CARY, N.C. -- Jon Castro and brothers Kyle and Tyler Fries have a bond as Wilmington (Del.) teammates that they would more than likely rather not share.
All three have diabetes. While each says the disease is just something else they’ve had to deal with, life would obviously be much simpler without it. Diabetes is a constant companion, and one that cannot ever be ignored.That’s precisely what makes their story so compelling. They’ve overcome the obstacle to become elite student-athletes who are competing this week for the Division II national championship.
“There are plenty of athletes who have diabetes,” said Castro, the Wildcats’ designated hitter in a 3-2 loss to Catawba here Saturday. “Honestly, being an athlete helps you pay more attention to it because you have to.
“If your [blood sugar] is high or low, you’re not going to play to the best of your abilities. It’s a complex disease. It’s tough to get used to, but you get used to it and you do what you need to do.”
Castro was 15 when he first found out he had Type I diabetes. He was tired all the time, constantly thirsty, urinating all the time and losing weight. Something was up. A blood test revealed the issue, and the truth is, he didn’t know enough about the problem to be scared.
He was admitted to the hospital for three days to get regulated and to help regain the 35 to 40 pounds he’d lost. His learning process was beginning, and beginning in earnest -- Castro calls it Diabetes 101.
The experience was similar for the Fries brothers as well.
What does high blood sugar feel like?
What does low blood sugar feel like?
What do I do about it when either one happens?
What am I supposed to eat?
Can I still play sports?
The answer to that one is absolutely, positively yes … but it wouldn’t be easy.
“It had a huge impact,” Castro admitted. “You go from not really worrying about anything to, now, you have to prick your finger every couple of innings. If you don’t feel right, you hit the panic button trying to get used to it. It was tough, and it still is to this day, eight years later. I’m still battling.”
Wendy Fries, Tyler and Kyle’s mom, has diabetes as well so she knew the warning signs when they began happening in her children. Tyler was shocked at first, not knowing what to expect from the coming days, weeks, months and years.
A simple cold goes away. Diabetes does not. It took his breath away, knowing that it was something he was going to live with for the rest of his life.
Pitching coach Rich Groff has Tyler check every game around the sixth or seventh inning to make sure he’s ready to close out the game. This is no small thing, either. Now a senior, Tyler had stretches during his freshman to junior seasons in which he could not get his blood sugar regulated.
Sick and vomiting, he would be in the hospital anywhere from three days to a week and a half or two. Once, his kidneys were all but shut down.
Still, this is what he would tell a young person diagnosed with diabetes.
You’re not alone. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s just one more thing to keep track of.
“I don’t consider it a disability,” Tyler said. “I know it made me a stronger person, because you’ve got to be more responsible. You kind of have to grow up a little faster and take care of yourself. No one else can tell whether you’re high or you’re low. You have to take care of yourself.”
Tyler’s kid brother Kyle was in the middle of his eighth-grade year when his mom noticed him downing one bottle of water after another while home watching television. That was one thing, and once he got up to go to the bathroom several things in a fairly short amount of time, she knew something was taking place.
It was difficult news to hear because daily insulin injections became a part of life. Kyle was not good with needles, nor is he all that crazy about them now. He was scared, but he had his mom and Tyler to lean on for support.
And now Castro, too.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re always on top of it,” said Kyle, a redshirt freshman who has seen time this year in both the outfield and on the mound. “You can’t get lazy. Otherwise, you can lose body parts. Your vision can go. You’ve just really got to stay on top of your blood sugar. You check your blood sugar regularly.”