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Health > On the Move2/18/09 IS Online

Living Without Limits

To Iron Andy, diabetes isn’t a handicap.

By Lucy Jokiel

Andy Holder has been an athlete all of his life – playing football and baseball and wrestling. After college, he maintained a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating well, and becoming a bodybuilder. Despite being in such great shape, Holder was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2005 at the age of 36. “I was scared, confused and mad,” Holder recalls. “How could this happen to me? I had worked so hard to stay healthy and had two young sons to raise.”

As he learned more about the disease, formerly called juvenile diabetes, Holder realized the heavy toll it often takes on parents and children. “I decided to make something positive out of my diagnosis by being a role model for my sons and to inspire others with diabetes.” He thought about what he could do to show others that it was possible to accomplish extraordinary feats in the face of a serious health problem. “The first thing that came to my mind was completing an Ironman race,” he says.

Although he didn’t know how to swim, had never been a runner, and didn’t own a bike, Holder says, “I wanted to do something so extreme that others would say, ‘Wow, look at this guy.’” His physician put him in touch with one of his patients who had type 1 diabetes and completed a marathon.

During training sessions, Holder learned to keep his blood sugar levels in check, which involves careful meal planning, wearing an insulin pump, and frequently testing his blood sugar, sometimes while running or biking. He has completed two Ironman races (a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon) and hopes to someday qualify for the Ironman competition on the Big Island.

Holder (known as “Iron Andy”) travels across the country to educate people about how to cope with chronic conditions and share his message of hope. “You don’t have to run a marathon, but anyone can learn to live without limits by managing their health,” says Holder. “If you want to change certain behaviors and improve your life, you have to stop saying, ‘I can’t.’”

Iron Andy’s uplifting experience with diabetes has inspired many people to accept and better manage their health challenges. The day before an Ironman race in Miami a few years ago, he talked with a worried mother who said her 9-year-old son Matthew was depressed and didn’t feel like a normal kid because of his type 1 diabetes. “I talked to him and tried to pull him out of his shell but it didn’t seem to be working,” says Holder. “I gave him one of my Iron Andy triathlon jerseys and invited him to come to my race the next day.”

On race day, after completing his swim and biking, Holder was half-way through his run when he began to feel sick and dehydrated. He checked his blood sugar level and it was very high. “I decided I had to quit because my health had to come first.” He walked to an aid station and asked for someone to pick him up. “But then I thought about Matthew,” he recalls. “What if he saw me being driven to the finish line?”

Holder completed the race and saw Mathew at the finish line wearing his triathlon shirt and flashing a huge smile. His mom later told Holder how much he had impacted her son’s life. “He has now come out of his shell and even brags about how well he manages his disease,” says Holder.

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