Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Story - My Cause

A person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon, or condition.

My name is Paul Zacharias and I was born in the United Kingdom to an English mother and an American father stationed overseas as a United States Air Force pilot. I was raised mainly in the Philippines Islands. As a child I was always attracted to the ocean and the water. I spent the school year in the islands and the summers in southern California with my mother. I was certified as a PADI open water scuba diver in the Philippines on my 12th birthday. I spent almost every weekend diving with my father all throughout the Philippine Islands until I graduated High School.

I first started surfing in Southern California during the summers spent in with my mother. I eventually received my PADI advanced diver; PADI deep water and PADI rescue diver certifications and continued to scuba dive and surf most every weekend throughout my years in the Philippines. I swam age group swimming competitively and played water polo, tennis, ran cross-country, wrestled, played football, baseball, soccer and rode my skateboard and BMX bicycle in high school.

After high school I returned to the United States where my love for surfing took off and consumed a large part of my young adult life. I attended Long beach City College for two years where I swam and played water polo. This was an absolutely incredible experience; most of the guys I got to swim and play with were at the time some of the best water polo players in Southern California.

I eventually left Southern California and moved to Lake Tahoe, California and there I fell in love with snow skiing and almost all things having to do with snow. I earned my Professional Ski Instructors of America Level 1 certification and taught skiing in the winters. I was the most requested children’s ski  instructor for a couple of seasons. The summers were spent water skiing and wake boarding, along with mountain biking and some rock climbing. After a number of years of this, on a random trip to Mexico I got back on a surf board by chance while visiting a sleepy little surf town north of Puerto Vallarta called Salyulita. It was during that trip that I decided that I wanted to get back to living near the ocean and back to surfing, swimming and diving.

A short time after arriving back to Lake Tahoe from my trip to Mexico I was offered a chance to go and work in Hawaii. I packed up what little I had and moved to the Big Island of Hawaii for a little more than four years, where my true love of surfing and swimming took over. This led to a short but fulfilling career as an open ocean swimmer competing in a number of the ocean swim races and small triathlons on the Big Island.

During one of my many days spent training at the pool in Kailua-Kona I was asked by the lifeguards if I would be interested in coaching a group of local kids who couldn’t afford to join the regular swim teams. I agreed and through the hard work and dedication of the kids we managed to win every one of the swim meets against a number of other similar teams belonging to the county pools.

After returning back to the mainland and settling in San Diego I continued to swim and surf a little. But I soon became a victim of the rat race spending less and less time in the water. Then the unthinkable happened, and my life changed forever.

I had just moved to San Diego, CA. from Kona, Hawaii when suddenly I lost a considerable amount of weight in a short period of time and experienced extreme fatigue to a point where I could barely lift my arms or take a step without feeling absolutely exhausted. On top of this I was thirsty all the time, and had to urinate constantly. I eventually went to the E.R., where I learned that I had what the doctors referred to as delayed onset adult juvenile diabetes, or more commonly known as type-1 diabetes. My initial blood glucose level was like 550. So they kept me in the hospital for about five days on an insulin drip. Once my blood sugar levels were back to an acceptable range 80-110, they gave me insulin and scripts for syringes, needles, test strips and other strange equipment that I had no idea how to use. Basically, this whole new world was plopped down in my lap and I was told to figure it out, or die.
 I felt as if this had come completely out of nowhere. I felt very alone, confused, and uninformed for the first several months. I was suddenly faced with a serious, life altering disease.  I felt completely isolated; it was difficult to find information that could relate to me. Most of the information out there was for children or parents with children diagnosed with diabetes.  I signed up for a JDRF walk in San Diego.  I was like the only adult with diabetes that was actually doing the walk. 
Since then I have just tried to continue to live my life as normal as possible.  Basically not letting the diabetes control my life, but trying to control my diabetes. I try and perform just as everybody else does in this world, except I always have snacks with me and I test my blood sugars about 8 to 10 times a day and I inject myself with insulin. I knew that the only thing that would make me feel whole again was to get back into the water and continued to surf, body surf swim and run. I would just make sure that my blood sugars were high enough to allow me to take part in these sports and incase I crashed (went hypoglycemic), I would always carry cake gel or glucose in some form or another. The problem is that most of what I do revolve around water so I need a form of glucose that is contained within a waterproof package. Diabetes has really given me new perspective.
I changed my diet to include more carbohydrates. I was told by a nutritionist that my diet was to lean, and that I needed to include more carbohydrates now that I was a diabetic. So I learned about the nutritional values of the foods that I was eating. I had to learn which foods were super low on the glycemic index.  I have measured and weighed enough food, read the nutrition labels of foods so that by now I know pretty much know how many carbs exist in what I’m going to eat by just looking at the food. You tend to eat the same things a lot because you know how much insulin to inject for those particular foods and how your body is going to react.

