Jake Byrne dreamed of playing professional football. He had the size, the talent, the drive...but at age 14, he found out he also had type 1 diabetes.
Jake Byrne grew up in Rogers, Arkansas. A type 1 diabetic since the age of fourteen, he has since been proactive combating the disease and mentoring diabetic youth. He played football for the University of Wisconsin as a tight end, and went on to compete in the NFL. Originally an undrafted free agent who signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2012, he has also been a Houston Texan, Kansas City Chief, and San Diego Charger.
We are so happy to featured Jake as our "Featured Inspiration" we asked Jake a lot of questions that we thought you as parents would like to know so here you go!
Q: Tell us how and when you were first diagnosed?
At age 14, I’d earned a starting spot on the varsity football team as a freshman in Rogers, Arkansas. By the time the season had ended, I’d dropped 40 pounds and suffered from constant fatigue. And I was so thirsty. I guzzled gallons of Gatorade during practice and was taking constant bathroom breaks at school. I went to the doctor, thinking I had a bladder infection. My blood sugar was over 300. The doctor said I was in the honeymoon phase of diabetes and over the next year my body would stop making insulin.
It was a tough hit to take. I wanted to play football, even get a college scholarship and suddenly I didn’t even know if I’d be able to continue playing high school football. But the doctor said if I did all the right things, I could. My stubborn teenage mentality worked to my advantage. I was determined not to let diabetes win.
Q: How did you get interested in playing football?
My parents were from Wisconsin and so I guess I was born a Packer fan. As far back as I can remember, I followed the Packers and carried a dream of playing football. I had my first chance to play in the third grade in Marshall, Michigan. From there, I played through high school and was a tight end for the Wisconsin Badgers before going on to the NFL.
Q: How did football effect your game?
After my diagnosis, diabetes made me become a responsible adult before I was ready to be one. Managing diabetes well reinforced discipline and work ethic. Getting a pump at age 15 helped simplify management of the disease, too.
Still, my dream was a long shot. I knew that if I didn’t work really hard at controlling diabetes, I'd never have a chance to play football on any level. Competing in sports with a disadvantage did a lot toward helping me develop into a stronger competitor throughout my entire football career.
Q: Any tips on high pressure sports & diabetes?
*Extreme discipline! And when you think you've done enough, do more.
*Eating habits: Plan every meal and eat consistently—same time, same carb ratio.
*Know how your body is going to react and plan ahead.
*Check your blood sugar very often, even if you have to check it every 15 minutes to know where you are at. Never guess. Always know.
*Have a plan each day and execute it consistently, every single day.
*Trial and Error: Helps you get to know your body. Have that plan, but adjust it based on how you feel and how your body is reacting. Treat dealing with diabetes like any experiment you work at to get the perfect results you are looking for. Trial and error and adjustments are so important. Know how to adjust to make sure you are able to compete in your sport.
Q: Why did you decide to write a book?
When I was diagnosed, I didn’t have mentors. I learned a lot through trial and error and pushed through a lot of obstacles and doubt. I also depended on my faith to get me through. I wrote FIRST AND GOAL because I wanted to get across the message to not let anything stop a person from reaching their goals. I wanted to inspire others to work hard—even when up against major obstacles—to figure out a way to making your dreams a reality, even if others think you can’t, even if you get a diabetes diagnosis.
My message in the book is to never make excuses. Never say, “I have this or that or diabetes.” Never think, “God didn’t give me this or that.” I want to empower others to keep up their faith and say, “I can do this, watch.”
Q: What has been the hardest part of having diabetes for you?
Probably the same thing everyone else deals with: checking blood sugar when you don't feel like doing it.
I don’t want to deal with it when I’m tired. I didn’t want to deal with it when I was exhausted after two-a-days. I didn’t want to deal with it when I wanted to hang out with friends. I wanted to be a normal kid, but couldn’t. I always had to make sure my blood sugar was okay. I had to make sure I had extra insulin with me. I wanted to fall into the “why me” zone, but couldn’t.
Sure, having diabetes gets overwhelming, but you have to have the discipline to check your sugar even when it’s the last thing in the world you want to do.
It was tough trying to make an NFL football team, battling with a person for the same spot on the team who is perfectly healthy. It’s you or him who gets a spot on the roster and you’re dropping down to 20 and sluggish and late off the ball, stumbling, trying to push through while he’s having his best practice. I never wanted the coaches to know when I was low. I didn’t want diabetes to be my excuse.
Q: What are you doing today?
Working for a marketing PR firm in Dallas and developing a foundation called, “TYPE WON.” I want to use my foundation to encourage kids to accept, control, and compete with Type 1 diabetes. I want to encourage them to never accept limitations and never give up on their goals. I also want to write another book more on the scientific side of dealing with diabetes using my personal experiences and what I’ve learned to be successful in managing diabetes.
Jake blogs at www.typewon.net
He can be reached through the following social media:
Facebook Page (Type Won): www.facebook.com/typewon1
First and Goal, published through Harvest House Publishers, can be purchased at most all bookseller retailers and online booksellers. Link for Book at Amazon: http://amzn.to/1FAYKo8