An interview with Mandy Marquardt

Mandy_Marquardt_2016_Team_Novo_Nordisk_1
Photo © Team Norvo Nordisk. Used with permission.

It is, without question, extremely challenging to reach elite levels in any sport. Cycling has its own unique challenges. Couple that with the demands of managing a life long disease like type 1 diabetes and challenging can quickly turn into “daunting” or even “prohibitive.”

However, US track sprinter Mandy Marquardt is a fantastic demonstration that type 1 diabetes is not something to keep people from achieving their goals. Along with the help of Team Novo Nordisk, Mandy is spreading the word that diabetes does not have to be a limiting factor in our lives. We caught up with Mandy via email to talk to her about her experiences as a diabetic athlete.

Mandy Marquardt: Cycling has brought me to all areas of the globe, but my home is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where I train at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center with Andrew Harris and his program, Sprinter’s Edge. I graduated in 2014 from Penn State Lehigh Valley, and I’m currently the Cycling Coach at Penn State Lehigh Valley and training full-time for UCI track races, UCI Track World Cups and the Olympic Games. I’m also part of the Team Novo Nordisk, a global team of nearly 100 endurance athletes with diabetes, spearheaded by the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team.

Photo © Team Norvo Nordisk. Used with permission
Photo © Team Norvo Nordisk. Used with permission

JustAnotherCyclist: According to your bio on the Team Novo Nordisk website, your started cycling competitively at a very early age. How did you get started, and how did you balance training with school and other “normal kid stuff”?
MM: I was born in Mannheim, Germany and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida when I was six years old. My father is German and my mother is originally from Florida. My parents encouraged me to participate in sports when I was young, so it has been a big part of my whole life. I was either at swim practice, taking tennis lessons or running 5k’s with my dad throughout my childhood. In 2002, I did my first triathlon and began focusing on cycling and started competing in endurance road and track events at the Brian Piccolo Sports Park and Velodrome in Cooper City, Florida. Since I was always busy competing on the weekends, I rarely had time for sleepovers.  In school, I was known as the “athletic girl”. As I got a little older, I started to learn how to balance my sport and social life.

JAC: How old were you when you were finally diagnosed?
MM: In November 2007, my world turned upside down. I went in for V02 testing and blood work connected with my training.  They quickly became concerned about my elevated blood sugar levels and I went straight to the hospital. At 16 years old, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  

JAC: Your […] initial indications of your Type 1 diabetes came through routine testing as part of your training. Did you have any suspicions at all prior to that point that something might be changing?
MM: When I look back at it, I would get headaches after eating high carb meals, and during training and racing, I always took forever to warm up and often felt tired and sluggish. I never thought anything of it. I thought maybe I was just tired from all the hard training, and I needed more sleep or a change in my diet. I was never aware that they were unusual symptoms, so I was surprised.

JAC: The moment when you actually understood that you had Type 1 diabetes, what was your immediate reaction?
MM: I was confused, overwhelmed and frustrated. I questioned if there was something I did to get diabetes. I’ll never forget when a doctor told me, “Mandy, you will never be able to race at a high level again.” I felt like everything I worked so hard for was gone. I felt empty, and physically and emotionally drained.

Mandy Marquardt
Photo ©Team Norvo Nordisk. Used with permission.

JAC: What were the immediate impacts from the diagnosis on your training and competition?
MM: I spent the next two weeks in the hospital, seeing multiple doctors and working with my healthcare team to learn how to manage my diabetes. I was determined to get back on the bike and eager to race again. When I began training again, it was tough learning what foods, stressors and training intensity affected my blood sugars. I sometimes neglected taking the best care of myself because I was upset, and at one big race weekend, I left all my diabetes supplies at home, and couldn’t even perform in our team event. It was a pivotal point because I not only let myself down but also my teammates. My parents supported me through it all, but it was ultimately up to me to put in the effort to manage my diabetes. I began to improve on monitoring my training and diabetes regime because I was motivated to win bike races again.

