As much as most athletes are ready to drop everything to chase their dreams, there is so much more to what goes into getting ready to compete. Meet Chris Holmstead – Olympic Oval speed skater on the National Stage 3 Sprint Men’s Team from Ontario, diabetic athlete, and ambassador for The Chopped Leaf, a healthy eating company.
Chris was an active kid whose ice journey started with learning to skate at two and then playing hockey from the age of four. By the time Chris was 17, he had suffered his 12th concussion and decided that it was time to segue into officiating. Some years later, Chris started to daydream about what it would be like to wear the maple leaf in international competition. One small snag: Chris wasn’t sure how to make that happen. He also wanted to make sure to consider the skills that he had already acquired, and any limitations imposed by his numerous concussions.
Enter the Milton Speed Skating Club and a conversation with club president Paul Emblin who agreed that Chris could try a learn-to-skate program at the Club; the same program being offered across the country. Although he felt slightly out of place as a 24-year-old in a group of much younger kids, Chris was eager to see where and how he would feel on the ice and where this experience would bring him.
“This is for me, is what I thought,” said Chris. “The first time I stepped on the ice, I was very comfortably uncomfortable, but I could see myself dedicating my time to this sport. Obviously, it’s very different to being on hockey skates but there was something about it that seemed very comfortable and familiar.” He was hooked.
Photo Credit: Tjerk Bartlema
Progress came easily and quickly, and Chris found himself moving to Calgary for training. On a visit home to Ontario to surprise his mom for Mother’s Day in 2021, Chris’ life took an unexpected turn. He had noticed that he was using the bathroom with frequency, eating as many sweets as he could and drinking everything in sight, so much so that he decided to have his uncle, a diabetic, check his blood sugar. The normal rate is between 4 – 7 and Chris’ reading was 33! With a family history of diabetes, Chris had always been aware of ‘lows’ when he played hockey and thought that this problem would simply be handled with exercise.
Chris’ mom stepped in when she realized that he needed more attention and shouldn’t be immediately travelling back to Calgary. Chris got dropped off at the hospital and three days later after lots of testing and evaluation, he was put on insulin. He credits his mom with saving his life. Literally.
Photo Credit: Kaeden Witkowski
Once back in Calgary, Chris’ life got back to (a new) normal and his training resumed. “There is no comparison from before to now. I knew that managing insulin and food was going to be what I needed to do when I got home but I had no idea what that was going to be like,” Chris commented. “To balance insulin and training was tricky and I needed to figure out how much insulin to take because every different food reacts differently in your body and how that weighs into insulin.” He says it’s all intertwined and there are ‘a million question marks’ that he is still trying to answer.
Fortunately, there are tools that he has come to rely on like the Dexcom continuous glucose monitoring system. “It is something you have to live with and you can choose to let diabetes dictate what you do or you can learn to live your life around it,” offered Chris. “Dexcom helps. It’s about freedom. There should be no reason that diabetes holds you back.”
Photo Credit: Chris Holmstead
Helping to move Chris forward is his relationship as an Ambassador for The Chopped Leaf which is a healthy food company that does a lot of salads, wraps, soups, and other foods that are compatible with Chris’ diet. Chris got involved with them through the company website’s link to sponsor athletes.
The foundation of Chris’ past is in Ontario; something that he happily credits with his current success. “I got my start in Ontario, inside a small community of people who are passionate and welcoming. It was so positive to be in a situation where they were all helping you to progress.”
Just like racing, it’s important to stay in the moment, and take every stride as it comes.
Written by Pj Kwong
Photo Credit: LuvCan Photography