovering somewhat.
Campers were delighted with Freeman’s message.
“I like that he can accomplish whatever he wants to,” said Aleiah Weatherly, 11, of Memphis. “I’ve always wanted to be a pro soccer player, and he’s encouraged me.”
“I believe now that things can be done; diabetes can’t get in the way,” said Blac Hughes, 16, of Southaven, who plans to be an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes. Hughes said he was impressed with Freeman “not giving up, even though he has diabetes.”