Liv­ing the dream

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ADVENTURE - Ming Teoh –

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.”

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