“I naturally gravitated towards swimming,” said 16-year-old Anthony Acciani, a patient at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, who started competing when he was 8-years-old. His mother Ria, a swimmer herself, “wanted to keep me out of the water,” he added, “knowing the time it takes to get good.” Anthony put in the time and was beginning to get good—when at 9, his world collided with a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes (T1D).
“I remember in the hospital telling him, ‘look it doesn’t really change anything’ and that we’d be able to manage it,” said his father David, who already knew that a water sport would be difficult with TID. “I told him early on that diabetes didn’t need to define him.”
And Anthony tried not to let it—but said David, in the beginning, “It was a bit of a blow from a confidence perspective and he went through a rough patch in terms of his commitment to swimming. We lost our way a little bit, but he hung in there.”
Swimming with TID says Anthony, “has its own challenges.” In the pool, he uses an Omnipod (a waterproof insulin pump) and a Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). As well, said David, they are still learning how Anthony’s blood glucose levels affect his performance during competition. “As a parent sitting in the stands (during swim meets,) I know when his numbers are probably not so good—or weren’t so good overnight. I can tell by the way he’s swimming that he doesn’t look right.”
But for Anthony, now a cool and collected junior at the Pingry School in Basking Ridge, NJ, he has it under control. He swims for the YMCA and one of his goals is to make the national team—for which he has the right stuff. (“I definitely want to swim in college,” he says.)
Primarily a breaststroker, Anthony says he rarely has scary moments in the pool. Swimming keeps his numbers low, but if he goes too low, he always has a bottle of Gatorade on the side, which usually does the trick. “I do think about it a lot when I’m swimming,” said Anthony about his T1D, “But since I’ve been doing it for a few years, I’m kind of aware how my body reacts to different situations.”
Anthony boils his success in the pool down to two things: “I stay hydrated and pay attention,” he says. But he also works extremely hard—practicing as much as 8 times a week for 2 hours at a time. He also runs or lifts weights, before or after a practice. “The week before and especially the night before a meet I am very diligent with my numbers and make sure that I am in range,” said Anthony who consumes 4000 calories a day—and burns up to 2000 calories during a typical practice.
He also gives kudos to his care team at the Berrie Center, especially his pediatric endocrinologist Rachelle Gandica, MD, who encouraged him to swim with a pump and CGM. Said Anthony, “She has been a great help in managing my diabetes and educating me on how to be active with diabetes.”