Stephanie McKenzie is determined to prove that having diabetes will not stop her achieving. The 20-year-old West Aucklander, who is a type 1 diabetic on an insulin pump, has been turning heads this year on cycling tracks around the world.
Now a Massey University student, McKenzie started track cycling aged 11 through the Peter Snell Institute of Sport and recently won the sprint title and the Pro-Women's UCI keirin final in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, as part of Team Novo Nordisk.
Since being diagnosed with diabetes on July 23, 2001, she has medalled at major events such as the 2010 and 2011 junior worlds and the 2012 NZ nationals. McKenzie was one of 24 riders, male and female, across all track disciplines, who assembled last week in Invercargill for a BikeNZ Camp. She is training for the NZ nationals in March and has her eye on making the team for the Commonwealth Games which will be announced in April. We caught up with the determined athlete who is a shining light for diabetes sufferers.
Back in 2001 you were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes - what do you remember about that and how did you think it would affect your life?
No one in the family knew what type 1 diabetes was or what needed to be done so it didn't just affect me, it affected my whole family and also the people involved in my life - friends, teachers, coaches, classmates etc. I was only 8 so I wasn't sure what I wanted to do in my life. I just had to overcome this challenge and I have grown up with it. I was lucky to get it at the age of 8 as I could learn about it, rather than be a teenager in denial.
What has life been like since then?
As a kid I was connected to other diabetics who made me feel normal, now it is part of me and I have accepted this is it for the rest of my life. Of course I have had my ups and downs but that's just life. I feel like I can overcome challenges or "issues" in my cycling career quickly. I know my body better. I have learned to listen to my body and know what it needs and doesn't need to control my blood sugars. I suppose I have become a worrier because of type 1 diabetes because of how much could go wrong at any time so I need to make sure I am organised.
What is a typical day like for you?
My day starts the night before. Testing my sugars before I go to bed, adjust them if need be by eating something or giving insulin. This will then stabilise my blood sugars for the next day as I wake up. I test again when I wake up at 8am, adjust if need be then I have my daily oats, sultanas, nuts, seeds and yoghurt to get my day started. Each day I have either a track or gym session starting at 10am so I make sure I have eaten my Oats 90 to 120 minutes beforehand. I test my blood sugars during and after my sessions - it's all about fine tuning 24/7 to keep my blood sugar levels (BSL) level. Every time I eat I give myself insulin.
What do you enjoy about track cycling?
I kept on cycling as a young kid because I was getting that success I never had as a gymnast. I raced the boys and beat them in the sprint events and went to my first national champs as a 12-year-old and got a bronze medal. I wanted more. I enjoy the adrenaline rush we get reaching 60+ km. With the adrenaline comes another price, my blood sugar levels rise so before going into a race I would be testing up to five times within a minute to ensure my BSL were stable. Cycling has also taken me around the world. Thanks to my parents putting the costs back on to the mortgage I have been able to get that experience you need to be a successful cyclist.
Your Pennsylvania win must have been special, talk us through it.
I travelled to Trexlertown - 'TTown' - representing Team Novo Nordisk in America for the first time. Adapting to the track was a challenge but I rode a smaller gear which suited me and I think that is why I was able to win as the other girls rode big gears. I was pretty lucky to take the last win as I got stuck in last position and left it until half a lap to go to start coming round the small bunch. If I had raced like that at nationals or a world cup I would not have won. But the most pleasing thing about the win and also winning all of the sprint events was showing people that having diabetes does not stop you from achieving.
How much are you training at the moment as you build towards the nationals in February?
I train every day but Sundays, so that's my personal admin and fluff-around day. Every other day I have two sessions, either a track or gym session, then recovery rollers in the afternoon or an erg session. I am able to fit this in with work [World Health & Fitness] and my studying timetable.
You live a busy life with work, study and training - how does diabetes affect that?
I just have to be very well organised with planning my meals and also making sure I have spare consumables and have enough insulin to last me for the day. Once I got a routine going everything started to flow nicely and my day is also structured around meal times thankfully given to me by my nutritionist, Aimee Burns - having that meal structure helps to keep my BSL level, less spikes and low BSLs.
What are your goals in the sport?
My short-term goals are to medal in all events at the Oceanias, retain my sprint and team sprint titles at nationals. My medium-term goal is to go to the Commonwealths and finish top 8 in all events. My ultimate goal is to attend the 2016, 2020 and maybe the 2024 Olympic Games. After my cycling career I want to apply for the NZ Police College to set more challenges for myself and also apply for Teachers College. What advice do you offer to other people who have diabetes and want to pursue a sporting career?
I respect everyone who lives with type 1 diabetes but it does come down to each individual to make a choice whether they want to achieve their goals or not. It is only them who can stop themselves from achieving great things. If you want to achieve something, whether it is a sporting or business career, you need to do the hard yards to make it work. In the end all that hard work will pay off and you will get what you deserve - diabetic or non-diabetic!
Diabetes diagnosis: July 23, 2001
* 2010 Junior worlds, Italy (silver in the team sprint)
* 2011 Junior worlds, Russia (x2 silvers, keirin and sprints and bronze in the team sprint)
* 2012 medal at the New Zealand nationals, signed up for Denmark-based Team Novo Nordisk (track)
* 2013 crowned New Zealand Women's Sprint champion, won the sprint title and UCI Pro women's UCI Keirin (under the Team Novo Nordisk umbrella)