Though he couldn’t put a finger on what it was, Sam Walls knew something was wrong with him last winter.
Walls, then a junior at Whiteland, would head to swim practices feeling just fine — and midway through, out of nowhere, he’d hit a wall. On some days, it was a struggle just to get dressed again after workouts.
“I came out of football and started swimming, and it was just like none of the pieces fit together,” he said. “It was like I was missing a gear when I’d start swimming. I’d hit that top end and it would just stop and cut off.”
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Warriors coach Marci Whitford said that she and Walls experimented with different ways to get him out of the rut, but nothing worked.
“We tried changing the way he trained. We changed his stroke. We changed all different things,” Whitford said. “He swam really well, but not as well as we were hoping for him to swim.”
Shortly after his season ended at the sectional meet with a seventh-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle and an eighth-place showing in the 100 freestyle, Walls remembers spending most of his spring break just sitting around at home and drinking a lot of water but not noticing any effects on his body.
When he returned to school, Walls got changed for his first-period aquatics class and his teacher quickly noticed that his suit wasn’t fitting him properly. He immediately went to get blood work done, and by day’s end he was at Riley Hospital for Children.
Walls was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
He admits to being in a constant state of worry at first, always making sure he had his insulin and his glucose meter with him at all times. He also had to make some big lifestyle changes when it came to his diet.
“My mom calls us grazers at my house,” Walls said. “We’ll just kind of float around, and we’ll eat all day. Well, now I’ve got to bunch my meals up a little bit more. So it took some getting used to — getting all my meals in, getting everything counted and measured out.”
Walls took the spring and summer off from training for swimming, largely because he wanted to get fully acclimated to his new routine. He did go through summer football conditioning and made it through the fall on the gridiron without any trouble, making 22 tackles for the Warriors.
That experience helped to ease Walls’ anxiety heading into his senior season in the pool.
“Trying to go back into sports was a little worrisome, because I didn’t know how I was going to take it,” Walls said. “What was going to happen if I happened to crash during practice or if I spiked and was too high. Just that fear of the unknown at first was what really threw me off.”
He’s more confident now, and it’s showing. Walls won the 50 freestyle in 23.27 seconds against Decatur Central, and two days later he helped the Warriors edge a solid Indian Creek team in a three-way meet at home on Nov. 30, swimming on a victorious 200 freestyle relay and finishing second in the 50 and 100 freestyles (losing the 50 by a hundredth of a second).
Whitford has been able to tell a difference.
“He’s actually swimming way faster now at this time of the season than he was last year at this time of the season,” she said.
Though Walls has been doing well thus far, maintaining the proper level of blood sugar is a constant balancing act that he’s still learning to deal with. He keeps Gatorade and water with him every day at practice — one to keep him high enough and the other to keep him from going too high.
He says it’s something he’s just had to learn to adjust as he goes through his day based not only on what his monitor says, but also what his body tells him.
“It’s kind of a body feeling. If I feel kind of faint, a little light-headed, a little dizzy, I’ll hop out and check my blood sugar,” Walls said. “If I’m good, I’ll hop back in and roll with it. If not, then I’m going out into the office, getting a candy bar or some Skittles or something, then hopping back in after a little bit once I’ve gotten my sugar back up.”
At the pool, Whitford keeps a Tupperware container in her office for Walls, fully loaded up with different types of snacks for different situations. She notes that the early season has been a bit of a feeling-out process for both of them as far as figuring out when he needs to eat or test his blood sugar or take a short break, but that Walls’ training program generally isn’t any different than it would have been if he wasn’t diabetic.
The senior has goals that he’s looking to reach in the postseason, and they haven’t been adjusted just because his lifestyle has.
“There’s nothing that’s going to hold us back,” Whitford said. “We’re not changing any of that.”
Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes is the more severe form of diabetes. It is also known as juvenile diabetes because it develops most often in children and teens.
With Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system mistakenly sees the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as foreign and attacks them. Insulin allows your cells to turn glucose into energy, and without it the glucose builds up in the blood instead.
If high blood sugar goes untreated, it can lead to damage in the eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart, and could even potentially lead to coma or death.
Type 1 diabetics need to track their blood sugar levels regularly and take insulin injections to maintain a balance, not allowing levels to get too high or too low.