Living Well with Type 1 Diabetes: An Interview with Monique Hanley from Team Type 1
By: Elizabeth Kane for Diabetes1
When she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 19, it stopped what Monique Hanley envisioned would be a successful basketball career. The stresses of dealing with the condition, combined with living away from her Australian home for college led her to hang up her sneakers within three years. Determined to stay in shape, though, she turned to bicycle riding. Two years later, the 5-foot-6 former point guard was pedaling her way across Canada on a more than 4,800-mile journey that took her only 66 days. The next summer, she cycled around France to follow the world’s greatest cycling spectacle, the Tour de France. Determined to inspire others with Type 1, she took up competitive bicycle racing, first on the road and eventually on the track. Success came quickly and she was recruited to be a part of Team Type 1’s victorious Race Across America (RAAM) eight-person corporate team in 2007. The bronze medalist at the Australian National Track Championships last year, Hanley will represent Team Type 1 in the professional women’s National Racing Calendar race series during 2008. Setting goals is just one aspect of her advice for people with Type 1 diabetes. “You can have all the information and tools to get the job done, but they are no good without the drive to stay on top of your management,” she says.
Diabetes1: What do you remember about the day you were diagnosed with diabetes?
Monique: I was 19 when I was diagnosed. I’d previously had a blood test and the results indicated that I might have diabetes. After receiving this news I had a whole night to think about it and my sister drove me to the hospital the next day to confirm or deny the suspected results. I remember waiting in a crowded corridor with my sister and thinking the diagnosis was a big misunderstanding. I had a lot of anxiety about it. I met with a diabetes educator who performed a fasting blood test. When the results showed up over 300 I knew things weren’t right and it would be hard to deny the previous diagnosis.
Diabetes1: Did you have a family history of type 1?
Monique: I have no family history of it. I remember once in school there was a student who had diabetes and was a pain. I thought she was attention seeking. I had no real appreciation or understanding of diabetes before I was diagnosed.
Diabetes1: Did you have access to a specialized type 1 facility, back home in Australia? How common is type 1 in Australia?
Monique: When I was diagnosed, I was referred to the youth clinic at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. I was 19 so the youth clinic was a good thing to have. The hospital also had a lot of access to the research done in Australia. It was fortuitous that I was referred there to be educated and diagnosed. The prevalence of type 1 diabetes in Australia is similar to the rate in the U.S.
Diabetes1: Why did you choose cycling?
Monique: I was involved in basketball when I was diagnosed. Basketball was my life. Sports in general have always been a big part of my life. When I was dealing with diabetes, it was difficult to manage it correctly while playing basketball, graduating university, and working at my job. I wasn’t doing a good job with all three. I walked away from basketball. Afterwards, I put on weight from not being active. My endocrinologist said quite flippantly that I was, “one of those people who needs to exercise every day for the rest of your life”. The comment rang true for me. I knew I needed a sport I could do every day and on my own if necessary. I started cycling and, at the time, I didn’t have a car so it worked out great. My mum was a recreational bike rider and she had recently completed an annual 130 mile event. Motivated by her success, I decided that completing the same event would be my first major bike goal. Completing that event was a huge thing for me. It really spurred me on to keep on cycling and setting more goals. Cycling was not just a means of transport: it was a great avenue to set goals and keep me motivated. On top of that, I liked it. From setting and reaching goals on the bike, I eventually progressed to bike racing.
Diabetes1: How did you manage your diabetes during your 4,800-mile journey in Canada and during cycling around France, while following the Tour de France?
Monique: I asked my endo for advice. I was told that I might have to reduce my insulin! That was the only advice I had! My only way to complete the journey would be to teach myself from a lot of trial and error, and learning things on the run. The trip was great because it was a group environment. People were looking out for me a bit. I learned so much about diabetes management on the Canada trip. Not knowing how the exercise would affect my body, I tested a lot. In those days, that meant getting off the bike and testing. I learnt how the body reacts to long bouts of exercise for extended periods of time. Following the Tour de France on my own was only achievable because of the Canadian experience.
Diabetes1: Did your fiancé support your decision to join Team Type 1?
Monique: Yes, but it’s obviously not an easy thing for us. We’re based in Australia and being part of TT1 has meant a lot of separation. But he’s a great supporter of me and my goals and he also helps out with my diabetes.
Diabetes1: How have you overcome the day-day challenges such as dining out and a busy travel schedule?
Monique: The great thing about diabetes is no two days are the same. The one thing that never changes is the need to monitor and be flexible. Once you understand how to monitor, you can tackle any situation.
Diabetes1: Who are the inspirational figures in your life?
Monique: I am inspired by people who can continue with their careers and achieve amazing things. For example, people in the cycling world and working mothers who also compete in the world master’s competition. I’m inspired by people who can do a lot and still be competitive.
Diabetes1: What is your favorite part of being a competitive athlete and what do you dislike about it?
Monique: I like the challenge of managing a bunch of things and dedicating time for training. I like being a part of an environment that allows me to focus on cycling. By being a part of TTI, I can train surrounded by people with type 1 diabetes. I can’t say how great this experience has been for me. It’s a great thing to be a part of.
There are some difficult parts about cycling for me that include preparing for events, what happens to blood glucose during an event, and what to do to recover. In particular, I put a lot of energy and stress into making sure my blood sugar is right before a race. This means I do a lot of testing before a race. It takes up a lot of focus and energy; however, having a tool such as the Freestyle Navigator continuous glucose monitor helps me check it with a quick glance. That takes away a huge amount of the preparation stress and enables me to just focus on making sure I am right physically and mentally to perform well. It evens out the competition because I can then prepare just like a person without diabetes would.
Diabetes1: How did you become involved in TT1?
Monique: I run an organization in Australia called HypoActive (www.hypoactive.org) which encourages people with type 1 diabetes to exercise. In trying to grow this organization, I looked for inspirational groups and found TT1 on the internet. Right away I wrote to them and said they should have me on the team! Luckily, they wrote back and invited me.
Diabetes1: What are your goals for the future?
Monique: I would like to be part of a professional women’s team on the U.S. circuit and be one of the top 10 women in the U.S. cycling scene. Also, I want to continue racing the track and become one of the best Enduro track riders in the world.
Diabetes1: What is the future of TT1?
Monique: We’re going to show the world that with good diabetes management and using the right tools, we can do anything and achieve great things. We are going to win races. There’s a huge audience of both diabetics and non-diabetics that are inspired by what TT1 does. We’ll continue to show the world what we can do.