It is a team with a difference and one trying to make a difference, too. When the six riders from Team Novo Nordisk take part in the Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix on Wednesday (July 10), they will be pushing their pedals and pushing to improve the lives of those living with diabetes.
All Team Novo Nordisk riders are diabetics themselves, and their goal is to inspire and empower the estimated 371 million people worldwide who face the challenges that accompany the metabolic disease. At the same time, these elite athletes are out to prove that diabetes doesn’t have to slow people down—whether in a professional road race or in their daily routine.
“There are absolutely no limitations,” Sébastien Sasseville—a Team Novo member and world-class triathlete who won’t be racing but will be here to fly the flag—tells the Georgia Straight in a telephone interview from Quebec City. “Type 1 diabetes is another layer of complexity when you want to compete against the finest athletes in the world. If your diabetes is perfectly managed, if your blood glucose is right where it should be, then we’re even with other athletes. But maintaining that balance is a lot easier said than done.”
The team is sponsored primarily by Novo Nordisk, a Denmark-based global health-care and pharmaceutical company that specializes in diabetes care.
Sasseville says that a team composed entirely of diabetics serves as a terrific support group for all of the Novo racers. They share the same challenges and understand what other team members are dealing with. On good days, they’re able to motivate each other; in tough times, they can lend support.
And the sharing of information on race preparation and how best to deal with diabetes is a key to making Team Novo Nordisk racers as competitive as possible.
“Every athlete has a different strategy,” Sasseville explains. “The team certainly doesn’t push one regimen or any particular strategy. Some athletes will test [their blood-sugar levels] during a race and others will just trust their strategies. But these athletes work as hard as possible to manage their diabetes so that come race day they can put things on autopilot: they know exactly what they’re going to eat and when they’re going to eat it and then trust that their plan is going to work.”
The hope is that through shared feedback, Team Novo riders will continue to refine their approach to race day so that they can worry about being as fast as possible and not devote more time and energy than necessary to dealing with diabetes. The riders all recognize the reality of the disease, but they see themselves as world-class racers dealing successfully with their issues and want the race community to see them the same way. In no way are Team Novo riders looking for sympathy; they want nothing more than the respect of their fellow competitors.
And the ultimate goal of Team Novo Nordisk is to have enough success in races like the one in Gastown to reach the highest level of racing.
“The team is investing in research and believes in the guys, and the guys are hoping to make it to the Tour de France,” Sasseville says. “It means a lot in psychological support, and it means a lot in terms of allowing athletes to do what they love to do. When you give an athlete what they need to be top- level, we’re incredibly proud to be able to reach out to people living with diabetes and be agents of change.”
Sasseville, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2002, has scaled Mount Everest and crossed the Sahara Desert in an effort to prove that anything is possible. He says it’s both obvious and gratifying for Team Novo members to see the difference they’re making wherever they go.
He looks forward to spreading his message of hope during the Gastown Grand Prix.
“We get emails all the time from patients and health-care professionals, and one of the most beautiful emails I have ever received was from a mother who thanked us for giving her her daughter back because she was so inspired by what we are doing that she decided to take control of her diabetes and basically took control of her life again,” he says. “That is our paycheque. That’s what makes us feel the best. There is a lot of work that has been done, but there is still so much more work still to be done.”
Team Novo Nordisk will have an information tent set up near the finish line on race day, and Sasseville will be speaking at the Westin Grand hotel on Monday (July 8). He wants to show people that a diabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to slow them down. And if they don’t believe him, he wants the doubters to see his Team Novo teammates in motion as they speed through the cobblestone streets of Gastown, giving it everything they’ve got in an effort to win.
“We hold public events at the races so that patients can come and hear about the team, be inspired by the team, connect with the athletes, ask questions, and share stories,” Sasseville says. “We’re all learning. We don’t know it all. But we’re in this together.”
There is strength in numbers, and Team Novo Nordisk is certainly proof of that. These world-class racers provide plenty of pedal power and a powerful message of courage, strength, and determination.
On July 10, the Novo racers will be trying to win a race. But every day, these athletes are giving their all to win something much greater: an ongoing battle against a disease that affects millions.