Meet new TNN ambassador, Ignacia Montt
30 May 2022
Ignacia hails from Chile and is a professional 100m, 200m, 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m track sprinter. She is 26 years and has lived with type 1 diabetes since the age of 11. She is the youngest of seven children with two of her sisters also living with type 1 diabetes. Below, she talks about her diagnosis and how her life with diabetes has changed since the COVID pandemic.
I was 10 years old when I started running. First, I ran for fun after school. Around 16 it started getting more serious and I joined my first national team. I was good enough to be on the high school team and I was one of the fastest, but I wasn’t the best at first. I started training five times a week at 16 and the results started to come.
It helped to have a coach in my younger years that didn’t push us too hard. I think when young children are pushed too hard too soon, there is always the risk of them burning out. Now that I’m 27, I still have the energy to keep going because I wasn’t burnt out at a young age.
I was 11 when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was at the end of my first year running track. I’m the youngest of seven siblings and I have two older sisters who also have type 1 diabetes. They’re quite a bit older than me and were great role models which means my mom wasn’t so afraid of my diagnosis and me going back to sports. I was back training two weeks after my diagnosis.
When the symptoms first appeared, my mum was a little in denial. I was losing a lot of weight and I remember her saying, “it’s because it’s summer and you have been training a lot”. I was thirsty all the time and it was warm in Chile, so she used that as an excuse. Then my sister came to my house one Saturday. We spent the whole day together and I was thirsty all day. The next day she came by and said I need to check your blood sugar and did a test with a test strip. I think she suspected something was wrong and took me to the hospital where I was officially diagnosed. I was hospitalized for 3 days.
When I was diagnosed my two sisters were grown up already living on their own. So I saw them as normal people doing normal stuff so the diagnosis for me wasn’t such a big thing. The first day I was diagnosed, I was like “yay, now I’m like my sisters.” Then a few days later I realized diabetes still is a big deal.
The experience I have as a track sprinter is very different from endurance sports. My sister runs marathons and our experiences in managing diabetes are so different. My blood sugar tends to go high because my workouts are high-intensity ones as opposed to the longer aerobic distance workouts in marathons. It’s a constant issue to keep my glucose level in range. When I run competitions and have adrenaline and am nervous, my blood sugar tends to go high. So, as soon as I finish my race, I have to do a cool down. I hop on the bike or go for a cool down run or walk. A cool down like that isn’t typical for sprinters so my competitors always ask why I do that and I have to explain to them I am regulating my glucose levels.
I’m very strict with my diet. I prefer a higher protein ratio to carbohydrates. I learned that with too much insulin, I tend to build more muscle so my body weight increases. It’s fascinating how each body reacts differently and that’s why it’s key to work with your own doctor to figure out the best way to manage your diabetes. I see it with my sisters: it’s very different for the three of us!
Some of my proudest achievements up to now are becoming the national champion of Chile 3 times. A month ago I won the South America Grand Prix in Argentina and that was a big deal for me.
Giving a Ted Talk in January is also one of the highlights of my life. I just received an email saying the Ted Talk was approved and that it would be published! In the talk I spoke about what being a type 1 athlete means and how I turned this from adversity into motivation to keep improving every day. It wasn’t actually until the pandemic that I realized how much power diabetes has. Before COVID, I was aware of my condition but I never realized how powerful it was and how it can be an advantage for me and others in the community. I had a couple of years in my career where I was running really bad times. Between the ages of 18 and 23, I never improved on my personal best times. I was following my doctor’s orders but I wasn’t going the extra mile in my diabetes management. During the pandemic, I realized how important it was to control it to get better on the track. During lockdown I didn’t have access to a track for six months so had to find other ways to improve. I worked hard on improving my management of diabetes as I thought that could be the thing that helps me. I become more strict, working with my doctors to find the absolute best treatment and techniques for control that works for me in training and competitions. I started beating all my personal bests. I became the national champion. Making that switch in my mind was life-changing.