Conquering Type 2 Diabetes While Training For a Triathlon
When Aditya was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2014, he accepted this challenge with open arms. Then he welcomed another—a triathlon.
At 31 years old and living in Bangalore, India, he is living his life one day at a time.
During his training, Aditya not only had to juggle days of swimming, cycling, and running, but managing the highs and lows of diabetes. He spoke with Beyond Type 2 about his training journey, the changes he made, and advice for others living with diabetes who want to partake in endurance sports.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
BT2: Hi Aditya, Thanks for chatting with us! When were you diagnosed with type 2 diabetes? What were some of your symptoms?
Aditya: I was diagnosed with prediabetes when I was in college in 2010—I had an ankle injury that was taking a long time to heal. In 2014, when I was traveling I realized I was practically living in the restroom, whatever I drank would make me run to the bathroom frequently, and I was exhausted. There’s only so much water one can drink. It was around this time that I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
What was your initial reaction when you were diagnosed?
I was aghast and disappointed. Here I was in my early 20s, with my life ahead of me and I was unhappy. I knew about the hard journey that both my grandmothers had with diabetes—having to take medicine, insulin and more. I was not prepared for a life with diabetes.
What was your doctor’s course of action? Did they prescribe you any medication?
Like many doctors do, I was told to adjust my exercise, diet and overall modify my lifestyle. The nutritionist I went to all those years ago, gave me the best advice—wake up and walk in the morning, walk in the evening and after any meal. Reminding myself to actually do that is a daily reminder—I use my phone’s alarm clock and set reminders to walk after meals. Of course, there are times when I “cheat” and those are the days I have to force myself to walk during the day.
I just started taking insulin. I take 10 units a day of Toujeo Solostar and it’s interesting. The first couple of days were very painful and I was so depressed about being on it. I can’t tell yet whether it’s been helpful in my diabetes management. The next 90 days should tell me.
How does diabetes impact your day-to-day life? What changes did you make to your everyday life after you were diagnosed?
It’s quite a pain constantly keeping your blood glucose levels in check and ensuring your blood glucose levels don’t go too high or too low. It can drive you nuts at times, especially if you like being out most of the time for work and social activities. When I think about goals with diabetes, it’s not only about Hba1c at every 90-day checkup. I want to expand the way I think about goals a little bit further and ask, “How can I improve my quality of life? How can I still indulge my cravings at times for my favorite foods (although not always the healthiest) and still move in the direction that I want to go in?” I do what works for me. Diabetes is not a one-size-fits-all disease. It’s different for everybody; however, it’s the community that brings different people together while highlighting what works for them and what doesn’t. Communities like Beyond Type 1, Beyond Type 2 and Nupur Lalvani’s Blue Circle Diabetes Foundation have been of immense help to me.
How has swimming impacted your diabetes management?
Swimming has made a world of a difference in my life. My parents tried to get me to start swimming when I was very young. But I didn’t take to it much then. I did learn when I got a little older, thanks to my mom’s persistence. I learned to enjoy it and began to swim properly at 27 years old.
I signed up to learn from Olympian Nisha Millet and her academy. The coaches she has really gave me the encouragement, which helped me break my fear of the water. It was exactly what I needed and I became addicted to the sport. I discovered a new world called “Open Water Swimming” in late 2017 at a local swim race called Thonnur Swimmathon in a lake. I swam my first ever 1km and I have never looked back. I’ve participated in every race in Thonnur up until the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along the way, I met an elite Indian Ultramarathon Swimmer, Sucheta Deb Burman, who helped me overcome my fear of swimming in the sea and taught me new techniques that have both been an immense help. Most importantly, I got the courage to push my body even though I live with type 2 diabetes. Swimming initially helped me bring my blood sugars into a healthy range.
Nutrition is an area that has been a tough journey for me. I’ve struggled to maintain stable blood sugars before and after a swim. Keeping emergency glucose tabs and gels at hand is the key. I’ve graduated from 1km, 2km and 5km, and last attempted an 8km sea swim in Goa. I’ve been stung by jellyfish in Goa and I am not a fan of it. But I’d like to attempt training for a channel swim one day. My biggest delight is teaching friends and family how to swim and help them overcome their fear of the water.
Tell me about your experience as a triathlete with diabetes.
