After a few years as a self-described “rebellious teen”, Morgan Brown decided that active diabetes management would be the key to pursuing her cycling dreams. A few years later, in 2013, Morgan finished 3rd overall in USACRITS, the national criterium series in the USA. Today, Morgan continues to excel as a pro cyclist and leads the Team Novo Nordisk Junior Program, guiding young cyclists with diabetes to pursue their own dreams.
Tell us about when you were diagnosed (what was your initial reaction, how did your family/friends/fellow athletes react, did you think your days as an athlete were over?).
After spending a weekend at the beach with my family, neither sleeping nor drinking water, and feeling sick to my stomach, my mom took me to our primary care physician who checked my blood glucose and found it to be disturbingly high. My mom started crying when they told her, and she drove me to the hospital where I spent a few days learning how to check my blood glucose and give myself insulin injections.
I don’t remember ever being super upset or crying a lot. I do remember seeing other kids there who were more sick than I was and feeling thankful that I could still live. I just had to manage diabetes now.
When I was a teenager that changed. I did not like having diabetes or taking care of it, so I decided to quit doing what I was supposed to. My management was out of control, and I felt horrible. I was fortunate to meet the team the first year they did Race Across America. They really inspired me to manage my diabetes and start riding a bicycle. You don’t realize how bad you felt until you start taking care of yourself again. I am so thankful I met them when I did because who knows how I would have ended up!
What is that like? What do you have to do differently than other athletes?
Being an athlete is tough, and having diabetes adds another layer to something that is already physically challenging. I’ve had diabetes since I was very young– it’s all I know. I take the necessary steps to make sure I’m able to train and race well. I monitor my blood glucose frequently and have worked closely with my health care team to determine my correct management plan.
I know if I don’t check and eat like I know I should, I won’t be able to be my best on the bike. It’s the same for any athlete, but the things that they have to do properly are just a little different. If I’m not actively managing my diabetes, it would be like showing up to a race with two flat tires. It’s not going to go well.
What would you tell someone who has just been diagnosed with diabetes?
Welcome to the Team!
What is your best advice for a young athlete with diabetes?
Check, check, check. Checking your blood glucose is extremely important to be able to do any sport well with diabetes.
Tell us about how you got started in your sport.
I got started after meeting the team the first year they did Race Across America. Watching them race so well, even with type 1 diabetes, was eye opening to me. It made me realize that I, too, could be like them if I worked hard in my training and worked with my health care professional to actively manage my diabetes. They helped transform me from a rebellious patient who hated everything about having diabetes to being a successful athlete living with diabetes.
When did you start competing?
In 2007, when I joined the cycling club at Florida State University. Later in 2007, I entered my first non-collegiate race and proudly wore my team kit.
When you first started competing, did you tell anyone (teammates/coaches/trainers) about your diabetes?
Yes. I was inspired by the team in Race Across America and wanted to be as good of an athlete as they were. When I came back from that race in 2006, they were all I talked about!
How/when did you know it was something you wanted to do professionally?
In 2008, when I did my first pro race, I knew I could be as good as the top pros if I worked hard enough. I’m pretty stubborn and when I decide I am going to do something I won’t give up until I succeed. It’s a blessing and a curse
What do you think is your biggest achievement in your athletic career?
In 2013, I did my first UCI road race against some of the best in the world and finished 10th. Also finishing 3rd overall in the national criterium series, USACRITS in 2013.
What is your favorite memory from a race/competition?
This year racing with my best friend, Jackie Crowell, at regional races and both us going 1-2 every time we raced together. Standing on a podium with your best friend is an awesome experience!
What do you feel are your biggest strengths as an athlete?
My drafting abilities, criterium racing, and my drive to succeed.
Being part of Team Novo Nordisk
How did you hear about this team?
Team co-founder, Phil Southerland, met my mother, and I was introduced via email. At the time, Phil was a thriving athlete racing well on the collegiate team at UGA, and I was a rebellious teenager who had a dreadful A1C! Meeting Phil and the other athletes during Race Across America was a life-changing experience that I will always cherish.
How did you come to join Team Novo Nordisk?
After seeing the team in Race Across America, a coast-to-coast relay across the USA, I started racing, too. Phil sent me a kit in 2006, and they haven’t been able to get rid of me since.
How do you feel about the team now?
The team is amazing, and every athlete that’s a part of the team inspires me everyday. I’m so incredibly luckily to be surrounded by the best athletes in the world living with diabetes.
How has your life changed since you joined the team (both as an athlete and as a person)?
Well for one thing I’m living well and healthy. Before I met the team, I was heading in a direction where my future health wouldn’t be something to desire. Being on a part of the team has also made me look at my diabetes as more of a blessing than a hindrance.
Tell us about how it feels to be an inspiration to so many people?
I am always humbled when I find out I inspire someone. I know when I met the team in 2006 they inspired me. It’s cool that I am now able to inspire people, too.
What is it like to compete for a team where all the athletes have diabetes?
It’s great because we all share similar challenges, and it’s a great support system.
How is your experience on this team different from others (more care/support, motivation, etc.)?
It’s cool how everyone, even the support staff who don’t have diabetes, is so supportive and will help out in anyway they can to make sure you can be the best athlete possible.
What is the culture like on this team?
It sounds cheesy but it’s really like an extended family. Everyone cares about how others are doing and it’s a really positive environment when we are all together.
What does it feel like to be so open and actually promoting the fact that you have diabetes?
It is empowering. I love when I win races and show that I can be the best, even living with type 1 diabetes.
Talk about your interactions with fans. Any stories that stand out?
I met some awesome people over the years, but one of my favorite times was in 2012 when I was doing a JDRF Ride to Cure training ride in Cincinnati, Ohio. The people there are so passionate about the JDRF and the team. They loved having us there and I recently saw their JDRF chapter at the Tucson Ride to Cure and it was so fun to see them again.
How do you feel the team is making an impact on people with diabetes around the world?
The team is showing what can be possible living with diabetes and really inspiring millions.
What kind of feedback do you get via social media from fans?
I get a ton of positive feedback and it really inspires me to keep up the training and racing.