Weeks after helping the Miami Heat defeat the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, guard Ray Allen is facing off against a different kind of opponent: diabetes.
Earlier today, Allen was in Washington, D.C., to lobby members of Congress to continue funding type 1 diabetes research. Allen's son Walker was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 17 months old. Since then Allen, his wife, Walker, and Walker's four siblings have fought to keep the disease under control while also supporting groups searching for a cure.
Walker is now 6 years old and a member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Children's Congress. He joined his dad in Washington and testified before the Senate on why it's important to keep dedicating money to diabetes research.
Allen spoke with Sports Illustrated Kids before talking to Congress about type 1 diabetes, how his family has dealt with the disease and the impact it has had on his son.
How much did you know about type 1 diabetes before your son was diagnosed with it?
I can't say I knew a lot about it. When I found out that he had diabetes, I looked it up immediately because I wanted to know how this was going to affect him long term, what was the downside of it. So many people reached out to us and made sure we felt that we were comfortable, that we felt we had a place to go and people to talk to. And so after a couple of days we kind of had a grasp of it, but even still to this day we're stilling dealing with making sure we take care of our son.
What kinds of things did you search out to learn more about the disease?
The JDRF has been a huge resource because they do so much in making sure that we have a place where we have the doctors available. They've funded so much research and make sure our son has the best medicine and the best equipment so we can handle his everyday affairs.
But I'll add, to take care of my son Walker, it takes everybody. His brothers look out for him, his aunts, his uncles, his grandmothers, his grandfathers -- he has so many people who look out for him. And his biggest advocate is his mother. She's the one that's connected to him, tied to him at the hip at all times. She makes sure that this guy stays alive and she's the one who loses all the sleep when I'm traveling and on the road.
Walker is a member of the JDRF Children's Congress. What have you learned from him since he's been a part of that?
He's an exceptional son. He just has a spirit about him, regardless of what he has to deal with everyday separate from his brothers. He has a responsibility factor about him that he understands what it is that he's dealing with, and just seeing him around other kids you can tell he has a sense of purpose and he goes about that in his daily routine to make sure he does his job and he stays on track. That's one thing I've learned about him through this whole time. He's a strong kid and he's only going to get stronger.
Does your son play sports?
He plays basketball.
Oh, cool. Do you ever shoot around with him?
All the time. I watch him play during the year, when I'm home. We have a hoop in the yard, a hoop in the house. He shoots all the time. He plays video games and he tells me who we're playing next during the season because the video game always tells him. I've said he's very addicted to it because it's something he feels like he wants to do when he grows up.
How has having type 1 diabetes impacted Walker as a kid who likes to play sports?
We have to watch him when he's out there because sometimes he doesn't even feel it. You have extreme lows, and during exercise adrenaline can shoot his blood sugar through the roof because he's so active and running around. But then there's a moment where he's doing so much that it can drop extremely low once he comes down and we just have to watch him. We got to make sure we keep the right food on board for him and keep the snacks available so he continues to have the energy.
For kids living with T1D or for kids who have friends who might be diabetic, what can they do to stay healthy and active while also keeping the disease under control?
Eat the right foods, that's the most important thing. One of the things I hear from kids I know who have diabetes, and even adults who have it, and not only people with diabetes but people in general that are trying to lose weight, the hardest thing that they deal with is when they travel, trying to find an opportunity to eat the right foods. Fast foods end up being the only option, and when that's the case you end up eating just to get yourself going. So what we stress is when you travel, take food with you. Put stuff in your bag like nuts and raisins, have fruit with you. So if you ever get caught where you're stranded in the airport or you're stranded in a car for a long time, you have food that's good to eat that doesn't force you to eat poorly.
We also have to make sure that we keep continuing to stop bullying in schools because kids need to know that there are kids who are dealing with so many issues around our schools. Kids get to an age where they feel like it's not cool to get shots and they almost want to stop taking shots in front of their friends. But we've got to make sure these kids understand it and that they encourage their friends who have diabetes to make sure they continue to take shots and they continue to take care of their diabetes because it's life threatening if they don't.
Check out the Sports Illustrated Kids blog for more with Ray Allen, his experience playing with the Heat and the Big Three and winning his second NBA title!
Photo: Ray Allen and his son Walker (courtesy JDRF)