It is refreshing to see so many people living with type one diabetes in the sports world. Billy Fredrick is another great athlete out there representing us on the baseball field. Billy received a full scholarship to UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara), who was ranked 6th in the nation in baseball, despite living with diabetes since he was a child. Billy’s story is one of perseverance, commitment and talent and I thought it would be great to share his journey in the hopes it would inspire children to never quit on their dreams.
Hi Billy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I think many kids who are diagnosed with type 1 think that this may stop them from living their dreams. I thought talking to you would be inspiring and show them that type 1 doesn’t have to stop them from anything they set out to do!
Allison, thank you for having me. I am very happy to talk about living and conquering diabetes. Life with diabetes is no easy task, but we can still accomplish great things.
I understand you were diagnosed at 11 years old with type 1 diabetes. How did you and your family handle the diagnosis?
It wasn’t easy at first. My life changed drastically. I had to begin checking my blood and taking shots of insulin. Moreover, I had to be aware of exercise intensity and carb amount in my diet. This sudden change took some time to get used to.
As the months passed, the new daily routine became habit and reflex. My family and I became more knowledgeable and confident in the process as time progressed.
I have a 10-year-old myself, so I know at that age, some children do like their independence while others still enjoy their parent’s help. Were you hands-on with your diabetes management, or did your parents handle things until you were ready?
I wasn’t super independent as a kid, so I was happy to hand over the responsibility to my parents. My mom did an incredible amount for me. She would come to school at lunch every day to check my blood and give me shots or work my pump. She would wake up around 2-3 am every morning to check my blood while I slept. She also had a big record book, where she documented all my glucose levels and food intake, in order to discover any important patterns that may help with my management. She was and still is a super mom!
At what age did you start managing your own diabetes and what was the driving factor behind when you decided to take control?
I started being fully dependent when in high school. My family and I felt that I would be able to handle it then. I was committed to it, so it went well. Commitment is an ongoing topic within the diabetes conversation; it is so necessary. I would also handle it at baseball practice as well. My daily schedule was consistent, so I was quickly able to find basal/bolus rates that worked well for me.
How were things socially for you growing up with type one diabetes? Were you vocal about it or did you not talk about it much?
At 11 years old, popularity or coolness is the most important factor at school. At first, I was worried that I might be looked down upon by my peers. However, I was very surprised at how accepted I was within my friend group, and elsewhere. They were kind and understanding towards it.
Here’s the bottom line: I was not a different person; I was still Billy, and my friends knew I was still Billy.
I tried to hide the fact in elementary school, but by the time I was in junior high, I was open to talking about it.
At what age did you start playing baseball? Were you nervous about managing your diabetes while playing? Were your coaches supportive?
I played baseball since I was five, and had developed a passion for it by the time I was diagnosed.
I was never nervous during games. I usually had plenty of time to check my blood in between innings. Baseball also doesn’t require a large amount of exercise, which allowed me to be so stable.
All my coaches were very supportive of me, and gave me the liberty to take breaks when I was low.
Did you then, and do you now, wear a CGM or a pump? What do you find to be your most helpful tool in managing your diabetes during a baseball game?
I never played with a CGM. I didn’t want to wear another thing on my body during the games. I thought it may have been a hassle. Checking my blood a lot was the biggest tool in managing my level during the games. I brought some tablets to the field in my back pocket if I felt I was gonna go low in the outfield. I also brought a variety of food to the game (some high carb, some low carb), this allowed me to refine my blood sugar, and give me energy. Near the end of my college career, managing my diabetes was very easy because I was a seasoned veteran.
I use a Medtronic pump and CGM now. I like them. My control is getting better and better with it.
I understand you hit .333 during the College World Series, where you drove in a game-winning run with a bunt! You must have been stoked! How do the excitement and adrenaline affect your blood sugar during the game?
That is a great question. My blood sugar goes up pretty quickly when there’s a lot of excitement. There were many times during playoffs that year when adrenaline kicked in and spiked my blood sugar. Nervousness is another factor; it brings my blood sugar up also. A key is to remain attentive to your emotions during games.
Generally though, it tends to balance itself out with the exercise, so not much needs to be done on my part.
Did you ever experience burn out or have a difficult time managing your diabetes during baseball that made you want to stop playing? Can you tell us about that time?
I have never been burnt out during baseball. I was so committed to baseball and diabetes, that I was willing to push through any trial.
However, after I stopped playing, I did get burnt out a few times. I thought managing my levels would be easier when not an athlete, I was wrong. It was harder. My routine was less consistent (I only exercised a few times a week). This inconsistency caused my blood sugar to drop during times of exercise, and rise during times of rest. This made it difficult. As a solution, I am making exercise more commonplace. Exercise is incredibly important as a diabetic, and for normal people as well.
What are your favorite go-to snacks for lows?
Blue Gatorade or orange juice are my go-to beverages. Goldfish are also awesome!
Did you know any other people living with diabetes that inspired you to become a baseball player or in any other way?
I am sort of the black sheep of the family. I have no relatives who are diabetic.
It was fun to see baseball players like Jason Johnson and Sam Fuld play in the big leagues.
Your success story is amazing, what are your plans after college? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years from now?
After getting my degree in Geography at UCSB, I decided to go to my community college to get another bachelor’s degree. (I didn’t really have many majors available to me because I was a busy student-athlete at UCSB.) I am currently working toward my bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, and would enjoy designing anything from bridges to car parts for my career.
What advice would you tell a child living with type 1 diabetes who wants to play a sport but is reluctant to try due to their condition?
When your blood sugar is good, you are just like a completely normal person, capable of anything. My first recommendation is to work hard toward good blood sugar levels, because that opens the door to opportunity. Secondly, don’t be afraid to try new things.
Something that comes to mind is that no one on the other team knew I was diabetic. I seemed like a regular person to them. That is exactly how diabetics should think of ourselves. When we are committed to good blood sugar, nothing will hold us back.
Billy, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me today. I am a huge baseball fan (and a baseball mom) so I just love your success story and know it will inspire so many children out there!
Thank you, Allison! I am glad you are a big baseball fan as well, and wish the best of luck to your son in his future baseball career!
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