Triathlons and medicine make up the two sides of Shannon Standridge's fast-paced life. How she handles both with diabetes.
Shannon Standridge says she didn't skip a beat when she was diagnosed with diabetes in seventh grade. She wasn't sure what diabetes was, but her time in the hospital with another girl named Shannon helped her see diabetes differently. The other Shannon had cystic fibrosis, a disease that makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and often leads to death.
"It really made me feel very thankful, because I was able to see that there are plenty of worse things out there," says Shannon today. "I can take a shot. Sure, you have to do a lot and be inconvenienced, but it doesn't have to take your life away. You can still be very healthy and do everything you want to."
Diabetes has never slowed Shannon down, whether fulfilling her dream of becoming a doctor or riding, swimming, and running her way through Ironman races.
Q. How did you get started competing in triathlons?
A. Purely by accident. It was the end of my first year of medical school, and I really hadn't heard about them. My husband was reading about them and said he wanted to try one. We bought him a bike. But he never rode it! He tried swimming and found out it's pretty difficult and you have to spend a lot of time learning how to swim if you haven't before. So the bike sat around. I'm a cyclist and always loved to ride. So I said, "I can bike and run. I can do this!" I quickly learned it's important to learn how to swim. I joined a masters group at my YMCA, asked them for tips, and went on from there.
Q. How do you manage such intense training with diabetes?
A. Actually, it helps with my diabetes because I require less insulin, and exercise has always given me better control. I'm not sure I can give the scientific basis as to why, but it just does. On the days I work out more, I can turn down the basal [dose] on my pump, which gives me less insulin. I test more often, but I get to eat more. And I like to eat! Let it be known! I like to eat! So I have to work out.
Q. How do you train for the Ironman?
A. You have to practice, practice, practice, practice. That's long hours, on weekends. I'm what you call a "weekend warrior," since I can't get in a lot of time during the week. A typical weekend day during training will involve at least a two-hour run, a three-to-five-hour bike ride, and an hour and a half swim. Then during the week, I try to get in three swims, at least three runs, and maybe ride twice on the bike.
Q. What's your best event?
Q. What are your future goals?
A. My husband wants to do an Ironman, so we've signed up to do Lake Placid again for this year. After that, I'm going to call the Ironman distance quits, because we can't feasibly do residency [work] and train for this. It's very, very difficult. We'll scale back and do half-Ironmans, which are basically half the distance and easier to train for as far as time is concerned. We want to place high and do well in our age groups and make a name for ourselves in the racing world, but in half-Ironmans.
Q. Why did you decide to be a doctor?
A. For a long time I couldn't decide between teaching or medicine. But whenever I volunteered in hospitals or nursing homes as a kid, it felt so good. I loved helping other people and helping them feel good about themselves. Then, I was able to succeed in my classes and in tests and such, and in order to get into medicine, you have to do really well in all of your classes or they just won't even look at you as a candidate. Because I was able to do that, it was even more of an argument for medicine.
Q. Why work with kids?
A. I'm a big kid myself! So I think it's only appropriate that I'm doing this. I love kids, and I love the fact that you can actually solve problems with kids. With many adults, you end up taking care of them because they're at the end of their ropes. You don't hope to cure a lot of problems, like when someone has been smoking for 40 years. But with kids, you actually have a shot at helping them get better or make better choices for the future.
Q. What should someone who wants to be a doctor do now?
A. Volunteer. It's very, very important to get involved in your town or city, not only in a hospital, but with any type of organization on a regular basis. And, of course, studying and doing the best that you can on your exams and earning the highest grades possible.
Also, find other activities. Even more now, schools are very interested in well-rounded individuals, not necessarily the smartest candidates. It's not just that you make all A's, but that you are involved in the community, church, sports, or music, that you are interested in other aspects of life. Because there's more to life than medicine.
Q. What drives you to do something so grueling as the triathlon?
A. Once you get started in the triathlon world, if you ever train with people who do longer distances, like half or full Ironmans, you start asking them questions. To hear their stories about finishing this ultimate race—because there's nothing like it, there just isn't—it makes you want to achieve it. So you set that goal for yourself.
Once you do it, it's a fantastic feeling. I did it in a successful way, with a good time, and I felt great! I've never been sore the next day! I've always been ready to go. I love it.
Q. Have you always been energetic?
A. Definitely. I've always been very independent and active.
Q. Which is harder, triathlon training or medical training?
A. Ooh—good question! Triathlon training is definitely more physically demanding, and medicine is more mentally demanding, so they both wear you out. I think that's why I can do both. They exhaust me from both angles. When I'm mentally exhausted, I go out and tire myself physically.
Q. What would you tell someone about life with diabetes?
A. That you can do anything with diabetes. It just takes a little extra work and preparation.
Shannon talked to us for the Spring 2003 issue of Countdown For Kids magazine.