In 2012, data from the National Diabetes Statistics Report showed that 29.1 million Americans battle with diabetes. According to the report, an average of 1.5 million people are diagnosed each year and there is no sign of it slowing down. Of those living with the disease is NBA Player, Gary Forbes. This 6’7” basketball star is now the face for prevention and management with his charity, the Gary Forbes Foundation, which aims to bring awareness and provide support groups for those under 18 that are diagnosed.
MiLLENNiAL met up with Gary in his hometown, Brooklyn, before the launch of his foundation’s 2nd annual celebrity softball tournament. The biggest misconception of diabetes, he tells us, is that not all diabetics are overweight. While type 2 diabetes has resulted from obesity, type 1 is normally hereditary and developed in children. Regardless of the type or whether you’ve been diagnosed at all, Gary stresses proper nutrition and fitness activities will help make life healthier and adds “nobody is responsible for your body but you.”
The Importance of Nutrition
As a professional athlete, diet and exercise are fundamental to Gary’s daily life. He first discovered his insulin deficiency when he was 19 years old as a sophomore at the University of Virginia. In a family of diabetics (grandfather, father, and nephew), Gary thought he was different and believed he had a chance of beating the odds. It was difficult for him to adjust initially, saying he thought about the negatives at first, but instead of using it as a crutch or being depressed by the condition, he decided to hide it in order to be taken seriously as a basketball player. It wasn’t until 2009 when he played for the Italian club Vanoli Cremona that he recognized the importance of fresh foods.
Gary explains that during that time, he was experiencing low blood sugar episodes while taking his regular insulin dose of 60 units. It turns out that because he was eating fresh food his body was naturally insulating itself and required less units of injected insulin. “In Italy, they cook their food fresh every single day,” he says. This was unique to his lifestyle in New York where he mostly ate processed foods. Understanding the positive effect fresh fruits, vegetables, protein and grains had on his body, Gary was able to lower his dose to less than 20 units per day. “It changed the way I ate and the way I approached food.”
The Gary Forbes Foundation
Bringing that new found awareness back with him to the states, he started his outreach program TypeOneTwo.org through his foundation and has been helping people “find alternatives to live a healthy lifestyle” ever since. Like most diabetics, Gary struggles to remember to take his medicine on time and eat the right things for his body. He admits his biggest challenge with the disease is food itself because as he says, “I’m a foodie.” And in a city like New York, delicious meals are not hard to come by, but Gary reminds himself that in order for the body to function properly it has to be fed properly.
It is this testament of willpower that has enabled him to become an in-demand ball player. Although he was injured last year and had to bow out of the season, he remains blessed to still be wanted by the league. “It’s taught me a lot of patience and it is going to help my game when I step back on the court.” Living with a “seize the day” philosophy, Gary says, “I’m an optimist and I have high standards for myself. It was the way I was raised…my father was a perfectionist.”
Like Father Like Son
Not only was his father a perfectionist, but Gary tells us that his dad was a Panamanian Olympian lifter and cyclist. He was even a welder on the Panama Canal and now builds any and everything. Gary points out the importance of being skilled with your hands and says his father always encouraged him to build things. He observes that technology may be holding people back from the natural thought of education. “Everything is so easy and direct with technology,” he adds.
At 29 years old, Gary is seeing reflective behavior of his father in himself. “I am starting to see in my everyday life, how much I act like my father, how much I am him. My father is a great storyteller and always passed down stories to teach lessons.”
Similarly, Gary now shares his story of having diabetes with other youth struggling with the disease to prove life goes on in great ways. He is proud to stand in the spotlight for a disease that never prevented him from achieving his goals. “I don’t regret having diabetes. It has put me on a stage to help others.”