Shannon Bounds wanted to prove that being diabetic doesn't mean a person can't be an athlete. So when she heard a team of athletes with type 1 diabetes was being put together to compete in an Ironman event, she jumped at the opportunity.
In 2014, Bounds found out that a team of athletes with diabetes was being put together by Riding on Insulin, a non-profit organization based in Whitefish, Mont., that hosts athletic programs for young kids and teenagers with type one diabetes, and teaches them coping strategies and helps them maintain an active lifestyle.
Bounds said she wanted "to inspire other type 1 diabetics and show them having type one diabetes doesn't limit someone in terms of what they can do and the goals they can achieve."
On Sept. 13, after about a year of training, the 65 members of Riding on Insulin, which included 36 people who had type 1 diabetes (the other 29 were family, friends and supporters), competed in the IRONMAN Wisconsin event held in Madison.
To complete an Ironman competition, also known as a triathlon, participants must finish a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and run 26.2-miles within 17 hours.
Training for and competing in an Ironman is challenging for anyone, but the difficulty is magnified for people with diabetes, who have to constantly monitor everything about their body, both while they're training and while they're competing.
"It's a 24-7 disease, there's never a holiday. There is continual counting of your carbohydrates, protein and fat and monitoring how each affects your blood sugar," Bounds said. "You could eat they exact same thing every day and give yourself the exact same dose of insulin for those meals but still wind up with different results, because stress, hormones and dehydration can all affect your blood sugar."
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease in which the body attacks the pancreas and prevents a person's body from producing insulin, forcing those with the disease to rely on outside sources. It is different from type 2 diabetes, where the body still produces insulin but doesn't use the insulin as well, so a pill is required to help people process insulin.
"Our blood sugar could be higher or lower depending on what phase of training you're in for a particular day so it's a constant balance," she said. "You have to constantly take in food and fuel to continue your endurance running and also increase or decrease your insulin level depending on your blood sugar level."
Bounds said that seeing the others members of her team on the course kept her going through the toughest parts of the event.
"Just to see everyone else on the course was motivating and gave you the strength to keep going," Bounds said. "Just the fact that you knew you weren't alone pushed me forward."
Bounds finished the swim in 1:39:00, the bicycling in 7:50:00 and the run in 6:29:00. Her total time in the Ironman was 16 hours, 24 minutes.
"I'm kind of an iron turtle. I'm not very fast, but I managed to finish," she said.
Bounds said the experience of finishing after more than 16 hours was one of the most exhilarating experiences of her life.
"You can only imagine the joy when you see the finish line and hear all the people cheering you on," she said.