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What It's Like To Play College Softball As A Type 1 Diabetic

jenna christeson photo courtesy of siu athletics.jpg
(Photo courtesy of SIU Athletics)

Jenna Christeson is not your average college softball player. Along with battling on the field for Southern Illinois University, Christeson also battles Type 1 diabetes every day.

Now a junior utility player for the Salukis, Christeson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just 11 years old. Since then, she has learned how to face and overcome the adversity and struggles it can bring to her daily life.

Softball America caught up with Christeson about what it's like to be a Division I softball player who has Type 1 diabetes. Read below for SA's full interview with her.

Softball America: How did you first find out that you had Type 1 diabetes?

Jenna Christeson: I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and Graves' disease when I was 11 years old. I was just wrapping up my sixth grade school year and I was having a lot of symptoms and a lot of medical things going on. Originally, we just thought it was something like puberty or just getting into that teenage girl stage, but we ended up going to the doctor and I had extremely high blood sugar. I was rushed to St. Louis Children's Hospital and was admitted there for about a week or so to stabilize my body and give us the time to properly adjust to this life-altering disease.

SA: What has it been like for you to play softball as a diabetic?

JC: Playing softball, let alone any sport for any diabetic, I think is amazing. It has definitely been a huge struggle and I have had to make a lot of adjustments as I've gotten older. I think the biggest thing is that it just takes such a toll on your body physically. It can sometimes be hard to tell if your blood sugar levels aren't in the correct range or are flying up and down. It can be hard to detect because if your body feels tired or a little bit off, it could be from workouts, playing or practicing, but it could also be from having high or low blood sugar levels. Having high and low blood sugar or not being in the correct range isn't just a number. There are different symptoms for each level that can play a big factor in how you physically feel.

SA: How do you balance playing Division I softball and taking care of yourself as a diabetic?

JC: I try not to let being a diabetic define who I am. I try to just make it through every practice, lift and game, but there are definitely times when I have to take care of my health and make that more of a priority than softball. I just step off to the side and eat some fruit snacks or drink a juice box—just do something to make my blood sugar levels return to normal. Growing up as an athlete with diabetes was tough, but I have been very fortunate to have teammates and coaches who are very understanding and respectful whenever I have to take time to manage it.

SA: Why do you continue to play softball despite the challenges you face?

JC: To play college softball at such a high level was a dream of mine since I could pick up a ball and bat. I remember going to the Women's College World Series and just watching the girls play there and wanting to be just like them. Even being a diabetic, I was able to work hard to get where I wanted to be. I wasn’t going to let my condition slow me down. I knew I wanted to compete at a high level and was able to make it there, despite all the struggles. It is just a huge accomplishment, and even through all the ups and downs, you can just say you made it and you got to be where you wanted to be when you dreamed as a little kid.

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