It would be easy for Kelly Berkey to call it quits. The aches and pains endured while training and competing in triathlons is hard enough on the body. But for someone with Type 1 diabetes, the landscape is completely different.
It’s a condition the Pitt Meadows mother of two has lived with for the past 31 years.
On average, she checks and regulates her insulin levels 15 times a day. To compete at an elite level takes a discipline most simply don’t have.
But for Berkey, motivation is a heartbeat away. Her eight-year-old son Tayten, who plays lacrosse, also battles with Type 1 diabetes.
“He is totally my motivation,” Berkey says as she wipes a tear from her eye. “Whenever I’ve hit that hard part where I feel I could be done, I literally see his little face and see what he will face in his life and I want him to know he can do anything he puts his mind to. Not just tell him, but show him he can do anything.”
Berkey, who describes herself as someone who has always loved athletics, decided little more than two years ago that she would take on the challenge of the Iron Mountain triathlon in Maple Ridge. But the biggest question facing her was how? With Type 1 diabetes, would Berkey be able to regulate her blood sugar over the gruelling 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-km ride and 10-km run facing her?
As a child growing up in Peterborough, Ont., Berkey spent her summers travelling to Huntsville, where she attended Camp Huronda. The 110-acre refuge specialized in dealing with kids with Type 1 diabetes, something she says made a huge difference in her life. “As a kid, just knowing there were other people out there like me made all the difference.”
So as she approached the idea of pushing her body to what would seem an inconceivable limit, she reached out and found another support system to help her cross the finish line. Berkey’s research led her to a support group called Insulindependence, Its goal is to help diabetics find strategies to managing their fitness goals.
For Berkey, it was like finding a long-lost friend.
“That diabetes connection was back in my life. I realized what I had missed all those years. That community of people who know exactly what you are talking about.”
Berkey says she was able to connect with a number of elite athletes, a number of whom had competed in marathons. The idea was to understand the science of fuel for the body, when and what to eat so her blood sugar would be stabilized while racing.
“Food isn’t food to me, it’s a calculation. A bowl of strawberries in 10 grams of carbs, a sandwich is 24 grams,” she notes.
So Berkey discovered a special shake used for people with hypoglycemia that enables her to not only compete, but to challenge for top spot.
Despite a brutal start at the Iron Mountain event, where a kick in the water almost derailed her dreams and saw her leave the water second to last, Berkey more than made up time in the bike and swim portion, finishing fourth overall, and third in the women’s division. That result reaffirmed her desire to continue on, to prove to herself, but more importantly to her son Tayten, that life with diabetes can be a long and healthy adventure.
“He and I could have it far worse. Type 1 diabetes is the only medical condition that is 100 per cent in your control. You decide how healthy you want to be, how long you want to live by how well you control your diabetes.”
Berkey is amazed by how some people react when they find out she competes at a high level while battling the disease. However, she refuses to let anyone, or anything, slow her or Tayten down.