John F. Russell: Phil Southerland inspiring those with diabetes 1 race 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.

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Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect Phil Southerland's correct age, 31, and the correct number of athletes who compete with team Novo Nordisk, which is 100.

There are lots of things that Phil Southerland can’t do.

But don’t bother telling the 31-year-old CEO of Team Novo Nordisk because he won’t be listening. He’s been ignoring the people who tell him what he can’t do his entire life, and he is hoping that others impacted by the disease will do the same thing.

“I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 7 months old,” he said by phone last week. “The doctors told my mom that I would be dead or blind by the time I was 25.”

Lucky for Phil, his mom didn’t listen, either.

Phil not only has lived with Type 1 diabetes pretty much his whole life, he also has been an elite cyclist when others thought he couldn’t do it and he has built a team that many people felt couldn’t be built. Along the way, he’s become an inspiration for those dealing with the sometimes devastating impacts of diabetes.

Phil never listened to the people who told him all the things that he can’t do. Instead, Phil sets out to prove them wrong every day.

What has Phil done?

When Phil was 13, he embarked on a competitive cycling career that included a first-place finish in the Southeastern Conference Criterium Championships, eighth in the U.S. Junior National Criterium Championships, ninth in the under-23 U.S. National Road Championships and 12th in the U.S. Collegiate National Criterium Championships.

In college, Phil took his love of cycling into the classroom, and as part of a class project, came up with the idea for Team Type 1: a group of diabetic cyclists who would compete in high-level bike races like the Race Across America, the USA Pro Challenge and, someday, the Tour de France. In the past several years, he has made that idea a reality. Creating the team, and now finding a major sponsor like Novo Nordisk, the team now includes 100 athletes. The team supports a pro cycling, development, women’s, triathlon, running, mountain bike and cross teams.

“I thought that I could use cycling as a platform to inspire other people with diabetes,” Phil said.

Phil and his team have inspired. The past two years, Team Type 1, which was made up of diabetic and none diabetic riders, has been a major player in the USA Pro Challenge. This year, the team’s name has changed to Team Novo Nordisk, but its message remains the same. When the pro squad rolls through Steamboat Springs as part of Stages 3 and 4 on Aug. 21 and 22 during the USA Pro Challenge, the team will be looking for top finishes and to spread the idea that diabetes is no longer a hurdle.

For the first time, all of the team’s riders — including Fabio Calabria, Kevin de Mesmaeker, Joonas Henttala, David Lozano, Javier Megias, Andrea Peron, Martijn Verschoor and Chris Williams — have Type 1 diabetes.

Many people, including Phil himself at times, didn’t know if a team made up completely of Type I diabetics was possible. Some even said it couldn’t be done.

But lucky for us, Phil didn’t listen.

Now he is hoping for top finishes from the team, but more importantly, he’s out to prove that athletes with Type 1 diabetes can do anything they set out to accomplish, even the things others say they can’t do.

To reach John F. Russell call, 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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