Sure, competing at the top of your game takes strength and physical health, but, as a few hard-core bikers from across the nation are looking to prove, sometimes guts and determination outweigh them both. “We don’t see ourselves as any different from the other racers,” says Joe Eldridge, a type 1 diabetic and co-founder of Team Type 1, a group of international cyclists who have crushed the assumption that competing as a serious athlete is impossible for suffers of the autoimmune disease, which requires insulin injections multiple times a day and constant blood sugar monitoring. “If you see the team standing together, you can’t discern which people have type 1 and which don’t,” says Eldridge. “That’s a goal of the team — to break that stereotype, to break that barrier.”
It hasn’t been a smooth ride for the team, many of whom are diabetic and must constantly monitor their blood sugar and food intake during races (see a video on the team here!) and throughout their daily lives — tedious tasks necessary to stay alive and thwart off diabetic complications such as blindness and kidney disease. (Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the disease that strikes later in life and usually can be controlled through exercise and dietary changes.) But the tools used to keep them on the road in the last 15 years have changed in leaps and bounds. “Rapid-acting insulin works so fast that I’m able to fine-tune my performance during a race by making small adjustments,” says Eldridge.
Of course, there is another, even more important reason this fearless team is fighting it out with the world’s best: to raise awareness about type 1 diabetes. “If someone sees Team Type 1 [at a race], they want to know who we are,” Eldridge says. “They find out it’s these cyclists with a disease, competing in the highest-profile races. Managing diabetes definitely gives us a mental edge. If you can manage your disease, you can manage the racing schedules and requirements. I know that it would have helped me [as a young type 1 diabetic] to see, ‘Hey, I can race with some of the top guys in the world.’”
You can see these national champs (they smoked out the competition in last year’s coast-to-coast race with an unheard of margin of more than three hours) right here in Philly on June 8 in the Philadelphia International Championship. So do your part and get out and support ‘em. “Come out and yell, ‘Go Team Type 1!’” says Eldridge, and then, jokingly, “I’ll be the big guy going the slowest up Manayunk Wall.”