JAC: Did you ever fear that the diagnosis might mean an end to your competitive career plans?
MM: [See question above] It was discouraging when I was told I might have to stop racing. Also, due to all the people who were concerned about me, I felt that having diabetes was a bad thing. Back then, I never heard of any other athletes with type 1 diabetes. One of the reasons I love being part of Team Novo Nordisk is because I think we can serve as role models to young athletes with diabetes and show them you can still pursue your dreams.

JAC: The additional challenges of living with diabetes are talked about a lot. But what challenges do you face due to diabetes in regards to competitive cycling specifically?
MM: During racing, there are many variables that affect my blood sugar, including stress and adrenaline. Since sprints are so short, I’m able to monitor my blood sugars before, during, and after racing. I continually check my blood sugar on race days and work with my health care team to adjust my diabetes regime with these extra variables. Racing with diabetes is just another variable that I factor in, but when I’m on the start line, I’m no different than my competitors

JAC: How does the team support you in the additional challenges?
MM: I’m grateful to be a part of Team Novo Nordisk. Since I joined the team in 2010, we’ve grown tremendously. All the athletes on the team are racing with diabetes and as teammates, we really want to see each other succeed. The team has brought us all together, and the ability to connect with one another on that same level, sharing our ups and downs, is really special.

JAC: How long was it between your diagnosis and joining Team Novo Nordisk?
MM: Approximately three years after my diagnosis, I joined the team. It was 2010 and I was inspired by the other athletes racing with diabetes. It was the first time I didn’t feel ashamed and embarrassed about my diagnosis. Due to the team, I have been able to learn to share my story and fully acknowledge that living and racing with diabetes is possible.

JAC: Do you feel that Team Novo Nordisk has created opportunities as a Type 1 cyclist that you otherwise may not have had?
MM:Absolutely! When the team and I aren’t racing, we are out in the community sharing our stories and meeting other people living with diabetes. One of my favorite experiences with the team was traveling to Rwanda in 2011. The Men’s Professional Team was there to race the Tour of Rwanda, and a group of us were riding all the stages ahead of the race. Once we arrived at the finish, we would go and meet with a local diabetes group. It was by far the most memorable experience of my life, both on and off the bike. It was touching to see the world and inspire people.

Growing up, I told my parents that I didn’t want to be just someone, but somebody. My dad always reminded me never to do anything half-heartedly so when I would do something, I did it with my whole heart and I continue to approach life the same today. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that sometimes we don’t always know what the reason is; you might not know today, tomorrow or even a year from now. To be honest, if I had a choice, I wouldn’t choose to have type 1 diabetes, but I’ve accepted my diagnosis. Now, I am proud to be living with diabetes. I’m thankful to be alive, healthy, racing my bike, and inspiring, educating and empowering people affected by diabetes.

JAC: If you could say anything to other young competitive [athletes] that have recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, what would it be?
MM: The most important thing to remember is that you can still pursue your dreams, no matter what they are.

JAC: Any specific goals for your career going forward?
MM: One of my biggest goals is to represent my country and Team Novo Nordisk at the 2020 Olympic Games. Not only would it be the pinnacle of my athletic career, but it would also be an incredible platform to inspire, educate and empower anyone affected by diabetes to pursue their dreams.

JAC: When you look forward to your future as a cyclist, does the fact that you have Type 1 diabetes influence your plans or aspirations in any way?
MM: I only see it influencing my future aspirations in a positive way. I am hard on myself and very detail-oriented when it comes to the way I approach my life, work (Penn State Lehigh Valley Cycling Coach) and cycling. I want to reach my highest potential in track cycling and inspire other athletes and people living with diabetes. The support and encouragement I’ve received throughout the years from family, friends, teammates and the community has been incredible, and I want to make them and my country proud.

Photo © Team Norvo Nordisk. Used with permission
Photo © Team Norvo Nordisk. Used with permission

  • Follow Mandy Marquardt on Twitter, as well as her own website at https://mandymarquardt.wordpress.com/
  • Team Novo Nordisk is a global team of cyclists, runners and triathletes with diabetes, spearheaded by the world’s first all diabetes pro cycling team. The team’s mission is to inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes. Find more at http://www.teamnovonordisk.com