Randi Druzin – McLeans

When Max Domi steps out of the dressing room after a game, fans surround him. The rising professional ice hockey star always takes the time to exchange a few words and sign autographs.

Once in a while, Domi comes across youngsters who, like him, have Type 1 diabetes, a disease in which the blood sugar can soar to dangerous highs and lows because the pancreas is unable to produce insulin to regulate it. He spends a few extra minutes with those kids and always delivers the same message: “Control your diabetes. Don’t let your diabetes control you.”

Domi practices what he preaches. Since he was diagnosed with diabetes nine years ago, he has taken every step necessary to manage the disease and follow his dreams. “When you get to this level of competition, you need to use everything in your toolbox to set yourself up for success,” he says.

Food, exercise, stress, illness, hormones, and other factors contribute to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, so Domi, one of the top scorers on his team, must constantly monitor and regulate it.

He checks his level using a

CONTOUR® NEXT blood glucose monitor and adjusts his insulin through a pump upwards of six times a day, including before and after meals and even when he’s competing.

During a typical 60-minute game, Domi checks his blood sugar level during and after each of the three periods, adjusting his insulin as necessary.

Domi, 21, sometimes makes changes to accommodate the demands of his job. For example, Domi’s regimen is different when the team is on the road, because he’s eating and sleeping at varying times. Professional hockey players often travel through several time zones on a single road trip.

Never use blood sugar as an excuse
Domi has to be vigilant because when he’s “out of range” he’s not at his best. When his blood sugar drops too low he’s not as mentally sharp as he needs to be — he describes it as feeling “loopy” — and when it climbs too high his energy fades; he gets as tired after 30-seconds on the ice as he normally does after 15-minutes of wind sprints.

High blood sugar tends to affect his game in other ways, too. “I’m not the kind of player who takes a lot of penalties, but when my blood sugar spikes I can be irritable,” he says, admitting to the occasional slash across an opponent’s leg. “I sometimes snap at referees and linesmen. But I always apologize. I never use my diabetes as an excuse.”

Team mentality: depend on support
While game officials may not understand the role the disease plays in Domi’s behaviour, his family members, friends and teammates do, and they have always been supportive. They are his other team.

Domi’s coaches and trainers also play an important role in keeping him functioning at his best. “They work with my diabetic specialist to ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of my treatment,” he says. “It’s great to have them working together. They all help me to stay in control and focus on my passion.”

Every person with diabetes needs a support network to thrive, says Domi. Some support networks extend further than most. Domi’s includes a service dog named Orion. When Domi’s blood sugar drops, the golden lab picks up the scent and lets his owner know by grabbing a chew toy that Domi wears on his belt. The protocol is different when he is asleep. “Orion will jump on my bed and lick my face,” he says with a laugh. “What a way to wake up!”

He encourages everyone living with diabetes to embrace the demands of managing the disease. “Everyone faces adversity. I do have more challenges to face, but my support team helps me take my diabetes management to the next level,” he says. “I always say to young people, ‘Go out and pursue your goals. Achieve your dreams. Don’t let anything get in your way. Be remarkable.’”