Type 1 Diabetes is No Match for MMA Fighter Anna Hyvärinen

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There’s really been only one time that Finnish-born mixed martial arts competitor Anna Hyvärinen can recall something slamming her down for the count. That something was diabetes.

But, consider this: that one time diabetes knocked her down, instead of walking away, she stood up, brushed herself off and faced her opponent head on, never again letting it beat her.

Anna was 11 years old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1999. Too young to truly understand it all and terribly afraid of needles, she struggled with it, fighting what she had to do – for a good four years.

“I kind of did not take care of myself,” she said. “My mother did her best to run after me and try to make me do things, but that’s not easy.” At 14, diabetes won, sending Anna to the hospital in DKA. From the moment she looked out and around the world from her ICU bed, Anna felt herself changed. “The doctors thought it was my parents’ fault; that they had not taken proper care of me,” she said, “But it was all me. All me.

That realization lead her to another one: that she alone was in control of this, and that with smart living and positive fighting instead of negative, she could win out over diabetes and live a good life.

“I became somewhat of a health nut after that,” she said. Involved at a high level in the European competitive equestrian world, she worked hard at fitness as well as finding a good balance with diabetes. She never – to this day – has let diabetes beat her again.

That fitness focus led to what has now become Anna’s life, career and dream: competing in MMA and working toward a coveted spot in The Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), the highest level MMA competition in the world.

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“I used to pass by a martial arts school on my way out each day, and I would think ‘that seems so me,’” she said. One day, she stopped in, and there she discovered her world and dream. She left behind horses to take up a life of MMA.

Four years ago, she moved to Florida, where she can train and be part of one of the top MMA groups in the world. A sponsored athlete now, she trains twice a day and fights in top matches.

MMA is no simple punching fight. It involves kicking, wrestling, grabbing, and more. How does one make that kind of intense, challenging work out happen with diabetes on board?


“There is a lot of spiking that goes on in this sport with the adrenalin,” she said. “So that means a lot of checks – a lot. It also means being really careful with planning the timing of my carbs.”

Because – surprise to those who would think someone who looks like Anna and competes at her level with diabetes on board might limit carbs – for her, carbs are a lifeline and a must.

“I tried to do low carb while doing this, and for me, it just does not work. I work out (and compete) so vigorously, I definitely need those carbs.”

But, she said, “I don’t just eat like crazy.” Instead she has a plan of carbs that work well for her and eats them – usually after a work out or fight – with timing in mind.

She’s on injections, too, something that works best for her now. 

“I do contact sports – I mean really contact sports. I would love to have a pump but with the kicking and total contact, it just does not work. Injections works best for me now, so I’m happy. When I retire? Then I’ll get a pump.”

That retirement won’t come, she hopes, until she makes it to UFC. “I’m 29,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of time. So I’m working hard toward this. My goal and hope is within five years, I’ll be there.”

As she works toward that dream, she looks back to that time when diabetes beat her.

“Those times I was struggling with diabetes I wondered if I was going to be a fighter or anything at all. But know I realize that all I had to do was not let diabetes win. I think you need to define what diabetes means to you. You have the option: you want to be a victim? Or you want to live well? I chose two.”

That, she said, should be a lesson to all.

“You need to be courageous enough to know you really can do these things (even with diabetes on board). I’m not saying take stupid risks. Be a planner, have a good support network and think things through. With that, you can really do anything you want.” 

Anna also never keeps diabetes a secret, but at the same time shares her view on responsibility. “I tell all my training partners and coaches all about it,” she said. “But I also tell them this is mine. This is my responsibility and it’s up to me to make it work.”

Follow Anna as she makes it work all the way to the top of her sport. You can find her on  Facebook and Instagram.


Moira McCarthy
Moira McCarthy

Moira McCarthy was pursuing her dream career in active sports journalism when her young daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1997. While she continued on that route, writing for the New York Times Sports and Leisure Division, Snow Country Magazine, Ski Magazine and becoming a daily newspaper sports columnist for the Boston Herald, she also began dedicating much of her life to diabetes advocacy and education.

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