John F. Russell: Facing life's challenges, 1 climb at a time

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— There is no question that the 105.2 miles between Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge will test the field of next week’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

But after hearing cyclist Fabio Calabria’s life story, it’s hard to imagine that the stage will be the biggest challenge he will face in life or the most important.

You see, Fabio started racing bicycles when he was 12 years old, just more than a year before he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

The two things changed Fabio’s life in ways he probably never imagined as a child growing up in Canberra, Australia.

Today at age 24, Fabio is a member of Team Type 1 Sanofi — a group of 25 professional cyclists including six living with Type 1 diabetes — that will be racing in this week’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

“I wasn’t by any means good, but I loved the sport, so I stuck with it,” Fabio said about his start in cycling.

As he got older, Fabio discovered he was pretty fast on a bike. By the time he turned 15, he was competitive in top-level races and already has posted several top finishes as a young professional racer.

But a short time after he started competing, Fabio discovered he also was in a race against a silent killer.

Most of the symptoms went unnoticed, and by the time his parents rushed Fabio, who was 13 at the time, to the hospital, his blood sugar was so high that he was slipping in and out of consciousness. He spent three days in a coma and more than a week in the hospital while doctors stabilized his condition.

“It’s not like you wake up one morning as a diabetic,” Fabio said. “It’s a progressive disease, and the symptoms don’t always jump out at you.”

Looking back, Fabio sees that he struggled with the symptoms long before he was diagnosed. He says the classic symptoms were there — fatigue, thirst and frequent trips to the bathroom.

He describes the days after his diagnosis as rough. But what’s happened since is inspirational.

With the support of his parents and doctors, Fabio continued to pursue his love of cycling.

Today, he is a professional athlete who proves that with good control and a healthy lifestyle, anything is possible.

Sure, there are challenges.

Maintaining a normal blood sugar level is not an easy thing to do when you are competing and training at an elite level. Blood sugar levels have a huge impact on an athlete’s ability to compete and function normally — not a plus when you’re racing a bike in a field of top-level riders.

With the help of a continuos blood sugar monitor and an insulin pump, Fabio has been able to overcome these challenges. Now, he will need to overcome a different kind of challenge — part of which stretches 105.2 miles between Steamboat and Breckenridge.

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