top of page
  • Writer's pictureErin Spineto

My Top Diabetes Moments

My diabetes historical timeline has very few moments on it. Only the very biggest of accomplishments gets noted.

The discovery of insulin on July 29, 1921.

The release of the first insulin pump in 1976, the year I was born.

My diagnosis on April 14, 1998.

The release of the first Dexcom on March 27, 2006.

Those are my big moments.

Well, those, and two more huge ones. One happened in October of 1983. The other happened October of 2016, exactly 33 years later.

In 1983, number 239, Bill Carlson became the first ever athlete with diabetes to even attempt the Ironman in Kona. And he did it in a time where the diabetes equipment was almost barbaric.

When he exited the swim, he took fifteen minutes to transition from the swim to the bike. For most athletes, that takes an average of three minutes. But Bill had a few more things to do to get ready for the bike.

For one, he had to insert the site for his insulin pump. And there were no easy, automatic inserters to help him out. This was time to jab a huge needle into his stomach. A needle that would put to shame the “needles” we use today. He was using a gigantor needle.

He wore a big silver box, strapped around his waist. It was his Delta insulin pump that was as big as a tape deck. It was huge and ancient. Though at the time, it was a brand new technology.

It adjusted his insulin rates using dials. Dials! Just like your old black and white TV.

He tested on a meter just as big as the pump and it spit out blood sugars in minutes not seconds.

He completed one of the hardest races in the World without any of the conveniences we have today. And he did it before anyone ever knew for sure it was possible. He left an indelible legacy to every single person with diabetes since. He busted wide open the doors of what is possible.

For those of us diagnosed within the last decade, that may not seem like a big thing. Now, it is commonplace for people with diabetes to do these amazing things. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of athletes with diabetes who have completed an Ironman. I can count at least six within my circle of real life friends, and probably a good fifty in my online circle of friends.

But there was a time when this was unheard of. When doctors told patients at diagnosis never to exercise. They told them diabetes was a death sentence. That women would never have kids. Diabetes was uncontrollable.

Along comes Bill, who decides, at the age of 23, that all of that was bullshit and set about to prove it in a big way. He knew that we could do more. Be more.

He took to the world’s stage to declare that nothing is outside of our grasp. That whatever we set out to do, there was a way to do it. With enough education and planning and training, the world was at our fingertips. All we had to do was reach out and grab it.

Only man I know who wakes up with a smile that big, 4a.m. race morning.

Now at the ripe old age of 56, Bill is still just as strong-willed and spirited. He is still moving at

a million miles an hour, accomplishing more before sunup than most Americans do in a day. It is not unusual for him to ride his bike to his friend’s house, 85 miles away, just to stop in for dinner.

So 33 years after he changed the way that a whole generation would look at diabetes, he decided to do it again.

When he completed Ironman Wisconsin in 2015, he did well enough to qualify for the World Championships in Kona. And, so, this last Saturday he toed the line in Kona, ready to once again take his place in the history books.

He will forever inspire thousands upon thousands of people who get that dreaded diagnosis, but who won’t hear from their doctor that this is the end of their life. That they must throw away their dreams.

Because their doctor will have heard of Bill Carlson. And if they hadn’t heard of his amazing feats in 1983, they have heard about it now. And from now on they will give their patients the prescription of exercise, not in moderation, but in crazy big doses. Doses big enough to have propelled Bill into the forefront of my diabetes historical timeline.

And to become the standard that I one day hope to reach.

Thank you Bill, for being yourself, and for kicking ass big time!

bottom of page