Katie Jenkins, a 24-year-old Kirkland resident, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2013, on Christmas Eve.
The latter half of 2013 had already come with several transitions. The Monroe-bred Jenkins was a recent high school graduate, and had nabbed a full-time job soon after the milestone.
When she started experiencing diabetes-like symptoms around the same time, she didn’t immediately recognize them as such. With a long commute on top of her working hours, exhaustion was overwhelming; she struggled to stay awake at the wheel and at work. Jenkins was also rapidly losing weight, at one point shedding 15 pounds in two weeks.
But she assumed that her tiredness was simply a response to her new-found responsibilities. The constant fatigue seemed to be a normal consequence of her busyness. And the weight loss was something she attributed to her newly adopted diet and rigid workout regimen.
“In my head, it was just because you have so many things you’re adjusting to,” she said.
Things came to a head on Christmas Eve. Earlier in the day, Jenkins had eaten several holiday cookies at home. Then, later, the family decided to watch a Christmas movie together. Jenkins, her brother and her father went out to grab some snacks; she came home with a Big Gulp.
It was after this that she realized something was off. Even after she “sucked it down,” Jenkins found herself beset by a feeling of dehydration. It didn’t matter how many times she refilled her cup with water.
Jenkins’ mother, Gail Jenkins, had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 12, and worked as a diabetes educator before she had kids. So when her daughter brought up her insatiable thirst, she suspected something was up.
“It just clicked with me,” Gail said, remembering. “I thought, ‘Oh, crud.’ That just set off an alarm in my head.”
Gail grabbed her personal blood sugar monitor — which taps out at about level 400 — and found that Katie’s blood sugar was likely higher than what the device was indicating.
Since Katie was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she has worked to make sure the condition does not derail her life. Recently, she decided to take advantage of an opportunity: compete in the 26-mile-long New York City Marathon.
Katie, who currently works in Kirkland as a chiropractic assistant, applied for the marathon last year. But she didn’t wind up competing. This year, she decided to commit.
“I was going back and forth a lot on it,” she said. “I just kind of decided to do it without thinking too much about it but knowing what kind of commitment it is and that I would have to push myself and challenge myself…I was like, ‘I’m just gonna do it.’”
When Katie told loved ones that she’d signed up, they weren’t surprised.
“Katie is always someone who takes on challenges,” lifelong friend Jodee Maytum said. “It’s part of her character. When she told me, I was like ‘Oh yeah.’ I knew she was capable of doing that.”
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Gail said. “But it kind of terrifies me. I would never do it. I’m concerned for her obviously, but I’m excited for her — because, what an opportunity.”
Several motivators convinced Katie to devote herself to the race. Aside from being encouraged by a friend she’d made on the team she’s running with — the Beyond Type 1 Run Team — she wanted to further break down stereotypes, as well as embark on something formidable as a tribute to her mother.
Preparing for the race
Katie wouldn’t describe herself as a competitive runner. Before deciding to participate in the NYC Marathon, she had never especially enjoyed the activity.
“I’d always off and on ran since gym class,” she said.
Part of the appeal of the marathon was the challenge it presented. In addition to having to more meticulously map out her running routine, Katie would have to navigate how to train without her diagnosis thwarting her progress.
By now, Katie has refined an effective routine. She uses a Dexcom G6, which continuously monitors her blood glucose level and can send phone alerts if her blood sugar gets too low, to keep track of her diabetic needs. Katie has used the device since 2015.
“I don’t have to prick my finger a million times a day,” she said, adding that she still relies on insulin shots.
While running, Katie always has sugar on her — usually gummy bears or honey packets. And she makes sure to consider the different variables she’ll face to make sure she’s properly prepared before leaving the house. Although she sometimes wishes she could go on a jog without worrying about how it contributes to her looming goal, Katie has enjoyed the push.
“It’s been cool to tune into what my body is telling me and what my body needs,” she said.
The marathon is set for Nov. 1. Though she hasn’t yet met the majority of the members of the marathon’s Beyond Type 1 Run Team, with whom she’s participated in a few events over the last few years, Katie has connected with some of them over social media. Team fundraising will ultimately go to Beyond Type 1, a nonprofit that provides support and other resources for those living with type 1 diabetes.
Taking it as it comes
By participating in the marathon, Katie hopes she can make a difference in how the public engages with people who have invisible illnesses.
“For me, it’s important because there’s a lot of chronic illnesses out there, and there’s a lot of invisible diseases or illnesses out there,” she said. “I think it’s just so important…to be able to know that [people with invisible illnesses are] not alone and they can accomplish things and people are here for them.”
Katie added that with more of an insight into how people with invisible conditions function, compassion will likely increase on the part of those who don’t live with chronic diseases like type 1 diabetes.
“It’s hard because we’re not pretending,” she said of those with invisible illnesses. “We’re pretending most days to be healthy.”
Once she completes the marathon, Katie wants to continue being a spokesperson not just for type 1 diabetes and useful tools like the Dexcom 6 but also for people with chronic illnesses more broadly. She’d also like to participate in similar athletic competitions, though probably not one as strenuous as the NYC Marathon. Admittedly, though, her mind is still mostly on the East Coast competition as for now.
“I’m just kind of taking it as it comes,” Katie said.