The meaning you give to the things you do is really important. It crystalizes your motivation and gives you a reason to keep going when things get tough. Diabetes has given me the drive and the purpose to keep going.
Becky Furuta was pregnant with her second child and racing her bike for a domestic elite team based out of Boulder, Colorado when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
The then 28-year-old’s family has a history of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, so when Furuta first experienced the symptoms of the condition, she called her doctor and requested an early screening for gestational diabetes. Her midwife performed a routine glucose tolerance test. The results sent her straight to the emergency room.
Initially, the emergency room doctor suspected Furuta had type 2 diabetes and she tried to manage her condition through diet and exercise. When this proved unsuccessful, she sought another opinion and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which served as a huge relief because she finally knew what was wrong and how to manage the condition properly.
Being diagnosed with diabetes can be a life-changing moment, but for Furuta, her thoughts remained on her unborn child and having a healthy pregnancy. For the remainder of her pregnancy, Furuta had constant input from a midwife and endocrinologist to ensure her baby was developing properly. On December 4th, 2007, she gave birth to a healthy girl.
The busy mother of two currently juggles being a pro athlete and diabetes ambassador. When she’s not racing her bike, Furuta is caring for her children and serving as the owner and sports vision specialist at Avenue Vision, LLC in Golden, CO, and owner and co-founder of a private label eyewear company, Yeux&Eye, LLC. She holds a master’s degree in Public Health Policy from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and sometimes works as a consultant on childhood anti-obesity and public health campaigns.
In 2017, Furuta won the Colorado State Time Trial Championship, setting a new course record. In 2018, she finished sixth at the Women’s Professional Criterium at Colorado Classic. Through 2021 and 2022 Furuta has started to split her time equally between road and gravel racing on the bike and taking part in running and Nordic Ski events. A new addition to the Furuta family is the world’s cutest adopted dog.
Tell us about when you were diagnosed and how you found out?
I was diagnosed in October of 2007 after a routine glucose tolerance test to screen for Gestational Diabetes. Prior to that point, I knew something was wrong. I had not gained weight as one normally would in pregnancy, and I remember being so tired that some days I could hardly move. Everyone chalked it up to pregnancy and stress, but one afternoon, I returned from a training ride on the bike, and my hands felt numb. I had consumed three full bottles of water on what was a short and very easy ride. I looked at my husband and said, “I hope this doesn’t mean I have diabetes.” He laughed.
We both knew something was wrong when my doctor checked my fasting blood sugar before beginning the GTT, and the reading was approaching 500 mg/dl. I was sent to the hospital for additional tests, and the diagnosis was quickly confirmed.
What was your initial reaction?
I had a family history of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, so I knew the presentation of the condition. My grandmother had an adult onset of type1, which was very well managed. My mother and my maternal aunt both lived with type 2, and neither was a great role model for diabetes management. I was determined to be like my grandmother. She lived well with diabetes for a long time, and had died two years earlier from illness unrelated to her diabetes. I really rely on my memories of her when I feel scared or overwhelmed.
How did your family/friends/fellow athletes react?
My husband was tremendously supportive. Both his parents and all four of his siblings have diabetes. He is the only person in his immediate family not living with the condition. When I told him I was returning to racing after a long hiatus, and doing it to be a part of this team, he was elated for me.
In the days after my diagnosis, my older sister showed up at my house with every possible publication on diabetes. She plowed through recipes and research and found me a great doctor to take over for the one who had mistakenly told me to stop cycling, saying the intensity of the sport might complicate my condition.
Did you think your days as an athlete were over? Did others? What did your doctor say?
I quit racing after the birth of my daughter, but I continued to ride my bike nearly every day, and was training for a triathlon later in the spring. In fact, I got on the bike the day I left the hospital. Cycling was my “center,” and I didn’t want to be afraid to get back out and do the things I loved before my diagnosis. It took a long time and a lot of trial and error to figure out how to best manage my blood sugar on the bike. My first ride was 80 miles, and it took me forever because I was so unconfident that I would stop to check my blood sugar every few miles. But with time and persistence and the partnership of a good health care team, I was able to ride comfortably and balanced my blood sugar. With that confidence, I raced my first tri 10 weeks after giving birth, and I had a top ten finish.
Tell us about how you got started in your sport.
I began racing my bike in 2002, while a student at the University of Colorado–Boulder, working on my master’s degree in public health. I joined the CU Cycling Team because I had fallen in love with riding, and racing appealed to my natural competitiveness. I had a few seasons with them until I graduated, at which point I started racing with Title 9 Women’s Racing based out of Boulder. I spent a couple of seasons racing and training with them, and then decided to quit competition and focus on my family. I had a toddler son at home, and was expecting my second child. My priorities shifted away from the bike, but I was still out training with the team in order to stay fit and strong. I knew I wanted to get back to racing at some point down the line.
What do you think is your biggest achievement in your athletic career?
My favorite race was the USA Pro Challenge Gunnison KOM to the top of Mt Crested Butte. It was a miserable race in freezing conditions, and I nearly quit twice. But at the end of the day, I managed to finish second. I am not a great climber by any means, but I had put in the hard work to make that happen. It was the first time when I really felt like I had come full circle, and was ready to race again.
Being part of Team Novo Nordisk
How did you come to join Team Novo Nordisk?
After my pregnancy and my diagnosis, I looked to the Internet to find strategies for managing my blood sugar while cycling. That was where I first came across the team, and I knew I wanted to race with them down the line. The time wasn’t right then, with two young children, but a few years later, I decided that I was ready to get back into competition. It was a steep learning curve all over again. I had a really tough first season, and found myself struggling to get back the fitness and skills I had previously developed. This season, however, I showed up ready to race, and had some good success.
How has your life changed since you joined the team (both as an athlete and as a person)?
Athletics in general are empowering, and perhaps even more so when you have a challenge like diabetes. It’s easy to get sucked into feeling like a “patient.” For a long time, in fact, I was hesitant to even disclose that I had diabetes because I didn’t want to be perceived as someone sick or unwell – even though I was fit, strong and healthy. My racing has certainly kept me in good shape, both physically and mentally, and being a part of the team has made me even more aware of just how important it is to be open about living with diabetes. Every time I see my teammates, I am reminded of what diabetes can look like, and what we can do with active management. I want others to see that, too…especially young people who might be self-conscious about having diabetes.