Daniel Milner: Managing Diabetes
Dealing with diabetes can be tough at the best of times, so how does Daniel Milner manage this and still become the 2017 Australian off-road champion? Find out in this insightful interview…
TM: There’s a reason you rarely hear ‘endurance athlete’ and ‘diabetes’ in the same sentence. So tell us how you’ve managed the disease.
DM: Unlike Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 diabetes is a disease that people get at a young age and can’t ever be ‘cured’. Your pancreas stops working properly, which means your body doesn’t produce insulin. And without insulin, your body can’t regulate its blood sugar levels. As a result, I need to inject myself with insulin four times a day, and I need to be very careful with what I eat to ensure my sugar levels don’t spike one way or another.
As an athlete, what’s the major risk for you with Type 1 diabetes?
When I was first diagnosed at age 12, my blood sugar level was 45, whereas a normal person is four to five on the same scale. It got to the point where I was almost in a coma. But if I’m down around normal people’s sugar levels, that’s too low for me. I’ve never had a really bad ‘sugar-low’, which is called a “hypo”, but that can cause you to lose consciousness. That’s what they make the Epipen for. The hard thing is maintaining my blood sugar around the six or seven mark, especially when I’m racing. When you’re doing a lot of physical work, you don’t need to give yourself as much insulin because your body’s already burning off energy and sugar. So before a three-hour cross-country race, I try to get my levels up to around 10 to 15, plus I run a really sugary drink – like a Prima Juice – in one of the two bladders I use in my hydration pack, in case my levels drop too low.
How do you know when your blood sugar is dropping too low?
In that 6HD doco video that came out recently, there’s footage of me tapping my arm with a little concealed needle to test my blood sugar levels. That set-up is easier than pricking your finger to test the blood. But in the three-hour races, I now run a more advanced tester. Basically, I insert a tiny needle into the fat stores near my belly button, and that’s got a bluetooth connection to a digital monitor that’s mounted on my bike’s bar pad. This little machine lets me check my levels during a race, plus it’s got arrows to let me know at a glance whether my levels are stable or going up or down. I’ve gotten better at feeling my sugar levels over the years, but if my levels got too low, it was too late; my body was already almost going into shock. And I found it hard to distinguish between being fatigued and having my levels drop too low. So starting to use that little machine was a huge help for me in managing my levels during long races. I first used it a few years ago in America, and it gave me a lot more confidence to focus on my riding, rather that feeling through my body whether my levels were too high or too low.
Sounds like fly-by-wire blood sugar telemetry!
Well, I don’t have live read-outs of my engine oil temps, so I guess you could call it telemetry [laughs]. It’s a pretty cool machine, but it costs about $3000 all up, and I’ve already lost a few of the $900 needle inserts when I’ve crashed.
Want to know more about Milner? Check out our recent in-depth interview with the defending champ. Touching on everything from racing overseas to bike setup.