- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

Kris Freeman was 2 years old when his dad put him on skis, 5 when he joined a ski club and 15 when he won the junior nationals in cross country skiing. He was 20 when his life changed.

A routine test in October 2000 showed Freeman with an abnormally high blood-sugar count. One prick of the finger later, an endocrinologist told Freeman he had Type 1, or insulin-dependent diabetes, a serious form of the disease. He also was told his career was over.

“It was like I was hit with a baseball bat,” he said.

Freeman remembers the exact time he got the news — 1 p.m. He had no clue about diabetes, so he immediately began to scour the Internet for information and read about the worst-case scenarios — shorter life expectancies, blindness and amputation. By 4 p.m. he had rejected his career death sentence and was back on his skis. Except this time, one thing was different.

“I cried the whole time,” he said. “At the same time, I was very determined to overcome it. I never missed a beat. It was gonna take more than that to derail my training.”

Freeman said the team doctor told him he would have to take a year off. Freeman told the doctor that was out of the question.

His coaches agreed.

“They said, ‘He’s gonna go insane if he doesn’t compete,’ ” Freeman said. “They were right.”

Three months later, Freeman made the U.S. world championship team. He made the Olympic team the following year, finishing an American-best 14th in the One-Day Pursuit event in Salt Lake City and helping the U.S. to a fifth-place finish, its best ever, in the team relay.

As the nation’s preeminent cross country skier, Freeman, 25, already has qualified for the U.S. team headed to the Winter Olympics in Turin next month (His older brother, Justin, is trying to earn a spot). Only one American has medaled in the history of the discipline, and that was a long time ago. Bill Koch won the silver in the 30K in 1976.

Freeman might compete in as many as four events. Whether he medals, he already has beaten the odds.

“I wasn’t defiant with the doctors, but I was determined to continue living the way I wanted to live and pursue the dreams I wanted to pursue,” he said. “I researched it and found any scrap of information that gave me hope that I could continue to compete. I read about marathon runners that competed with diabetes. I thought, ‘I’m diabetic right now and I can run faster than that.’ Maybe people don’t know what you can do with that disease yet.”

Freeman, who is from Andover, N.H., initially gleaned some hope from the success of swimmer Gary Hall, who has successfully managed diabetes.

“I thought, ‘This is good,’ ” Freeman said. “Then I realized that the guy only races 50 meters. That’s great. I mean, he’s a diabetic. He’s winning Olympic medals. You can’t take anything away from him, but it doesn’t really pertain to my sport.”

Freeman’s sport is among the most strenuous, the training intensely rigorous. He deals with the diabetes through a variety of methods — a diet of mostly natural foods, frequent testing with a glucose monitor and four to 12 shots of insulin a day. His training also lowers his blood sugar, and he said a new type of fast-acting insulin allows him greater flexibility with his daily regimen.

“Sometimes I still get high blood sugar,” said Freeman, who has become a national spokesman for diabetes awareness and treatment. “That’s absolutely unavoidable. But when I’m training and racing, I do everything I can to make that not happen.”

Only twice, he said, has he felt the effects of the disease during a race. One was when he missed his electrolyte drink (called a “feed”) about 15 kilometers into a 20K race because a coach dropped the cup. Two kilometers later, he knew he was in trouble. So he took appropriate action.

“I actually ended up wrestling a feed away from a Russian,” he said.

Freeman said he had no choice.

“I realize I’m in uncharted territory as an elite endurance athlete and I have to take complete responsibility for myself,” he said.

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