Every day, 25 million Americans face the challenges of life with diabetes. Very few of them are pre-med varsity athletes.
Welcome to the life of Roy Collins ’13, senior offensive lineman for Yale, prospective doctor and Type 1 diabetic. His diagnosis about nine years ago prompted his desire to pursue medicine.
“One of my biggest motivations is [to help] people like me: [athletes who are also] diabetics,” Collins said, adding that the number of diabetics in the United States is rising due to poor health habits. “There’s a gap between the worlds of diabetes and athletes, [and] I feel like I have a unique perspective.”
Collins, a Houston native and graduate of Choate Rosemary Hall, has Type 1 diabetes, the kind that is typically diagnosed around puberty and is “purely genetic,” he explained. He tries to keep up with new research about diabetes by visiting his doctor on a weekly basis, scouring the Internet for information and talking to other athlete-diabetics. Meanwhile, he wears an insulin pump at all times, even during games. The insulin pump acts as a surrogate pancreas, helping to regulate blood glucose levels. Even with the pump, Collins has to be vigilant — especially when he is playing football.
“Being diabetic and playing sports is difficult because [your blood sugar level] has to be in a certain range in order to play well,” he explained. He said if it is too high, his mind isn’t clear, and in football there are a lot of decisions that need to be made quickly.
Occasionally, he will get an irregular reading and have to sit out. In the game against Cornell earlier in the season, he got a low reading, which sent his sugar sky-high and prevented him from playing.
Offensive lineman coach Joseph Conlin said the offensive lineman position, a notoriously inglorious position in football, also has special challenges for diabetics like Collins and his teammate Willy Moore ’14.
“[The offensive lineman] job entails being able to push people around … Obviously, they’re the biggest guys on a team,” Conlin said, adding that diabetes makes it difficult to keep on weight.
In spite of these obstacles, Collins says his teammates and coaches are supportive of his health and heavy course load.
“I feel like in this point in my career everyone knows where I’m coming from. It’s not uncommon for me to not be able to participate in some activities,” he said. “I used to be self-conscious about what others thought of me. I didn’t want people to think that I was soft or tired. When I am participating I’m giving it my all, and I think they appreciate that.”
Collins and linebacker Ryan Falbo ’13, a fellow pre-med student, take a lot of classes together. Conlin said Collins is a very dedicated student and added that he is always in the lab, sometimes running there after practice.
Center John Oppenheimer ’14 called Collins inspiring, adding that he leads by example on the field and off.
Offensive lineman Kyle White ’14, Collins’ backup, said that he has looked up to Collins since he was a freshman. He said when Collins arrived at Yale, the coaches thought he would serve the team better as a tackle with tremendous athleticism.
“I think the fact that Roy accepted the position change and worked to become who he is now — a stalwart of the offensive line [who] is having an all-conference-caliber season — really speaks to Roy’s athletic talent and commitment to the team,” White said.
Collins said he is looking forward to Saturday’s game against Harvard, his last Harvard-Yale game ever. Citing numerous coaching changes and many losses in the past few years, he said the team has experienced its fair share of adversity. He added that he has invested a lot in Saturday’s game, and that the team is ready to avenge those losses.
Collins plans to take a year or two off, possibly working at a company geared toward diabetic-athletes or doing Teach for America, before attending medical school.