Ginger Vieira’s path from a 13 year taking her first insulin shot to a champion athlete surprises even herself. “Ten years ago, if you told me I could set 15 powerlifting records as a person with diabetes, I would’ve laughed!” Yet she did it. Ginger set fifteen records in drug-tested powerlifting. While proud of the records it is the joy of learning and practice that leaded to her achievements that she loves. In her new book, “Your Diabetes Science Experiment,” Ms. Vieira shares her process of setting and achieving goals to live successfully with diabetes.
Ginger draws parallels between her athletic training and managing diabetes. One key similarity is setting goals. She break up challenges into steps then starts to take those steps. In this way a record isn’t one championship lift, it is the art of refining technique and enjoying the how each phase of training feels. Diabetes isn’t a life of shots, it is learning to experiment with management to, as she says in the subtitles of her book, “Live your life with diabetes, instead of letting diabetes live your life.”
Type 1 diabetes is disease in which the cells that make insulin are destroyed by the body’s immune system. Insulin is needed to get energy from the food a person eats into the cells of their body. Without the ability to make their own insulin a person with type will require insulin injections everyday for the rest of their lives.
Some of what Ginger learned about diabetes came from a classmate, ‘I diagnosed myself at my 7th grade heath fair,” she explained. “A boy in my class did a poster on diabetes. I read it and said, ‘I’m everything listed on his board.’ My mom didn’t believe it. A week later I was in the hospital.”
Those first days Ginger was overwhelmed by diabetes and self care. She remember crying in the hospital and still recalls the feeling of intimidation when her doctor first asked her to give herself an insulin shot. “She just told me, ‘You’re gonna do it.’ I thought she was crazy but I did it,” Ginger said.
That shot was an early accomplishment but she, like many with diabetes dealt with misconceptions from others. As a youth she enjoyed activities but her participation in organized sports stopped not long after her diabetes diagnosis. Ginger recalls her basketball coach would make off hand comments about her condition. “I noticed that if the coach saw me test my blood I would be kept out of the games.”
Her experience with coaching changed. Following the feelings of successfully taking control of her heath in college Ginger became more serious about lifting. In the summer before her senior year of college she challenged herself to get healthier. “I cleaned up my diet, stopped drinking and started working out.” After a a few weeks at the gym. She loved the way she felt and felt empowered by those feeling. She also found the amount of insulin she required decreasing. She still needed insulin but less of it.
Ginger hired a personal trainer and fell in love with weight lifting. Through lifting she found a new feeling of control of her health. Her trainer was familiar with diabetes form his physiology background. He challenged her to understand how her blood glucose levels impacted training. She began to discover relationships blood sugars and desired results. Ginger began tracking these relationships and how different types of exercise led to different outcomes.
She learned high blood sugars prevented recovery and building muscle. Aerobic and anaerobic activity, which describe different exercises in terms of oxygen use, effected sugar levels different. This has implications for successful training. Ginger explains these differences and more in her book. She also provides guidance to improve both athletic and diabetes control outcomes.
The Diabetes Online Community's favorite Diet Coke addict, Scott Johnson had lived with type 1 diabetes for three decades before finding motivation working with Ginger as a coach. “It’s easy to think that her coaching is all about exercise and fitness,” he said. Yet only one of the three goals he set working with her was about exercise. The other two were about balance in diet and insulin use. Scott says that as he broke down steps around his diet and insulin balance goals he uncovered anger about the amount of effort he faced, as a diabetic, around food. His appreciation of these deep emotions helped Johnson progress toward his exercise, eating and insulin goals. Ginger’s coaching of Scott follows the lessons she learned on her own journey. Through her book Vieira coaches diabetics to systematically experiment their way to success.
Learn more at Living In Progress, ginger web site. While you are there check out her video series.