Repost: Challenges of Type 1 diabetes can’t keep Calgary’s Scott Ranger from thriving

Back in October of 2012, I wrote an article about Calgary’s Scott Ranger and how he deals with Type 1 diabetes while still managing to play lacrosse at the highest level. The article was featured on IL Indoor, and thanks to Bob Chavez for posting it.

The subject of diabetes was important to me when I wrote the article, since both my wife and father-in-law were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a few years before. But less than four months after this article was initially published, I was also diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic. Despite my initial assumption that Ranger gave it to me via email, I’ve done some research and it turns out that that can’t happen. In my case, it was actually caused by pancreatitis, which I had back in 2010.

Since Scott has announced his retirement from the NLL, I wanted to post a link to the original article, but with the recent web site changes at IL Indoor, the original article is badly formatted and clipped, and the photos are missing. I am reposting it here along with the pictures that Scott sent me for the original article. Scott, thanks again for talking to me about this, and congratulations on a fantastic career! I wish you the best of luck in your retirement.


Challenges of Type 1 diabetes can’t keep Calgary’s Scott Ranger from thriving

Originally posted on ILIndoor.com on October 31, 2012.

Over his nine-year professional career, Scott Ranger has risen to the upper echelon of pro lacrosse. He’s among the top scorers on the Calgary Roughnecks, where he won the Champion’s Cup in 2009 and was named to the Western All-Star team in 2011. In the WLA, he was named league MVP in 2011 and this past summer he led the league in scoring (12 points ahead of second place and 22 ahead of third) for the second straight year while playing for his hometown Nanaimo Timbermen.

But Ranger is in another much more exclusive class, which none of his Roughnecks or Timbermen teammates can boast – that of professional athlete struggling with diabetes. There have been a few athletes over the years that have been able to perform at the highest level of their sport despite having diabetes, including Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow, former Philadelphia Wings captain and current vice president Bobby Clarke, and golfer Scott Verplank. As far as he is aware, Ranger is the only NLL player in that list, though it’s one he’d likely prefer not to be in.

Scott, his wife Jill, and daughter McKenzieDiabetes is a strange disease. Some people are diagnosed early in life and have to learn to give themselves injections every day. Others are diagnosed later in life and control the disease through exercise, diet, and medication. Besides being dangerous by itself, diabetes can cause many other medical complications including glaucoma, cataracts, and other eye problems; hearing loss; nerve damage; high blood pressure; strokes; heart and kidney disease; and heart attacks.

There are two main types of diabetes, called Type 1 and Type 2. It has been said that these two types “are so different it’s a shame they are both called Diabetes”. Type 1 diabetes means, quite simply, that your pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep you alive. Type 1 diabetics must inject insulin daily and “how will this affect my blood sugars?” is a question that they must ask themselves many times every day. Type 2 usually means that your body has built up a resistance to the insulin you produce. It’s possible for Type 2 diabetics to manage the disease solely through exercise and diet, but usually require medication and sometimes insulin shots. A lucky few Type 2’s can take a few pills in the morning and a few in the evening and don’t need to think about it otherwise. Approximately 10% of diabetics are Type 1.

Ranger was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 4, around the same time he discovered lacrosse. He has almost passed out on the lacrosse floor, he’s had blood sugar levels that were over four times the recommended level, and he checks his blood sugar levels at halftime – so he bleeds at every game whether he fights or not.

In the twenty-five years since his diagnosis, he’s lost count of the number of insulin injections he’s given himself. Actually, he hasn’t exactly lost count; in fact three years ago, he had a very accurate count. “I was actually doing a paper for school and I had to calculate how many insulin injections I had done in my lifetime,” says Ranger. “When I found the number I thought to myself, what the heck am I doing?” He then ditched the injections in favour of an insulin pump, which gives him insulin continuously.

Scott RangerRanger tries to keep his blood sugar level between 4 and 8 (all numbers are in mmol/L, the standard unit of measurement in Canada). Anything under 4 can cause him to pass out, and once he starts getting up over 10, he needs to inject insulin. He does check his levels during games, sometimes a few times, but it isn’t always entirely successful. “Last season we were in Washington playing the Stealth and I had felt pretty good until the end of the game,” he remembers. “When the game was over and we were running down to congratulate Pouly [Roughnecks goaltender Mike Poulin], I nearly passed out due to low blood sugars.”

Post-games can be a challenge since Ranger doesn’t have much of an appetite, but simply not eating isn’t an option. “I can rarely eat after games and of course after playing a full game a diabetic needs to eat,” Ranger explains. “I usually have to have Gatorades or regular pop around to boost me back up after games because once the adrenaline wears off, blood sugars usually drop quickly and if I am not prepared, can cause some serious issues.”

One factor that a diabetic athlete needs to take into account more than most diabetics is adrenaline. During a game, Ranger cannot wear his insulin pump, and so his blood sugar level tends to increase. Adrenaline flowing throughout the body can further increase his level, but that effect is only temporary and once it stops flowing, the level can drop quickly. When he measures his blood sugar after a game, the level can be between 10 and 12, and so he needs to give himself insulin to bring it back down. If he doesn’t take the adrenaline into account he may take too much insulin, which could drop his blood sugar to a dangerously low level (below 3).