I was making due and learning to deal with the new twist in my life when I was asked about a year ago to go and try this sport called Stand Up Paddle surfing here in Coronado, CA. where I live. It was the most fun I had in years, instantly falling in love and about six months into it I was asked if I would be interested in trying my hand at stand up paddle board racing. The rest is history.
Now comes the hard part, competing in an endurance sport like stand up paddle racing. I am not some super famous athlete that was suddenly diagnosed with diabetes and has a team of doctors and trainers to assist me in trying to figure this stuff out. I don’t have sponsors who supply me with test strips and insulin. I do it on my own, so there is a lot of trial and error involved. 
I inject Lantus, which is my basal insulin and Humalog as my bolus. I take my basal in the evening and the Humalog is what I inject with my meals. I also have to inject Humalog periodically thought the day if my blood sugar gets too high after eating. Funny thing the human body, it does not always metabolize food the same way every time. I try and keep my blood sugar level at the optimum level at all times. A good diet and exercise helps considerably. 
But there are still complications. If I train real hard I suffer from exercise induced hypoglycemia. This occurs sometime after your done training, usually without any kind of warning. “I’m telling you this is really complicated”. The endocrinologist, who definitely has a little more education than I do usually doesn’t have the answers. This is simply because not a lot of people have tried to stand up paddle race with diabetes, or perform in any of the endurance sports. Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of professional athlete’s that have type-1 diabetes. But you can count them on your fingers.
So when I race I have just a few things that I must do. I wake up and eat my typical breakfast of water, plain oatmeal and a couple of cups of Joe w/no sugar creamer. I inject a specific amount of insulin for this meal knowing that in 2 to 3 hours I will peak and require more food prior to the race. I usually try and show up fairly early so that I can test when I get there and eat a banana, drink a sports drink in preparation for the event. I want my blood sugar levels at about 200+ for a 5 to 6 mile race. This probably sounds easy to do, but trust me it is really hard to time everything just right. Then warm up and attend the pre-race meeting. Then right after the meeting I test again and make any adjustments that I need to, either take some insulin or eat, drink whatever so that during the race I have enough sugar to complete the race.   OK I’m already exhausted.
 Then find your board, make sure that you have glucose gels in your pocket for worst case scenario. This would be bonking in the middle or worse yet, at the end of a race. Then it’s just like everyone else. Line up; know that you put in the time on the water training. I visualize the race and the start and wait for the start. 

Now again comes another obstacle. While just like everyone else, I take off fighting for a good start so that I can get out into clean water and focus on my stroke cadence, get in my groove. I am looking at the water conditions, waves, chop, and bumps, whatever. I am making the adjustments to accommodate the various conditions.  I am looking at who’s around me and where I am at, sighting the buoy ahead, thinking about my turn as I approach. But during all of this I have to constantly be aware of my physiology and how I feel.  I don’t want to bonk, but I also am a competitor and the thought of having to stop and consume a gel or even take a swig off a camelback filled with a sports drink means that I will lose time, or be passed or caught, by those whom otherwise would not catch me. 

This is all made extra hard because sometimes you are just tired and your muscles burn and hurt because that’s what happens when you race, and so you dig deep and grind it out. But for me, I need to somehow be sure and not try and will myself through these feelings. I have to be able to discern between just hurting because you’re racing, and going hypoglycemic. But it’s all good! A little bit of sugar goes along, long ways!

Having diabetes has forced me to learn more and more about diet and nutrition.  It has forced me to learn about my physiology. No matter what I do, no matter where I’m at I have to be aware of how I am feeling.
I really hope that by telling a little bit about my story and competing in stand up paddle racing I can help others understand that diabetes can be treated and that with exercise and a healthy diet they too can achieve the dreams or realize their goals.

Ultimately I would love to continue compete in as many stand up paddle surfing events and races as possible.  Showing others that just because an obstacle has been placed in your life such as diabetes this doesn’t mean that you can’t participate in the activities that they love, especially the kids.
I will not let diabetes be an excuse though.  I will train and try just as hard as anyone else. Since the start of my racing I have finished in at least the top twenty at each of the races I have competed in.  And will continue to train and race hard in my quest to reach the podium.

You can conquer anything you want when the desire to achieve it is filled with passion, a hunger so deep that nothing can stop you from accomplishing your dream.

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