In 2019, I had gone to Goa, India, to cheer on friends who were participating in India’s first ever Ironman 70.3 race. The sheer excitement and endurance one needs to push their body across three sports—swimming, cycling and running—intrigued me. I decided to start training for Ironman Turkey 70.3 in October 2020, when I would turn 30.
I did the first thing everybody does and looked for training plans online, I had no idea what the different heart rate goals, etc. were. It took a lot of research and reading to figure it all out. I learned to spread my training week across swimming, cycling, running and strength training. On Mondays, I’d take off to get a sports massage, with just a basic walk to stay limber. I reconnected with cycling through my bicycle community—South Fire Cycling & South Fire Cycle Nights who started joining me again on weekend rides to the outskirts of the city and back.
Months went by and in March 2020, we had lockdown due to COVID-19. I was not going to be able to train to participate in the race in 2020 as races were canceled, and international travel was banned. Pools were closed, we were locked up at home, and it got hard. However, virtual cycling was possible—and thanks to apps like Zwift and Smart Indoor trainers like the TacX Flux I was able to cycle indoors at home. As weeks and months went by, staying motivated without access to a pool was hard.
Fast forward to 2021, there was hope. Apart from triathlon training, the bicycle community in Bengaluru is growing and it’s fascinating to see its growth from 2013. I signed up for professional triathlon coaching with Vinay Basavaraj—a Certified Ironman Tri Coach, Former Pro Swimmer with the BSF, 5x national gold 2x national record 5x Ironman 70.3 (5:24). We worked on virtual workouts, running outdoors around my neighborhood and cycling would be on the trainer with weekend rides outdoors.
My biggest challenge was yet to come—crowdfunding my journey to compete in the Ironman Turkey 70.3 race. (I had an accident two months before this event and my bicycle was damaged—but I was not severely injured). It was an unforgettable experience and was bittersweet that I was not a finisher. My timings on the bicycle leg were terrible, while I completed the swim section and the cycling, running has always been the area where I have been weak, I couldn’t complete it in time and gave up at 13.5kms out of 21kms.
My blood glucose levels had peaked to 300+ on the bike thanks to the gels and dehydration, while on the run it crashed to 62 at 13.5kms. But I learned a lot and the opportunity of being amongst triathletes from around the world was very rewarding. The race was always me versus myself. To have taken part in an International race was an amazing way to celebrate turning 31.
I started using #diabetictriathlete to bring awareness and attention to people living with diabetes and to motivate myself.
Do you have plans for any other major sporting events?
For now, I’m nursing a knee injury, so I am focusing on swimming and strength training in the gym and with my physical therapy team. I’m hoping to attempt a few smaller distance triathlons in 2022 and 2023.
What were some changes that you noticed once you started using a Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitor (FSL)?
The most interesting part for me was seeing how my body reacts to food (healthy food and junk), and the effects of processed food versus clean food.
Now, I’m back on the Freestyle Libre Pro and looking forward to learning about my diabetes metrics, food intake, dietary changes, weight training and more. I’m excited to collaborate with Dr. Abhijit Bhograj and his team to see how I can use the data from my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to help me train and compete in triathlons as a person with diabetes.
What are your favorite features of the FSL?
My favorite feature is the alarms you can set to tell you if your blood sugar is going too low.
Do you have any advice for those living with diabetes who are thinking about participating in endurance sports or competitions?
Stay focused. Be strong. Don’t let diabetes make you feel like an outsider. Many young people hide the fact that they are diabetic. But I am open about it. I have my low points of course. But I consciously stay positive. By being open about it, I have gained support. When I participated in the Ironman in Turkey, I had so much support from friends, family and strangers. I am very grateful for the love and support. I hope to pay this love back by teaching people how to swim and better manage their chronic health conditions. It’s important to stay positive always. Of course, we all have low days, and that is when the community helps most.
Shoutout to a member of the type 2 community, Dex Geralds! We’ve never met in person but thank you for the inspiration over the years.
Also a huge shoutout to my mother, Sandhya Mendonca, for being my rock, and being my mother and father since 2009 (when my father passed away). She’s my #1 motivator in whatever I do, to give it 200 percent, and she has always encouraged me to pursue whatever I’ve wanted to.
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