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Although Mark Woolley was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, he has known for his entire life what it is like to live with this chronic health condition. His older brother, Matt, was diagnosed at birth, and Mark has regularly helped test Matt’s blood sugar (glucose) and give him insulin.

Mark has been playing hockey since he was a kid, with dreams of making it to the NHL. Now 22 years old, he currently lives in his hometown of St. Thomas, Ont. For the past three years, he has been a defenceman on the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), bringing him one step closer to fulfilling his goal as he prepares for the NHL draft.

Developing an on-ice routine

As an elite athlete, Mark was initially worried about how diabetes would affect his game. Thanks to the support of his family (which also includes his brother, Michael, and parents, Tracy and Steve), as well as his diabetes care team, trainers, and coaches, he has developed a routine that works for him. He tests his blood sugar before and after games, as well as in between periods, to ensure he is not experiencing high blood sugar, known as hyperglycemia. He has snacks on hand in case he feels a low coming on.

I was quick to learn that type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to define who you are as long as you take care of your health.

Supporting others with diabetes 

Mark wants other kids to enjoy the same sense of accomplishment that he has found in hockey. Five summers ago, he made his dream come true with the launch of his non-profit Woolley’s Warriors (WW28), which is raising funds to send children and youth with type 1 diabetes to Diabetes Canada’s D-Camps. He has invited D-Campers and their families to his games, chatting with and answering any of their questions afterward. WW28 also supports and connects young athletes affected by type 1 diabetes, while offering a platform for others to share their personal story.

“We’re so excited about the work Mark has done for D-Camps, which touches children from across the country and unites them in being empowered in their lives,” says Diabetes Canada’s former community engagement coordinator, Laura Toito.

Giving back to the diabetes community also led Mark to lace up his rollerblades (rather than his ice skates) for fort two years in support of Diabetes Canada’s national fundraiser, Lace Up to End Diabetes. Says Mark, “I’m determined to do my part to raise funds and spread awareness in support of others who live with this condition.”

As a proud player in the OHL, Mark welcomes the opportunity to make a difference. “People look up to people who play in the OHL,” he says. “I love giving back to the community. I think that’s a big part of the game.”

Understanding the dangers of diabetes

“Not too many people know the intensity behind type 1 diabetes and the effect it can have on your life,” says Mark. Both he and Matt have experienced potentially life-threatening diabetic comas (a serious complication in which a person can lose consciousness because their blood sugar is too low or high for too long). “I came home one weekend to celebrate my dad’s 50th birthday,” Mark recalls. “I woke up in an ambulance at four in the morning. That was probably one of the scariest moments of my life, and one of the reasons why I wanted to spread awareness around type 1 diabetes,” he says.

His mother, Tracy, remembers that event all too vividly. “Mark had a friend over, and they said I don't know what Mark's doing. He's talking, you know, nonsense, Mark was incoherent. He couldn't put any sentences together and he didn't understand what we were doing. We were propping him up in bed, and there wasn't anything else that we could physically do for him at home. I ended up calling 9-1-1 at that point.” She adds,

We're just so thankful that Mark’s friend was there to alert us to the situation. Otherwise, we would have lost him that day. 

This is also why Tracy has been sharing her story with the diabetes community in an effort to raise awareness and funds for life-saving research. “I don’t want other mothers to live in fear the way I do,” she says.

Did you know?

Diabetes can make kids feel lonely, different, and left out. At Diabetes Canada’s D-Camps—the only national, medically supervised camp programs for children and young adults living with type 1 diabetes—kids with diabetes like Martin can be kids again. Learn more about how you can help.

Author: Denise Barnard

Category Tags: Healthy Living, Community Spotlight, Impact Stories, Camps;

Region: National

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