A professional athlete needs to fully focus on training, nutrition and rest. Being a professional cyclist with diabetes means I have one more thing to dial in perfectly if I want to perform at the level required, managing my diabetes.
Joonas Henttala is an experienced and talented rider who displays his strengths both on the climbs and the flats. Even with the disruption to the 2020 season Henttala still managed to race nearly 4,000 kilometres and make the podium in the Finnish National Championships with third place in the road race.
Now in his ninth professional season, the all-rounder grew up in an athletic family in a small village in Finland. Henttala earned his first professional podium in 2014 when he sprinted to second place from a two-man break at the Finnish National Road Race Championship. In 2016, Henttala took seventh on Stage 1 of Brazil’s Volta Ciclística Internacional do Rio Grande do Sul. Additional career highlights include ninth on Stage 2 of the Tour de Filipinas (2015) and finishing just off the podium in fourth place at the 2017 Finnish National Road Race Championship.
A busy 2019 racing program was highlighted with a sixth-place finish on Stage 6 of the Tour du Rwanda, strong performances in California and Estonia, and a top 10 finish at the Finnish National Road Race Championship.
At the age of 10, Henttala had just begun racing when he started exhibiting typical diabetes symptoms. His father, who also has type 1 diabetes, immediately noticed the signs. Thanks to Henttala’s familiarity with diabetes and his father’s athletic lifestyle, he resumed playing sports immediately following his diagnosis.
In his youth, Henttala hid his diabetes from his teammates because he feared monitoring it during a ride would slow everyone down. Now that he rides with a team composed exclusively of riders with type 1 diabetes, he finds it reassuring to be with a group that can relate to the condition. Thanks to the camaraderie, Henttala says his diabetes management has improved.
For Henttala, riding in races he watched on TV during his childhood is a dream realized. The 28-year-old always imagined being a pro athlete, but never thought he would be where he is today because of diabetes. When he isn’t training, Henttala likes hanging out with his wife and friends, playing the guitar, and playing on the computer.
- 3rd – National Championships Finland, Road Race
- 6th – Tour du Rwanda, Stage 6
- 5th – Tour of Estonia, Mountain Classification
- 7th – National Championships Finland, Road Race
- 6th – National Championships Finland, Road Race
Tell us about when you were diagnosed and how you found out?
I was diagnosed when I was 9 years old. I had many of the standard symptoms of high blood glucose: I was thirsty, I had to go to the toilet a lot and I felt lethargic.
What was your initial reaction?
First I was upset. I knew it was a chronic condition and that it would be part of me for the rest of my life.
How did your family/friends/fellow athletes react?
They reacted the same way I did. We were a bit disappointed at first, but once it became my routine and they saw I could manage it well, everyone just accepted it as part of me.
Did you think your days as an athlete were over? Did others? What did your doctor say?
No, not for a second. I was determined to get back on the bike, and my doctor supported me as well. He told me exercise can actually be good for people with diabetes.
What was it like riding with diabetes and how did you adjust?
I always keep an eye on my blood glucose, even more so during a ride, and I make small adjustments until I find a balance.
Tell us about how you got started in your sport.
I loved riding from the first time I got on a bike. The sense of freedom was incredible as a kid. There was a really strong cycling culture in my hometown of Porvoo, too, so that helped a lot.
When did you start competing?
I started competing when I was 9 years old.
When you first started competing, did you tell anyone (teammates/coaches/trainers) about your diabetes?
I was diagnosed less than a year after I started competing. I worked with my health care team, and my dad coached me and helped me to feel like it’s not a big deal. I can still ride.
How/when did you know cycling was something you wanted to do professionally?
When I was about 15-16 years old, I began to get really good and earned some international wins. I thought maybe it could become my job as well. After, it was my dream to become a pro.
What do you think is your biggest achievement in your athletic career?
Becoming a professional cyclist!
What is your favorite memory from a race/competition?
Maybe it’s not the biggest event, but I had the best feeling when I won the first Finnish cup race in the Elite Men’s category when I was 18 years old. It was my second race in that category.
Being part of Team Novo Nordisk
How did you come to join Team Novo Nordisk?
I was invited to race with the Development team, and after a couple of weeks, I was asked to join the Pro team.
How has your life changed since you joined the team (both as an athlete and as a person)?
My passion is my job, so I live for it 100%. Cycling is my passion and having diabetes doesn’t change or affect that.
Off the bike (Other Interests)
How do you spend your time when you’re not training or racing? Any other passions?
I like technology: computers, games etc. I follow other sports, hang out with friends and play guitar every now and then.
What do you want to do when you retire?
I’d like to coach young cyclists.
What are the three most important things in your life?