Steamboat junior Tanner Ripley fights through Type 1 diabetes to be a standout athlete
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs High School junior Tanner Ripley is a top athlete despite his Type 1 diabetes.
On the ice, he was the Sailors hockey team’s top scorer this year with 10 goals and seven assists, earning second-team all-conference honors. On the baseball field, he’s the returning all-conference starting catcher and team captain.
“That’s why I tell you he’s got grit,” Steamboat head baseball coach Rusty McRight said at practice last Thursday. “He’s willing to overcome any adversity that comes his way to better himself.”
Ripley hasn’t known another normal, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 15 months old.
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone that allows sugar to enter body cells to produce energy. Without insulin, excess amounts of sugar go unused in the bloodstream, causing high blood sugar, also known as “hyperglycemia.” In contrast, blood sugar can also drop too low, especially during exercise, since people with Type 1 diabetes can struggle to produce glucagon, which converts stored sugar into glucose to release into the blood stream and raise blood sugar.
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To combat high blood sugar, Ripley can use his insulin pump to give him the amount of hormone he needs to allow the sugar to enter his body cells and produce energy. When his blood sugar is low, he treats it with a fast-acting sugar like apple juice or skittles.
“In baseball, (my blood sugar) can get pretty high quickly and I have had to stay out because my blood sugar is too low or too high,” Ripley said. “When it’s too high, it’s easy to manage. I can just type in the amount of insulin I need and then just click, ‘Ok,’ and it puts it in. When it’s low, it’s harder to get up, and I need sugar to get that up, and sometimes, it takes longer.”
Ripley says hockey is an easier sport for him to manage since he’s constantly in motion for short spurts of time. It helps prevent his sugar levels from spiking. Baseball is a slower sport, and sometimes, playing through a longer inning puts him at risk for high blood sugar.
There’s a balance, even though physical activity lowers blood sugar, high intense physical activity can also trigger higher blood sugar. According to Cornerstones4Care, a website with resources for people with Type 1 diabetes, nerves signal the liver to release stored sugar because muscles need all the fuel they can get to compensate for the vigorous exercise. People with Type 1 diabetes struggle to regulate this excess blood sugar after exercise because they don’t produce insulin.
“Sometimes, it is the post game that you would see some of the impacts, especially as a younger boy growing up,” Tanner Ripley’s mom Kera said. “So, you would just have to take certain precautions if the team went out and celebrated. You had to consider going out with ice cream, and most of the time, he could do that. But, as a parent, going to have a special treat after you play, it’s something you have to take into consideration.”
New technology helps
Throughout his life, Tanner has seen a vast improvement in technology to help with management. He started with pricking his finger and calculating the amount of insulin he needed on paper. Insulin was delivered through shots until he was 6, then he converted to an insulin pump, which sends insulin through a thin tube under the skin. Recently, Tanner received a glucose monitor, which has a wire sensor that sits beneath his skin and communicates through bluetooth with the pump if he needs insulin.
“Kids, 25 years ago, they didn’t have near the technology to control diabetes and be able to do whatever you want,” Kera said. “There are some activities that are harder for him, but for the most part, he can do whatever he wants.”
He plays sports, especially hockey, without the pump, since it can get in the way, testing by hand in between innings or periods.
Tanner avoids endurance sports like running or cycling but sees no limitations with his condition. He keeps a keener eye on his nutrition and hydration levels, something that any athlete could benefit from.
His parents wanted to afford him every opportunity to play sports as if he didn’t have Type 1 diabetes.
Kera sees his responsibilities that come with managing Type 1 diabetes as a life lesson.
“Him fighting through this and getting to participate, all that transcends into life,” Kera said. “What we get our greatest joy through is seeing how this helps his maturity. No matter what happens, whether it’s a future job or other circumstances, that hard work and the attention to detail and keeping perspective is what’s really important.”
Managing it is not only vital but also helps him lead a healthy lifestyle.
“It really helps to be active a lot because, if you can manage your blood sugar a lot better, you can get more consistent numbers within your range,” Tanner said. “And that’s really what I would say about sports — it’s just a good way to keep yourself in check.”
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