Sanford helps diabetic athletes deal with type 1 challenges

Diabetes means everyday discipline, says pro football prospect Chad Muma

A 22-year-old football player puffs out his cheeks while completing drills on the field at Sanford POWER in Irvine, California.

A daunting and complex collection of challenges awaited 13-year-old Chad Muma after he learned he had type 1 diabetes.

At that age, a kid tends to simplify when possible, so shortly after learning about his diagnosis he went home to find out if anyone with his disease had ever played pro football.

If someone had, then type 1 was going to be something he could handle. Simple as that.

“My dream had always been to play college football and then NFL football,” Muma said. “So the first thing when I found out I had diabetes was to search NFL players with type 1 diabetes. Jay Cutler showed up. He was playing for Denver when he was diagnosed, where I grew up, so that was kind of cool.”

Cutler would go onto to play 12 years in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. Meanwhile, Muma’s dream persists. The University of Wyoming linebacker is one of more than a dozen clients of Rep 1 Sports who has been preparing for the NFL draft at Sanford POWER’s facility in Irvine, California.

‘Disciplined with what I’m putting into my body’

Muma loved football as a kid and, like a lot of other 13-year-olds who dominate the youth leagues, figured he was headed for big things in the game. Most eventually come to understand they’re better suited for other professions but the 22-year-old Muma has not had to switch to Plan B.

“I have to be extremely disciplined with what I’m putting into my body,” Muma said. “I have to stay on top of what my numbers are. It’s an everyday thing that I have to manage. I’ve come to think of it as an advantage because I have to be disciplined with what I’m eating. I have to be disciplined going into a workout or a practice or whatever it might be, but I’m able to do so because of my Tandem insulin pump.”

Over time, diabetes is a disease that causes high blood sugar levels, which left untreated are life-threatening. Currently, life-long treatment with insulin for those with type 1 is required to control the blood sugar levels and maintain health.

“While it may be inconvenient for people to monitor blood levels and take insulin to treat their diabetes, it is currently the best tool we have at combatting the disease,” said Kurt Griffin, M.D., a Sanford Health specialist in pediatric endocrinology. “However, there are many studies in the works to make Type 1 diabetes a more treatable disease. One example is our PLEDGE Study at Sanford Health, which helps us identify young children who may be at risk of developing type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.”

‘People with diabetes can play football’

Muma is among an estimated 1.6 million people in the U.S. who have type 1 diabetes. He is in a much smaller group of 22-year-olds who are considered serious NFL prospects.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, he has impressed the NFL types since finishing up at Wyoming as one of the school’s all-time greats. The testing process that greets NFL prospects has been an opportunity in his case to impress. Many mock drafts are now indicating he’ll be taken in the second round.

His diabetes comes up in conversations with scouts but hasn’t gotten in the way. His long history of doing what he needs to do to stay healthy has played a significant role in minimizing their concerns.

“When you sit down and talk to NFL people you see different levels of knowledge about diabetes,” Muma said. “I actually enjoy explaining how I handle my diabetes and how I’ve handled it through college. Once they get a grasp on that, I don’t think it’s a problem for them.

“There are guys in the league now who are type 1s. Mark Andrews, the tight end in Baltimore, has type 1. So does Noah Gray, a tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs. The NFL understands people with diabetes can play football.”

Training at Sanford POWER

When Muma says his diabetes has become an advantage, he is putting a positive spin on a disease few others would see in such a positive light. Those who have seen his training regimen up close understand what he’s talking about, however.

“Chad has never wanted to make this about the football player who has diabetes,” said Curt Truhe, Sanford POWER’s general manager in Irvine. “I think for him it became something that forced him to grow up and mature a little bit earlier than most people. You see that with the way he works his way through things. Unless you ask him some questions about it, you’d have no idea he’s so dialed-in on doing exactly what he needs to do to make this work.”

Eliminating concerns about his diabetes did not exclude him from all the other parts of the process that come with NFL draft consideration. Impressing those who are considering drafting him has been an experience he has done his best to appreciate.

“It’s something I’ve looked forward to doing my whole life,” he said. “Since I got to college it’s been my goal to get to the NFL. I’m extremely blessed and fortunate that I have the opportunity to go through the process. I’ve enjoyed just about everything about it.”

Diabetes advocacy for the next generation

Getting to a comfort level where one can enjoy a seemingly stressful process took some work. Muma got help by following the path of several current NFL players who made the Sanford POWER facility in Irvine where they went to prepare for the draft. Many established NFL players now return every year to prepare for the upcoming season.

“My time there has been a huge part of the success I’ve had since I started training for the draft,” Muma said. “The strength and conditioning coaches here have been amazing and everyone in the sports therapy area have also been great. My agency, Rep 1, hooked us up with being able to work out at Sanford POWER – I’m so grateful for that.”

Muma worked with Truhe, Sazi Guthrie and Brock Crews for strength and conditioning. Truhe and Guthrie even accompanied him to the NFL Combine. That week the NFL got a chance to see that he’s not just an accomplished college player with good instincts. He can also run, jump and lift at levels that confirm he can become a fine NFL linebacker.

“All the testing can be stressful – there are certain variables that are out of their control,” Truhe said. “I say kudos to Chad for how professionally he handled all of it. He killed it in every single drill at the Combine. That speaks to his level of preparation and his attention to detail. It never ceased to amaze me how focused he was on a day-to-day basis.”

Though he’s done everything he can to demonstrate his diabetes isn’t a hindrance, he has not shied away from discussing the disease or the challenges it represents. Like some other prominent athletes with type 1, Muma has sought out opportunities to talk about it.

In high school, Muma was part of a group that talked to kids in middle school about how they coped. In college, he made an appearance at Camp Hope, a summer camp in Casper, Wyoming, for children with diabetes.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to continue to talk to people about my diabetes,” Muma said. “It’s something I look forward to doing and want to continue to do while I’m playing football and after I’m done playing. I will continue to be adamant about conveying the message that if you have type 1 diabetes you can’t let it control your life. You can’t let it control your dreams and aspirations. You can still do all the things you want to do.”

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Posted In Healthy Living, Sports Medicine