Kids with type 1 diabetes are used to getting a lot of questions, from “What does that tube on your pump go to?” to “What happens when you don’t feel good?” The natural curiosity of their peers often serves as a reminder of the condition they must constantly stay on top of.
Recently, the tables were turned when Sounders FC star Jordan Morris joined a roomful of type 1 diabetes patients at Seattle Children’s Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center for a special Q&A.
Morris, who has risen through the ranks of youth, collegiate and professional soccer, can relate. He also has type 1 diabetes. So, in a rare afternoon off from fielding crosses on the soccer pitch, Morris volunteered to field questions from patients and their families about living and playing with the disease.
“When I was younger, I looked up to other professional athletes with diabetes who were doing what I wanted to do, and always thought ‘if they can do it, why can’t I?’” said Morris. “I love talking to the kids. I hope I can serve as that same inspiration to them.”
‘Strong enough to handle it’
Morris learned he had diabetes when he was 9 years old.
“It was tough. It was scary. I didn’t know what it was,” said Morris as he shared his story with the young patients.
His mom remembers the drive from the hospital back to their home on Mercer Island.
“We were driving over I-90 and Jordan asks me if having diabetes meant he was going to die,” said Leslie Morris. “All he heard when the doctor told him he had diabetes was the word ‘die’ and he was scared.”
Fortunately, with today’s medical technology to monitor blood sugar levels and deliver insulin when needed, kids not only live with type 1 diabetes, but thrive. Both Morris, coming off his game-winning goal for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the Gold Cup final against Jamaica, and the kids at the Q&A, with many proudly sporting their club soccer uniforms, are a testament to this.
“As I got older, I told myself that I was given diabetes for a reason and that’s because I am strong enough to handle it,” said Morris.
The highs and lows of diabetes
Over the years, Morris has learned to tinker with his pre-game and practice nutrition routine to achieve the right balance for a high-intensity workout or full 90-minute game. He’s even worked out a special signal with a Sounders trainer to let him know that he needs a quick snack from the sidelines because his blood sugar levels have dipped too low while out on the field.
“Though it’s frustrating managing my diabetes at times, I am proud to deal with it,” said Morris. “I’ve learned to never be ashamed of having diabetes.”
Many of the kids lit up as they talked about playing soccer for one of the area’s competitive youth club teams just as Morris did as a standout youth soccer player. Hearing from Morris about how he set out to accomplish his goals of playing soccer professionally all while keeping his diabetes under control offered not only inspiration, but practical advice to the young athletes.
“My doctor told me playing sports can actually help with my diabetes,” said Anthony Johnson, 10, still processing his diagnosis the week before. “I wanted to know how he did it all since he was basically my age when he was diagnosed.”
A whole other level of soccer mom
Morris credits his parents, siblings and, later in college, his roommates and teammates, for helping him manage his diabetes while playing competitive soccer.
“As a kid, my parents were checking in on me a lot,” said Morris. “When I went away to college, I formed another group of friends and teammates who could look out for me in case of an emergency.”
Jamie Hendry spends a lot of her time shuttling her two kids to soccer practice and tournaments. Her oldest, Cameron Hendry, a type 1 diabetes patient, is becoming increasingly competitive as an outside midfielder for his Greater Seattle Surf team.
“I hover,” said Hendry. “I go to every game and practice to make sure he’s okay. Cameron plays year-round so we’re constantly searching for what works best. This past summer, I was really concerned about him playing in hot weather.”
Another mom pointed to her smartwatch tracking her son’s blood sugar levels in the top right corner.
“It’s my way of letting him be independent at soccer practice, while still knowing he’s okay,” said Lisa Alexander. “I can go for a walk nearby and it will alert me if his blood sugar dips or spikes.”
Meanwhile her son, Zane Alexander, 9, had more important things on his mind than the insulin pump silently doing its job below his right shoulder. He was eagerly waiting to have Morris, his favorite Sounders player, sign his bright blue soccer cleats.
“I put powder in them before we came, so hopefully they don’t smell,” said Alexander with a smile as Zane introduced himself to Morris.
The result? Not one, but two signed shoes and a beaming Zane who knows anything is possible.
“I liked learning about what he does during a game if he needs more insulin,” said Zane of Morris. “I look up to him and it’s cool knowing he deals with the same things I do. Maybe some day I’ll be as fast as him too.”