On the other hand, depending too much on the insulin pump can be dangerous as well. “Last year we were travelling to a game and my insulin pump stopped working in the middle of the night,” he said. “I woke up with a blood sugar of 31.0. When blood sugars get that high it can be very dangerous. I was fortunate enough to have back up insulin and I was able to get it under control within a few hours.”

Scott RangerNot all athletes have a great deal of respect for, or understanding of, nutrition. Babe Ruth was not known for his healthy diet, and more recently men like John Daly and David Wells (a type 2 diabetic) were able to perform at the highest level of their sport while not having the standard athlete’s physique. For most modern athletes, however, diet and nutrition are an important part of their training. For Ranger, it’s not just important, it’s crucial. He is very thankful for his wife Jill, not only for her support but for her help in watching his diet. “My wife is amazing at keeping me on track. Without her I would not still be playing at this level.”

He also credits his Roughnecks roommate, Nolan Heavenor. “I have a great roommate when we travel and he keeps a close eye on me. We often eat together at the restaurants and we know each other’s routine very well so that is very helpful.”

Diet is critical for Ranger not only to get the nutrients he needs to deal with both his diabetes and the demands of being a pro lacrosse player, but also because he can’t use the same nutritional supplements that many other players use. “Supplements are very hard for me to take because a lot of them contain sugar. The ones I do use are gross tasting and in my opinion not worth it. Because I have a fairly strict diet, my nutritional needs are met.”

Professional lacrosse players, particularly those who play in both the NLL and the Canadian summer leagues, have to train year-round. In addition to working on their strength, speed, stamina, and lacrosse skills, they have to watch their diet. Particularly in this era of controversy over performance-enhancing drugs, all pro athletes must pay close attention to everything they put into their bodies. For Scott Ranger, this would be an everyday occurrence even if he wasn’t a pro athlete. There is no cure for diabetes, and those who suffer from it are said to be “managing” the disease. In Ranger’s case, it would seem that he’s managing pretty well.

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Shawn Williams and the Toronto Rock

OK, I have to say that I didn’t see this coming. But I don’t really know why not, because there’s nothing about this deal that doesn’t make total sense.

Williams from his early days with the RockShawn Williams is once again a member of the Toronto Rock, having signed a one-year contract to return to the team where his career began back in 1998. It’s no secret that he was brought in to fill the void left by Colin Doyle’s injury, but it’s rare that a player is replaced by someone so similar:

  • Both players began their careers with the Ontario Raiders in 1998, and won a Championship with the Rock in 1999.
  • Both are lefties who are accomplished goal scorers but are also unselfish players known for their playmaking abilities
  • Both are very well-respected throughout the league and the lacrosse world in general
  • Both have played the majority of their careers in the east with a stint out west. Doyle played three years for the San Jose Stealth from 2007-2009 while Williams went to the finals with the Edmonton Rush in 2012.
  • Both hail from southern Ontario (OK, that doesn’t mean much; so does half the league)
  • Williams is a teacher, Doyle used to be
  • Doyle is an NLL captain (Toronto), Williams used to be (Rochester)
  • Both played for the Toronto Nationals in their first season
  • Both have won multiple Mann Cups – Doyle has 5 and Williams 2
  • Both have been MVPs – Williams was Mann Cup MVP in 2009, Doyle was NLL MVP in 2005 and has been NLL Champions Cup MVP 3 times
  • Both are known for their iron-man streaks – Doyle had a 200+ game streak from 2000-2012, Williams’s streak also began in 2000 and is still going strong at 230 games.
  • Both will be first-ballot NLL Hall of Famers (Technically, that’s speculation. But find me someone who disagrees.)

Shawn the Sunshine BoyDoyle has averaged about 5.24 points per game over his career, about 3/4 of a point more than Williams (4.48). This average would give them 94 and 80 points respectively in an 18-game season but even if Doyle were healthy, I think it’d be a stretch to expect those numbers from the 40-year-old Williams and the 37-year-old Doyle in 2015. Doyle had 72 points last season while Williams had only 49, his lowest total since 2000. But it’s not unlikely that the health issues with his son Tucker played a role in that; it’s got to be hard to concentrate on lacrosse – or anything else – while your child is going through cancer diagnosis and treatment. While Williams played in all 18 Bandits games, I’m sure a practice or two was skipped.

Unfortunately, Tucker has been in and out of the hospital over the summer, so his health is still a concern. But with home games in Toronto instead of Buffalo and practices in Oakville rather than Grimsby, the travel from Shawn’s home in Oshawa will be easier on him and his family. If Tucker is at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, it may be possible for him to travel a few kilometres south to see dad play at the ACC, but heading an hour and a half to Buffalo – including a border crossing – would likely be too much.

So in a nutshell, the Rock pick up a lefty scorer who’s a well-respected leader, much like the man he’s replacing. He’s nearing the end of his career so you’re not going to get 100 points out of him, but you wouldn’t get 100 out of Doyle either. What you will get is solid scoring and playmaking (I’m going to fearlessly predict 65+ points for Williams this year), leadership on and off the floor, and one of the classiest guys ever to grace an NLL arena. One can’t simply replace Colin Doyle, but if you’re going to try, you can’t get much closer than Shawn Williams.

For his part, Williams gets to play closer to home and will likely see more playing time than he would have in Buffalo. This is a win all around.

Thanks to my buddy Mike Scanlon for the photos.