Being a professional athlete is both physically and mentally demanding. Add in an autoimmune disease that requires constant attention to combat its effect on energy levels and health, and you'll begin to see what athlete Lauren Salko faces on a daily basis.
Salko was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) at a routine physical exam as a child. She didn't have any of the dramatic symptoms—weight loss, extreme fatigue, increased thirst—that often mark the presence of T1D, meaning that her diagnosis came as a complete surprise.
Following this unexpected news, Salko refused to let her diagnosis dictate what she could and couldn’t do with her life. She has always lived an active lifestyle, including competing in half-marathons, full-marathons, Ironman competitions, mountain biking, and competitive skiing. "If there is something you are passionate about, diabetes doesn’t have to stand in the way,” she says.
Diabetes definitely does add additional challenges, though—demanding constant maintenance, controlled medications, support, additional planning, and careful management to support peak performance. However, Salko doesn’t treat her diabetes as a detriment and instead argues that it has had positive impacts on her athletic career.
“Diabetes is hard and there are times when it does affect my skiing," she says, "but there are also things about it that have made me the person that I am today and that is why I am able to pursue my dreams. Having diabetes in some cases helps my skiing and I think skiing definitely helps my diabetes."
In order to manage her insulin levels, Salko uses an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor called a Dexcom G6. With this tool, she can track her blood sugar levels through her phone, allowing her to better manage her insulin levels in response to differing energy outputs. It also allows her to share the data with her coaches and teammates, which Salko says is a total game-changer for peace of mind, especially when traveling in remote locations.
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Salko got a late start to the competitive ski scene, only beginning racing when she was in high school and continuing into college and beyond. During her second season of racing at a collegiate level, she decided to try something new and turned to ski cross. After competing in only one ski cross race, Salko headed to compete at the USCSA nationals in Whiteface. N.Y., where she came in 9th place, becoming an All-American athlete after her second-ever ski cross race. From this point on, she was hooked. For Salko, ski cross is more than the competitions, it’s also about the community.
"In ski cross you can’t really become good unless you train with other people." she explains. "You are competing against people but you also want to see them succeed, it’s a really cool dynamic.”
Salko has made ski cross her life, moving from her home in New Hampshire to Park City, Utah, so she could spend more of her time on the slopes and exploring the mountains. Moving forward, she aims to dedicate more and more time to training and focusing on strength and conditioning in order to reach her goal of competing in the 2022 Olympics.
“It’s a lofty goal and I am not where I need to be skiing-wise to do that right now," says Salko, "so it's something I have shied away from saying, but I think being honest about those goals is really important.”
She recently competed at the USASA nationals at Copper Mountain, Colo. where she came in second, rounding out a successful competition season. Alongside her skiing career, Salko serves as a major advocate and speaker for T1D. She travels around the country speaking at summits and conferences with the hope of raising awareness for T1D and the high price of insulin, and inspiring others to pursue their passions despite their diagnosis.
"Skiing is definitely a motivation for me," says Salko. "Wanting to excel at skiing is a motivation to control my diabetes more because I know that if my blood sugar is not where I want it to be it can negatively impact my skiing. And in the same respect, I’m definitely more in touch with my body and what my body needs than some athletes without diabetes.”
Stay up to date on all of Salko's adventures by following her on Instagram.