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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