Charlotte Drury was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just weeks before the 2021 Olympic qualifying trials, the gymnast revealed on Instagram last week. In the post, Drury shared details about her “life-changing” diagnosis, from the initial signs that she wasn’t well to the aftershock of learning she had a chronic illness months before the Olympic Games.
Drury says she hadn’t been feeling good for months but chalked it up to stress and mental health. “I’d been feeling ‘off’ for months but wrote it off as depression linked to the struggles of living and training and going to school during a pandemic,” the 25-year-old wrote in the post.
It wasn’t until she underperformed at a Team USA training camp in March 2021 that Drury realized just how badly her health was suffering. “A month before the first Olympic trial of 2021 I knew something was wrong,” Drury wrote. “I spent the last year, busting my ass, and pushing through the hardest trainings of my life to show up at national team camp in March and watch the other girls out jump me by miles.”
Drury “finally listened to that nagging voice in my head that was telling me something was wrong,” she wrote. “Really wrong.” Right after returning from training camp, the gymnast got blood work done. Her doctor called her that night and told her she had type 1 diabetes, and that it was “urgent that I come in immediately.…I’m sorry what,” Drury wrote.
Drury was overwhelmed by her diagnosis—especially with the timing. With the first Olympic trial just weeks away, Drury stopped training and resigned to skipping the Olympics while she learned how to live with the disease. “I didn’t go into practice for a week. I didn’t even consider continuing with gym,” Drury wrote. “This felt insurmountable and terrifying and there was just no way I could figure out how to manage a life-changing diagnosis and get into Olympic shape in time for the first trial in 3 weeks.”
But Drury pressed on and credits coach Logan Dooley for helping her stay in the competition. “If it wasn’t for the unwavering support from @dooleylogan and my complete trust in him, I would’ve walked away for sure,” Drury wrote. “But with his, and so many others, help, I started to figure out how to manage it and decided to give everything I had to the sport in the little bit of time I had left.”
Now it’s three months later and Drury has gotten a handle on life as a person with type 1 diabetes, which is the less common autoimmune form of the disease that requires intensive blood sugar management and insulin therapy.
Type 1 diabetes develops when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the cells in their pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone that helps the sugar in the food get into your body’s cells to be used as energy, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) explains. Experts think type 1 diabetes might be caused by a combination of genes and an environmental trigger (such as a viral illness). It makes up about 5% of all diabetes cases in the U.S. and most commonly occurs in children and young adults, according to the NIDDK.
Without insulin, your body’s blood sugar levels can rise dangerously high, which is why people with type 1 diabetes need to take synthetic insulin via injections or an insulin pump. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can include fatigue, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, blurred vision, and increased hunger.
Drury has learned what she needs to do to manage the disease, and has significantly reduced her HbA1C—and “not to mention learned what an a1c even was,” she wrote. The blood test measures a person’s average blood sugar levels over the previous three months, and helps indicate to doctors how well a person’s diabetes is being controlled, the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains.
In the Instagram caption, Drury shouts out her continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and is wearing the small device on her arm in the photo. CGMs constantly track blood sugar levels and can alert people with diabetes when their blood sugar is trending high (requiring insulin) or low (requiring sugar), as well as capture blood sugar data that can help guide treatment adjustments. Drury said she has “became someone who carries a backpack full of juice boxes everywhere I go,” referring to the fact that people with type 1 diabetes need to consume fast-absorbing sugar when their blood sugar levels drop low below the normal range.
In addition to learning how to manage her disease, Drury, who will be the women’s trampoline alternate at the Tokyo Olympics, has discovered just how resilient she is. “Words can’t describe how hard this year has been,” she wrote. “But through all the adversity I’m most proud of myself for not giving up. I found out that I’m tougher than I think I am.”
While taking care of type 1 diabetes is round-the-clock hard work, having a good treatment team, support system, and access to medical technology (like CGMs) can help people manage their blood sugar levels and live totally full lives—and even compete in the Olympics.
After Japan, Drury is ready to head “to god knows where next, because there’s an entire world out there to see!!” she wrote on Instagram. “And shit happens but we don’t have to let the hard things stop us…sometimes we just have to allow them to (aggressively) guide us in new directions.”