SStephen England has been a runner all of his life. But at age 14, he suddenly became very ill, losing his appetite, weight and all of his energy. He went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The news shook him so hard that he passed out on the floor.
The next few days were a blur as he quickly learned how to inject himself with insulin, do blood tests, and a whole lot more. He told the doctor enthusiastically about his love for running and asked how he could get rid of diabetes. The response was not what he wanted to hear. He was told that his running would have to be limited and diabetes was incurable. This news broke his heart and crushed his dreams.
He set out to find a diabetes running role model but struggled to find anyone that would help him believe a different future was possible. Thus, his early years of living and accepting his diabetes and running were tough.
Ten years after diagnosis, he ran the London Marathon. Although this was a huge milestone, it was not the dream race he had envisioned both physically and with managing his diabetes.
When it comes to competing, England recognized that insulin, blood glucose levels, and carbohydrate intake were as important factors as the weather, pace and heart rate. If his blood glucose were out of range, he would not be able to compete to the best of his ability. Diabetes is a game of keeping glucose levels in the middle to be competitive and healthy. Being different was a test, but England never wanted it to be an excuse.
England moved to the US with a renewed focus and drive and decided to try marathons again. He competed at the New York City Marathon, Chicago Marathon and then the Boston Marathon. With every race, he improved both in time and diabetes management.
Over time, England’s confidence grew, which led him towards an even more significant challenge; ultramarathons. 50k became 50 miles and then 100 miles. He chose the Leadville 100 in Colorado as his first ultra. It is renowned as one of the hardest races in the world with an average elevation of 11,000 ft. and less than a 50% finish rate. With odds against him, this is exactly why England chose this race. He wanted to show the world what could be achieved living with type 1 diabetes.
And it was at Leadville where Stephen was introduced to Team Novo Nordisk. After 28 hours of non-stop grueling running in the mountains, he finished what he had started and was welcomed onto the team. He thought, ‘who needs a role model when you can become one?’
England is now renowned as the ultrarunner of Team Novo Nordisk and has gone on to run another 10 of the biggest 100-mile races around the world such as Western States, UTMB and Fat Dog 120.
Nothing was a harder test than deciding to compete at the inaugural Tahoe 200. “So many people said I would not make it, that it was way too far. But they didn’t factor in my secret weapon. I had diabetes. I can’t quit diabetes so why would I ever quit a race?” After three days and only 3 hours of sleep, he circumnavigated the big lake and finished his most audacious endurance challenge to date.
Living with diabetes and running has taught England that there are no limitations to what can be achieved in life and that being different can become your greatest strength.