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Unstoppable: Athletes with Type 1 Diabetes

Athletes are resilient, especially athletes with type 1 diabetes (T1D). In a world of preconceived notions and stereotypes about people living with T1D, these athletes are shattering expectations and winning Olympic gold no matter what sport they’re part of. These individuals showcase that managing diabetes does not hinder excellence in competitive sports. 

Unstoppable: Athletes with Type 1 Diabetes

Here, we celebrate athletes who have conquered both their athletic pursuits and the challenges of T1D.

10 Famous Athletes with Diabetes

Noah Gray

Noah Gray, a rising star in the NFL as a Kansas City Chiefs tight end and a 2x Super Bowl champ, has proven that T1D is no obstacle to excelling in professional football. While still a freshman playing football at Duke University, Gray began losing weight, had extreme acne, and temporarily lost his vision. A trip to the hospital and a 930 blood sugar level revealed that he had type 1 diabetes.

Now, whenever Gray is on an NFL field, he uses a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to ensure his blood sugar levels are in range for the duration of the game. Outside of the season, he uses an insulin pump to deliver insulin but opts for shots when playing to prevent any accidental injuries from wearing the device (like ripping out tubing or breaking the pump altogether).

Nacho Fernández 

José Ignacio Fernández Iglesias, aka Nacho, is a Spanish professional footballer who plays center-back or full-back for Saudi Pro League club Al Qadsiah and the Spain national team. Nacho spent over 23 years playing with Real Madrid, starting at age 10 with Real’s young academy.

The team captain and defender helped Real Madrid win six UEFA Champions League titles, four Super Cup trophies, and five Club World Cups. Nacho won his first senior cap for Spain in 2013 and played in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2024.

Nacho has been very open about his type 1 diabetes diagnosis at age 12. Initially, he was told his football days were over, but fortunately, he met with another doctor who advised him that not only was the sport still an option but that exercise was vital to his health.

Mark Andrews 

Mark Andrews, tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, was diagnosed with type 1 when he was nine years old. As a child, he looked up to Jay Cutler (more on him below!) and was determined not to let T1D stop him from achieving his football dreams. Joining the Ravens in 2018, Andrews checks his blood sugar 30 times per game and wears an insulin pump and CGM to manage his glucose levels when off the field. 

In February 2024, Andrews helped save a woman’s life on a flight from Baltimore to Phoenix. While in flight, passengers noticed a woman began losing consciousness; when trying to figure out what could be wrong, Andrews asked, “Could her blood sugar be low?” After Andrews stepped in, the woman was given orange juice and started feeling better. 

​​Chris Dudley 

Diagnosed at 16, Dudley played 16 seasons in the NBA as a skilled center despite the daily demands of diabetes management. Beyond his athletic performance on the court, he has dedicated himself to diabetes advocacy, empowering others to pursue their athletic dreams, and later went into politics in Oregon.

Fun fact: Chris Dudley started a basketball camp for kids with diabetes in Oregon! 

Gary Hall Jr. 

Gary Hall Jr. is another competitive athlete who won his first Olympic medals at the age of 21. A few years later, Hall Jr. was diagnosed with T1D at 25, which prompted a short hiatus from swimming to understand how diabetes would affect him. One year later, Hall Jr. returned to the Olympics and went onto win a total of 13 gold medals.

While talking with the Olympics media team, Hall Jr. emphasized, “I have type 1 diabetes, and I’ve been able to compete at the world’s highest level. If I can do that, then it’s OK for an eight-year-old soccer player or an athlete at a high-school state meet.” 

Jay Cutler

​​Retired NFL quarterback Jay Cutler has left an indelible mark on the field, showcasing that T1D is no obstacle to success in professional football. Cutler, diagnosed at the age of 25, played 12 seasons in the NFL, including eight with the Chicago Bears. While playing for the Bears, Cutler received the “Most Career Game Winning Drives” (2009-2014) and “Most Pass Completions in a Single Season” (2009) awards.

In 2009, Cutler teamed up with Eli Lilly to offer the “Touchdowns for Diabetes” fund; for every touchdown pass that Cutler threw, Lilly donated $1,000 to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) summer camp scholarship. To this day, Cutler remains an advocate for type 1 diabetes research and often visits hospitals across the United States to raise awareness and serve as a role model for people with T1D. 

Charlie Kimball 

IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball has not just raced towards victory on the track, but has also navigated the twists and turns of T1D. Diagnosed at the age of 22, Kimball has competed in numerous IndyCar races, demonstrating that precision sports are well within reach for athletes managing diabetes. Kimball's story resonates on the race track and encourages those with dreams of excelling in high-speed, high-stakes competitions.

Lauren Cox 

Lauren Cox, a standout basketball player, went on to have a stellar collegiate career at Baylor University after being diagnosed with diabetes in high school. Initially, Cox was embarrassed and didn’t want to talk about T1D,but the head coach of Baylor’s program, Kim Mulkey, continued to ask questions and encouraged other players to learn as much as possible about type 1. From there, Baylor hosted its first Type 1 Awareness Game in January 2017 to showcase Cox's ability to manage diabetes while on the court alongside fans who also lived with diabetes.  

After her time at Baylor, she was drafted into the WNBA for the Los Angeles Sparks. Her journey in women's basketball serves as an inspiration for young athletes with T1D, demonstrating that dedication and skill can prevail over diabetes challenges.

Kris Freeman 

Kris Freeman, a pioneer in cross-country skiing, has etched his name in the snow as a testament to endurance and determination. Diagnosed at 19, Freeman has competed in multiple Winter Olympic Games, showcasing that T1D management is compatible with the rigorous demands of competitive cross-country skiing. 

After retiring from elite skiing in 2018, Freeman remains active and began racing triathlons. Whether competing at the professional level or wanting to be fit, Freeman proves that diabetes can’t stop you.

Interesting Fact: Sports medicine today is much more focused on assistingT1D athletes with their diet and exercise regimen.

Michelle McGann 

In the tranquil world of golf, Michelle McGann has not only mastered the fairways but also conquered the challenges of T1D. After being diagnosed at 13,McGann went on to win multiple championships on the LPGA Tour.

McGann also founded The Michelle McGann Fund in 2012, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering children and families affected by T1D. Since its inception, the organization has sent hundreds of children and young adults to diabetes summer camps across the country. 

This is not an inclusive list by any means. Other athletes with diabetes include professional soccer player Jordan Morris, former pro-basketball player Adam Morrison, tennis legend Arthur Ashe, hall of famer Ron Santo (T1D), and major league baseball superstar Jackie Robinson (T2D). Outside of the U.S., Canadian pro hockey player Max Domi opened up about wearing his Dexcom G7 CGM to check his blood sugars.

Athletes with Type 1 Challenges

No matter what sport they play, these athletes prove that people with diabetes mellitus can do anything. Their achievements extend beyond the realms of sports and help to bring awareness and empowerment surrounding T1D. As we applaud their victories, these athletes serve as role models for a generation determined to excel while managing type 1 with unwavering dedication.

Famous celebs with diabetes aren’t just in sports. In addition to their physical activity prowess, you may also be listening to their music or watching them on TV. From Nick Jonas to Mary Tyler Moore, type 1 individuals are raising awareness every step of their journey. Check out a list of celebrities with T1D here. 

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