Jay Cutler Talks to ASweetLife About Diabetes

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Jay Cutler is currently the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears. He was drafted 11th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl in 2008.  Jay played college football at Vanderbilt, where he still holds a number of University records – total offense, TD passes, passing yards and completions.

On May 1, 2008, Jay Cutler announced that he had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  Since then he’s not only continued to be a football superstar, he’s also become a leader of diabetes awareness.  He works with Dedicated to Diabetes, a Denver-based organization that strives to educate people about the disease.  For the 2009 season Jay teamed up with Eli Lilly and Company, and for each TD pass Jay throws during the season Lilly will send a child with diabetes to camp by donating $1,000 to the American Diabetes Association’s “Camp Scholarship” fund.

Jay Cutler is an inspiration to many people throughout the world.  We are so happy that he took the time to talk to A Sweet Life about his diabetes diagnosis, what he misses from his days before diabetes, how often he checks his blood sugar during a game and more…

Can you describe what you were feeling when you took the field for the first time after being diagnosed?

When I was diagnosed, I was actually relieved. I had been sick for about six months, lost 35 pounds, and didn’t know what was wrong. So I knew having diabetes wouldn’t be easy, but I also knew it could be managed.

Playing with diabetes for the first time was definitely a different feeling than the year before – checking my blood sugar, just getting used to the whole routine.  It obviously was a lot more complicated than not having diabetes. But when you get on the field, you’re just thinking about football, how to win the game. Of course, I can’t escape having diabetes and that’s why we test so much during the game to make sure my levels are okay.

How do you/your trainers prepare your body for game day?  Do you elevate your blood sugar so you do not bottom out during the game?

I test four or five times before the game and we test a lot in the first half when we come off the field, trying to keep my blood sugar around 150-160.

Do you wear a pump?  If so, do you wear it during the game?

I take multiple daily injections. I tried a pump and a continuous monitoring system right after I was diagnosed, but using a pen just fits better into my line of work and lifestyle.

How many times do you check your blood sugar during the game?

Most of the time, I prick my finger every time we come off the field, especially in the first half. There are definitely dangers out there – we try to avoid them at all costs. That’s why we check as many times as we do. I think the worst thing imaginable would be to get really low and pass out in the middle of a play, or in the huddle. That would scare a lot of people. I try to avoid it as much as possible, but it’s still a reality that could happen.

What have you had to give up now that you are diabetic?

Sweet tea. And I miss Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I cleaned out my pantry right after I was diagnosed, and I’ve learned to balance my diet over the last couple years.

No one is perfect.  Have you been tempted to stray from your daily regimen?  If so, how? What did you do? How did you act?

I’m definitely not perfect. I’m motivated to stay as healthy as I can so I can be at my best on the field. I still want to win championships and be the best quarterback I can be – diabetes didn’t change that – and it’s important to stay on top of managing diabetes every day to ensure I can perform at the highest level possible. But it’s not easy. It’s with you every day. I’m also not to the point where diabetes is just part of me. I’m still dealing with it, and that’s going to take some time.

Is guilt an issue for you, like feeling guilty when you eat something you shouldn’t, or when you lose control of your blood sugar level?

It’s really just about finding the right balance. Our diets are well-controlled by the Bears training staff, in-season and during off-season workouts, which goes along with playing in the NFL and needing to stay in top condition. I know I can only do my best to manage diabetes now and try to use my diagnosis to make an impact, and to inspire kids and families who are dealing with it. Visiting children’s hospitals in the offseason with Lilly was a great way to connect with kids and families who are dealing with this disease. I’ve been fortunate to meet some incredible kids along the way and they inspire me.

What are you better at…controlling your diabetes or being an NFL QB?

Both jobs are challenging in their own ways. But I can tell you playing football is a lot more fun.

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[…] happen to have Type 1 diabetes. Like Nick Jonas, for example. Or Sonia Sotomayor. Or, of course, Jay Cutler. (And there are other examples on the Type 2 side as […]

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