Benny Madrigal describes his childhood in one word, “active”. The California-native says he can count on one hand the days he spent indoors. Instead, he played nearly every sport imaginable until his mother called him in for dinner. In high school, he focused exclusively on running, both on the track and cross-country and earned all-American honors. After high school, Benny attended Fresno Pacific University where he continued running and earned all-conference honors.
Following graduation, Benny began coaching fellow runners and took a position as a long-term substitute teacher in a special education classroom. As he was adjusting to professional life, the then 22-year-old was blindsided by a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.
“I was lost; I didn’t know what diabetes was and had lots to learn,” he remembers. “I like proving people wrong when they say I can’t do something, but this was a bit different.”
Still, Benny couldn’t ignore his naturally competitive nature and soon found a supportive health care professional who helped him learn how to properly manage his diabetes. He began steadily training again, and his career continued to advance.
“Teaching Special Education can be tough, and I enjoy a challenge,” Benny explains. “I noticed the kids I was working with began to believe in themselves. I really felt I could guide the students and make a difference.”
When it came to competing, Benny knew he needed to take it slowly. “The biggest thing was setting realistic goals, and not trying to be better than anyone else,” he says. “I focused on doing the best I could do each day and setting small goals. Keeping the focus on small steps helped me handle the doubts.”
Getting back to pre-diagnosis race form didn’t come easily. It wasn’t just regaining his physical strength, but also his confidence and mental awareness. After two years of taking things one step at a time, Benny regained his form. In the five years since his diagnosis, Benny has won the Santa Rosa Marathon, Mountains to Beach Marathon and set course records at the DC Marathon and NorthFace Endurance.
“Achieving these successes means twice as much to me because I do not believe I am ever winning alone,” Benny says. “I feel that every time I do well, it’s not just for me, but it’s a positive statement to the diabetes community.”
To help him achieve these milestones, Benny says he applied lessons he’s learned on the road to the classroom and vice versa.
“Think realistically by setting big goals that transfer into small goals,” he advises. “For me, thinking big means not settling for where I am. In my training or in the classroom, this means being realistic.”
Looking to the future, Benny continues to set grander goals. He would like to improve in all events from the 5K to marathon, with the ultimate goal of running a marathon in under two hours and 20 minutes.
In addition to being an ambassador for the diabetes community, professional athlete and full-time teacher, the 27-year-old Benny is also a Latin dance teacher and the father to “one bright six-year-old.”
“To all active professionals out there, both those with diabetes and those without, go out and find something that will improve your way of life,” Benny recommends. “If you’re not taking care of yourself, soon you will not be able to take care of others. A healthy and fit you can accomplish more.”