When Darcy McMickan jumps in to her boat to tackle a tough rowing race or a punishing training session she has much more to consider than the average rower.
Darcy, 17, has diabetes and the training and competition required of an elite rowing crew can push her body to the limits.
Later this month, Darcy and her crew mates from Ballarat High School will compete in the Head of the Lake regatta on Lake Wendouree and in the lead up they’re training up to 20 hours a week.
Exercise, especially the intense workouts required of elite rowers, can affect the body’s insulin levels so Darcy must be careful and closely monitor her levels.
Whenever she steps in to her boat she carries with her a pack containing lollies, a can of Coke and her insulin testing kit, and her coach is also armed with lollies and Coke in case her insulin levels shift.
She tests her insulin levels in the morning, every time she eats, on her way to training and just before getting in to the boat to ensure she is at her peak level.
And every morning at 2.30am she wakes to test her levels because they often drop too low overnight. Until recently mum Carolyn had been doing the early morning test but Darcy now does it herself and texts her mum. If that text doesn’t arrive within 10 minutes mum goes in to check on her.
An insulin pump means Darcy doesn’t have to inject herself with insulin but she does need to manage the insulin flow.
The other rowers, all they’ve got to worry about is getting in the boat and getting things done, but Darcy has to worry about her insulin levels, if she’s got enough lollies, whether her pump is on properly, whether it’s going to fall out … so much moreCarolyn McMickan
“Now I’m in year 12 I’ve taken the reins and focus on my diabetes a bit more for myself so when I get to 18 I’ll be more independent and know what to do,” she said.
“With exercise I usually go high (insulin levels) and then come down a couple of hours after. And in the off season there’s a completely different amount of insulin I give myself compared to the on-season in rowing.”
Rowing isn’t the only sport taking up Darcy’s days alongside school studies – she’s also a top level netballer having jointly won the McCartney Medal for the senior netball best and fairest at Ballarat High School last year, and was runner up this year, and won best and fairest at Lakers netball.
Darcy was diagnosed with type one diabetes when she was six.
“It was quite brutal and we had a lot of issues, and she had a mini-stroke when she was seven. She couldn’t get through the night without an injection,” said Darcy’s mum Carolyn.
”Every night for the last 10 years I’ve got up to check her at 2.30am, but now she’s maturing she checks herself, especially in rowing season because it’s so dangerous after doing exercise then four hours later it might kick in, or not at all, you just don’t know it’s such a fickle disease,” she said.
Darcy is now attuned to her body and can feel when something is going wrong, learning the difference between the adrenaline of a race or heavy training, and her diabetes, which can present with similar sensations.
“I’m amazed at what she does and so proud of her. The other rowers, all they’ve got to worry about is getting in the boat and getting things done, but Darcy has to worry about her insulin levels, if she’s got enough lollies, whether her pump is on properly, whether it’s going to fall out … so much more,” her mum said.
She’s learning all the time how her body reacts, understanding the difference between diabetes and working hard. Sometimes when they do a really hard session it’s not diabetes, just the body being fatigued that’s causing symptoms, and she’s had to learn that.Rob Simmonds
Ms McMickan said her daughter was a role model to other young people with diabetes.
“There was one boy Darcy went to primary school with and his younger brother was diagnosed with diabetes. When he was first diagnosed he thought his life had ended, but his mum said ‘look at Darcy, she can do this and that,’ so she has been a really positive role model for him.
RELATED STORY: Families call for funding to find diabetes cure
“People need to realise that diabetes isn’t the end of kids sport. I think a lot of mums and dads are too scared to let their children do it.”
Darcy is the youngest of four children and her elder brother was in the winning Head of the Lake crew in 2014, and with a fierce sibling rivalry Darcy is driven to at least equal her brother, if not outshine him.
Ballarat High School rowing director Rob Simmonds said Darcy had been a top level rower right through high school despite the challenges she faced.
“It’s a credit not just to her but the other girls around her and their understanding. They support her, if she needs to stop because she’s not feeling right they grab a drink and understand … it’s become so normal we don’t even realise most of the time.
“Darcy is learning herself that she has to manage her body and understand her body a bit more. We are pushing the girls really hard this year, they’re a really good squad and one of the best chances for a Head of the Lake win and nationals medal that we’ve had for a while,” he said.
“She’s learning all the time how her body reacts, understanding the difference between diabetes and working hard. Sometimes when they do a really hard session it’s not diabetes, just the body being fatigued that’s causing symptoms, and she’s had to learn that.”
- Watch out for The Courier’s profiles on the Head of the Lake crews starting Thursday.
Have you signed up to The Courier's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.