Arkie Profile | Austin Dixon
I first met Austin on a group ride that I organize. I have seen him out on rides before but this time I noticed a little wire sticking out of his pocket and some kind of gadget under his shorts. Me being a gear geek I thought it might be some new kind of power meter. So I asked him about it. As it turns out Austin has type 1 diabetes and this gadget monitors his insulin levels and feeds the information to his watch so he can easily check his levels on rides. We started talking about it and I realized a couple things. Number one, I didn’t know much about type 1 diabetes and number two, Austin has another level of challenges on the bike and in life. Austin is 16 years old and loves riding and racing his bike. He also has taken on the cause of raising awareness for Juvenile Diabetes and for raising money to find a cure for this disease. Take a moment and get to know Austin.
OCA: How did you discover cycling?
Austin: I had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes for about 6 months and I received a book called “Not Dead Yet” by Phil Southerland. The book is an autobiography of Phil Southerland, a professional cyclist living and racing with type 1 diabetes. For the first time since diagnosis I realized my disease doesn’t have to hinder my life. I just have to work harder to overcome. For some reason the story of cycling and how Phil pushed himself to new limits really inspired me. I was intrigued by cycling and from the moment I finished the book I talked about cycling constantly. I was 11 years old at the time. I guess I finally wore my mother down and for my 13th birthday she bought me my first road bike. Of course, road bikes are expensive and she could only pay half. I had been saving for a bike since I read the book, so I paid the other half. I’ve been on my bike ever since.
OCA: What inspires you to turn the pedals?
Austin: Every pedal stroke is just another step forward for me. Each time I turn the pedals I raise awareness and show those living with type 1 anything is possible. Type 1 diabetics constantly hear daily what we cannot do or what we will never be able to do. Extreme exercise and sports is exceptionally difficult with the disease. Every time I ride, I’m not riding for me, I am riding for everyone else. There is so much that goes with this disease. Honestly, no one really gets it, besides those that are directly affected. So, when someone sees me riding or hears my story I hope they can see type 1 doesn’t have to be your worst enemy, you just have to learn how to find the positive. Type 1 lead me to cycling which lead me to changing the face of this disease and inspiring others, that is the positive for me. I know I am only 16 years old and most people spend a lifetime looking for their purpose, but this is what I am supposed to do. This is why type 1 chose me.
OCA: Before a typical training ride or race what are some of the things you are thinking about before jumping on the bike.
Austin: Everything going through my head is probably completely different from most. I am thinking tactics and sizing up the other riders of course, but those thoughts are actually last minute for me. I have to first think about my disease. I actually have to think 24/7 about riding and racing. I can never just jump on the bike without tons of prep. Exercise drops my blood sugar naturally so I have to make sure I have the right amount of carbs and hydration in me and in my pockets. This requires always knowing my body and how hard I will be riding and hoping I can somewhat figure out what my body might do and what it needs. It is a constant tight rope walk. If my blood sugar drops during a ride I cannot perform I have to slow down and then when my blood sugar is high, my muscles start to shut down and cramp. I have to maintain tight control. I am continuously watching my blood sugar prior to riding and trying to get prepared for what is to come. Thinking about every little detail of the route and the pace goes into my planning. Lots and lots of planning. Honestly, everything affects my disease and my disease affects everything, so fine tuning and thinking ahead is key. With all of that said, I still have bad days. Many other riders probably have noticed some days I am on and some days I just don’t have it. That’s just part of it. It is a disease I can only try to manage but can never control.
OCA: Tell us about when you were diagnosed with type 1.
Austin: December 7, 2009 is the day my life changed forever. It was just a few weeks before my 11th birthday. I had been feeling tired, really thirsty, and weak for about a week or so. I thought maybe I just had a virus. Over the weekend I became more tired and was using the bathroom a lot. My mom kept asking me if I was OK, but I am not one to complain, so I would reply I was fine. Sunday night I began drinking gallons of liquid, yet showing signs of dehydration. First thing in the next morning my mom took me to the doctor. I remember telling my mom on the way “I don’t think I am going to make it” (the irony here is I push myself to crazy limits-making me a perfect cyclist or at least in my head). Anyway, I remember going in to the doctor which happened to be around the time the swine flu panic was huge. I looked around the waiting room and everyone covered their noses when they looked at me. I had lost 28 lbs and was literally dying of dehydration. I guess I looked pretty bad. My mom describes it as me looking like a skeleton with skin stretched over my bones. It all happened so fast. I was in what is called Diabetic Ketoacidosis or DKA. Without insulin your body can not take in carbs, so everything just flushes out no matter what you take in. Once DKA sets in, the body is trying to respond to having no insulin by sending out acids or ketones which actually are slowly killing the organs. The doctor took one look at me and checked my blood sugar. My blood sugar would not read on the meter because the meter can only read up to 500. The doctor sent me straight to ICU. I do not remember much after that besides being carried to the hospital because at this point I couldn’t walk. Then being hooked up to machines and hoping it would just be over soon whatever was going to happen. At that point it was more of an out-of-body experience for me, which could be due to being high-my blood sugar that is. Later in the day a nurse came in my room asking if they had told us my blood sugar reading from the blood work. The nurse sounded shocked when she said 1285. I remember wondering if that was good or not. I had no idea a normal blood sugar is around 100. I am the highest on record that my doctor has seen, well third highest but the two above me did not survive. Most people freak out when they hear my story of how I should be dead and all, but for me it is just another one of those things of why I was chosen by the disease. The extreme diagnosis shows how much I have and can endure. I use my story to raise awareness and inspire. It all happens for a reason. If I was supposed to be dead, I would’ve been. But guess what I am not and I am here to kick ass (please put butt or something inspiring here or my mom will kill me).
