My dad, David Smith, was a very talented runner.
A two-time CIS (now U SPORT) national cross-country champion in the 1970s, he was one of the first inductees into the York University athletic Hall of Fame. He turned down an NCAA scholarship from Stanford to stay in Canada and enjoyed much running success at home.
Despite being an elite runner, my dad experienced many health issues in his 30s that led to him going blind in one eye and eventually being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He was an elite athlete. He watched what he ate and lived well. Still, type two diabetes didn’t discriminate, and hit him hard. With the demands of three kids, a full-time job, poor vision, and other life commitments, running was no longer a priority.
If it can happen to him, pictured below, it can happen to anyone.
There’s a common misconception that type 2 diabetes only affects people that are overweight. But the reality is it can affect anyone, even people of all shapes and sizes. Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which your body cannot make enough insulin (a hormone that helps control the amount of glucose or sugar in your blood), or does not properly use the insulin it makes. It is caused by several different risk factors and type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 percent of diabetes cases in Canada.
Since I have a genetic history of diabetes, I am regularly screened for diabetes by my doctor. I am a runner in her thirties and physically fit, pictured up top. But I’ve seen the unpredictable nature of this condition up close—and take no chances.
Even if you’re a runner, you could be one of the 1.7 million Canadians estimated to have type 2 diabetes—and not know it. Some diabetes risk factors can be managed or reduced, while other factors may be beyond your control. For example, you have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you are over the age of 40, or if you have a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes. Your ethnic background is also a factor: being of African, Arab, Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous, or South Asian descent can increase your risk of living with type 2 diabetes.
So what can we do? Decreasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes involves making lifestyle changes. Eating healthy and moving more are some of the most effective things you can do to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Running is an ideal form of exercise for people with diabetes as it helps improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin. This can be especially useful for people with type 2 diabetes to help combat insulin resistance.
I am thankful to have inherited my dad’s good run genes and passion for running as I also ran collegiately at the NCAA level and continue to run well into adulthood (fortunately without type 2 diabetes). I am also grateful to be able to coach runners and give back to the community that has given me so much through the popular Toronto-based running group BlackToe.
I also want to share with my community as much as I can about type 2 diabetes. We can raise money and awareness and share what we know.
According to Diabetes Canada, one in three people across the country are living with diabetes or prediabetes. No matter who you are, learn more at diabetes.ca and for those interested, check out this old iRun magazine cover with an amazing feature on a young man with diabetes—like my father’s story, this is an issue that needs to be told.