Living the dream
WHEN Justin Morris was 10, his parents noticed that he was often tired and lethargic, and went to the bathroom a lot. They brought him for a medical check- up and that was when his whole world came crashing down around him. He had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and his childhood hopes of becoming a fighter pilot were dashed.
Yet today, at the age of 29, Morris stands triumphant as one of the professional cyclists with Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first all- diabetics professional cycling team. The team has consistently finished among the Top 10 in the toughest races and tours around the world.
“When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I was devastated. But, as I grew older, my dreams changed and my focus shifted from what I couldn’t achieve as a person with diabetes to what I could. There is so little in life holding people with diabetes back, the world is our oyster!” he said with passion.
The Australian, who grew up in Sydney, first got into cycling when he was in school. “I used to be teased when I took the bus to school. Then, I started riding my bike to school and it put a smile on my face. I arrived at school happy. I enjoyed it and began to cycle more and more, and I fell in love with the sport,” he enthused.
He also enjoys other fun outdoor activities like mountain biking, bushwalking, abseiling, rockclimbing, and skiing, and has proven that having diabetes doesn’t mean the end of all of one’s dreams.
The energetic young man no longer sees living with diabetes as an obstacle, but rather a challenge.
“I’ve been racing bikes for nearly 20 years now and there are many challenges. It was very hard for me in the first few years as a diabetic to figure out how to manage my blood sugar levels. But once I worked it out, I realised that what people called barriers – like people telling me I shouldn’t be doing such strenuous activities – are not really that at all. If you love something and are willing to work hard, you’ll soon see that barriers are just chal- lenges to be overcome.”
“Also, when I’m at a race with 150 other cyclists, everyone has their own challenges, and the sport itself is a huge challenge. As a diabetic cyclist, I need to think about my blood sugar level, which other cyclists don’t have to think about. I’ve to constantly check my blood sugar levels and be aware of what I’m eating and how many calories I’m burning. I manage this through injections of insulin,” he explained.
“I’ve learned to sense when my blood sugar levels are getting low. Athletes with diabetes need to be more cautious about carrying food. That’s why my pockets are always full, especially when I’m training five to seven hours a day,” he added.
Morris, who just got married in September, said that his life dream is to “keep living a happy life with a happy wife”. “Morgan makes me happy and keeps my life in perspective. She’s very smart when it comes to nutrition and food, which has a big impact on my life. I used to eat a lot of unhealthy stuff because I thought I could just burn off the calories. But she got me thinking more about what I eat and how to manage my blood sugar levels, and she encourages me to be more disciplined in how I take care of myself.”
After three years with the cycling team, when he had the privilege of competing in races on all five continents in the world, he completed his professional career at the end of 2014.
When asked where his favourite places to cycle are, Morris, who now lives in Michigan in the United States, said he loves to cycle there. “It’s very cold and in winter, I ride special snow bikes with fat tyres. We take part in races on the snow as well.” He also loves to go biking in Tasmania as there are fewer cars there.
Morris has just completed his studies in psychology. He hopes to specialise in sports psychology and help other athletes.
His inspirational message to diabetics is: “It takes a hero to deal with diabetes, and diabetes will only ever choose a real hero.”