Aug 30, 2013, 2:34 PM PST
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard Kendall Simmons sat on the trainer’s table fighting back tears. The massive 6-foot-3, 315-pound athlete was shaking. He was 23, and had just learned that he had type 1 diabetes — a disease typically diagnosed as a child.
Fortunately, he had an important ally.
Sitting next to him was Steelers owner Art Rooney. Both of Rooney’s children also have the same disease that stems from the pancreas not producing insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m crying like a little baby because I didn’t want to deal with this,” said Simmons of that moment. “He told me, ‘You know what? The field will be out there. It’s not going anywhere, but your life is more important. You take care of this and we’ll help you get through it.'”
The support Simmons received that day meant everything to him.
“On Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays, I was ready to kill anyone for (Rooney on the football field),” Simmons said. “Because he had my back.”
Simmons went on to win two Super Bowls with the Steelers. Like Rooney had his back, Simmons had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s back and the Steelers were at times unstoppable.
Now, Simmons is passing along the goodwill he received. With a support structure in place, he was able to learn to live with diabetes and be a successful professional athlete. A father of four, Simmons’ new mission is to protect, help, and support people that have the same struggle.
His efforts brought him to the Bay Area on August 13, as he spent the day visiting the Diabetes Youth Foundation Camp “De Los Ninos” located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He continued on to Children’s Hospital Oakland to lend support to kids that had just been diagnosed with diabetes.
Like Rooney did for him when in a time of need, he sat by their sides and gave them a better outlook on life.
Simmons’ Bay Area visit concluded at the Oakland Coliseum. With his partners from Novo Nordisk, he gave away tickets to the A’s game and spoke to a group of families and businesspeople interested in helping the efforts to raise awareness and money. Simmons still has a lot of work to do. According to the American Diabetes Association, 8.3 percent of Americans have the disease.
“It’s really important to have support,” Simmons said. “Traveling with Novo Nordisk and speaking, it helps me deal with it. I’d be a terrible diabetic if I didn’t.”
Like Simmons, Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears is also a type 1 diabetic. Type 2 diabetes is also a big threat to retired football players — especially offensive linemen. Type 2 diabetes usually occurs slowly over time as increased fat makes it harder for the body to use insulin the correct way
“Most linemen when they retire they don’t shrink, they get bigger,” Simmons explained. “Because they don’t have to workout and they still eat the same way, that’s when sleep apnea, heart failure, and diabetes creep in.”
Exercise can help combat the disease and Simmons is promoting the ADA’s “Step Out” walk to stop diabetes.
There are three upcoming walks in the Bay Area:
San Francisco – September 28
Oakland – October 12
San Jose – October 20
“You can find something bad about it, which is easy to do when you have diabetes,” Simmons said. “Or you can do something positive. My family is healthier because of it. I am healthier than most normal people that I am around. I look at it as a blessing more than a hinderance.”
You can help Simmons, Novo Nordisk and the ADA fight diabetes: CLICK HERE
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