OCA: What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
Austin: Type 1 is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. This means no insulin is produced and glucose stays in the blood, damaging all the organ systems. I am insulin dependent, without it I die. There is no cure and it is 24/7. I have to take insulin for every carb I eat no matter if it is an apple or a donut. YES-I can have sugar. I have to constantly check my blood sugar and monitor everything I do. Everything affects my disease, from stress to the weather. I wear an insulin pump, take injections, and also wear a continuous glucose monitor to help me manage a disease I cannot control. They are unaware of the cause of type 1 and it is not one’s fault if they are diagnosed. There is no avoiding type 1 if the disease chooses you.
Type 2 diabetes is from the body ignoring the insulin or making too little of it. However, type 2 comes from a few different causes including, poor diet, family history, and little exercise. Type 2 diabetics can control their disease by eating a better diet and exercising. Sometimes they can even cure the disease with a better lifestyle. Both diseases deal with insulin and the pancreas, just in very different ways. Most of the time, type 2 can be avoided completely.
OCA: Tell us about Banded Suffering the charity ride your team started benefiting JDRF.
Austin: My team and I wanted a way to raise awareness and money for JDRF. JDRF is the biggest charity involved in searching for a cure and a better lifestyle for those living with type 1. Banded Suffering was born. Brad Schrag actually created the initial event. The event is designed to not only raise awareness and money though. It is a full circle event; meaning we want to bring in cyclists from all around, build community, support local businesses, and give participants a way to be part of something that is bigger than them. This event gives 100% of proceeds to JDRF. We also wanted an event that anyone and everyone could take part in; from families to hard core cyclists. We have routes ranging from 6-125 miles and this year thanks to OCA, we are adding a gravel route option. It is a fully supported ride with rest stops, pre ride breakfast and coffee, post ride meal and beer samples. It is honestly a great event for a great cause with great potential for future growth.
OCA: Best day on the bike?
Austin: When I was 14, I participated in a JDRF Ride to Cure in Tahoe. It is a destination event ride that national JDRF organizes. I had raised $4000 just to participate. I was nervous because the course is pretty intense with over 8000 feet of climbing, at high elevation. I was the only junior rider and one of very few type 1 riders. But I have to say it was the most memorable experience I have ever had. Looking behind me and seeing thousands of other riders behind me all riding for the same reason-we all want a cure. We were all connected and in a way everyone there was riding for me. The course was breathtaking and it was amazing to be part of something bigger than myself. I have raced many races and train daily, but nothing really compares when you are riding for a bigger purpose.
OCA: Worst day on the bike?
Austin: I cannot really pinpoint one particular day. I have had a lot of bad days. Type 1 really sucks!
OCA: Favorite route?
Austin: I would have to say the Whitehouse loop. I like to throw some extra climbs in there to make it burn a bit. Call me crazy, but I enjoy a little pain on the bike.
OCA: Favorite thing to eat after a hard race or ride?
Austin: Whatever my team manager aka my mom has prepared for me. If you haven’t met her, then let me explain. My mom is always right there supporting me and helping me. We actually don’t eat packaged or processed food-(she is a little crazy), so she is always making different ride food and making sure I have what I need on and off the bike so I can perform at my best. She actually figured how to make homemade gels and gel blocks. She always has some kind of protein concoction waiting for me after riding. I think it is best for me to just say I love whatever is made for me cause my mom will probably read this. Thank you mother!
I tried to think back to when I was sixteen and the things I cared about. Well…lets just leave that story untold. Austin has been faced with a life threatening disease and has learned to manage it. At the same time he loves to participate in a very difficult sport and continues to overcome the hurdles that wait for him everyday. The people I meet riding bikes never ceases to amaze me. I have learned a lot in this interview and have been inspired all the same. A big thanks to Austin for taking the time.