November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, so we were approached with an opportunity to interview newly acquired forward Max Domi to discuss his experiences living with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), and to get his thoughts about joining the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects over a million Americans. It is most commonly diagnosed in children. Domi was 12 years old when he was diagnosed. During his pro career, he has taken time to meet with kids with T1D, including Emilia, the daughter of Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Domi says he met her in Columbus a few years ago after a game.
Here are some of the highlights from our conversation. The link to the full audio is below in this week’s episode of The Cannon Cast.
On being diagnosed with T1D:
“I was actually diagnosed at the age of 12, had pretty much the standard symptoms as everyone knows of. Got really sick, lost a lot of weight, looked kinda pale and whatnot — just didn’t look well. I was actually on my way up to Michigan for this minor hockey showcase/camp-type thing with all the top players from across North America ... got there, wasn’t feeling so hot and on the way I back I can remember stopping at almost every single gas station we could see to get a drink — I was super dehydrated and very thirsty — or had to go pee, which are two pretty standard symptoms when it comes to Type 1 Diabetes.”
After seeing his doctor and getting the diagnosis, he spent a week at a children’s hospital to learn about living with the disease. “Bit of a shock...your whole life kinda goes upside down. There’s a lot of things you’ve gotta do differently and learn about, which was pretty stressful especially at the age of 12, it’s a lot to handle. But when I asked the question of if I could play hockey and they said yes, I wasn’t really phased by anything else because that’s all I cared about.”
He learned about Bobby Clarke, who also had T1D and won two Stanley Cups as captain of the Philadelphia Flyers. That inspired him to continue his development as a hockey player, with an eye towards reaching the NHL. “If Mr. Clarke can do it, so can I.”
On how he manages his diet:
Watching what you eat is an important part of managing T1D, but it’s gotten somewhat easier now with the food options that are widely available. “In fairness to the world now, eating healthy and taking care of your body is such a common thing nowadays and people understanding how valuable what you put in your body is towards your long term health so it’s done me a lot of good, that’s for sure.”
Domi was also diagnosed with celiac disease, so he has to eat gluten free as well. At every stop of his NHL career, he has had a personal chef to prepare meals for him that fit his needs. On the road, he has to find the best restaurants with the best options for him. There is one misconception he wants to clear up about the dietary restrictions for someone with T1D:
“The one misunderstanding is people go ‘Oh you’re type 1 diabetic, you can’t have sugar. You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ Guys, at the same time I understand where you’re coming from, but Type 2 Diabetes is a much different disease from Type 1. I just want to make that very clear. Just because I’m a diabetic doesn’t mean I can’t have sugar. I actually probably have more sugar than you all combined, because when you go low you’re looking for any sugar, whether that’s a bag of Skittles or a Gatorade or a juice box, or whatever it might be. I have that pretty frequently just to keep my blood sugar up. So that’s kind of a myth. But that being said, everything in moderation, right? So I’m definitely not going to the candy store and crushing a bag of candy all the time. When need be, I get to indulge, that’s for sure.”
On the technology he uses to track his blood sugar:
“I wear the Dexcom G6 now. They’re basically the cutting edge technology for CGM, which is continuous glucose monitoring system. It’s super small, this thing that goes on my abdomen. I rotate from right to left sides on my ab. It’s very small, you can’t see it. I definitely can’t feel it. It’s the best device I’ve had since I was diagnosed.”
Other devices in the past would come off easily, or would be bulky to wear. The other alternative for Domi would be the devices which require a finger prick to get a blood sample. Now, he can get periodic updates and alerts on his phone, monitor blood sugar trends, and share data with his doctors. He adds, “I would recommend it to everyone. For me, personally, trying to perform at the highest level, it’s just something I can’t do unless my glucose levels are in control. This allows me — it’s never going to be perfect, but this puts me in the best position to succeed, that’s for sure.”
Two things surprised me: first, that the device could be worn during an NHL game and withstand the contact involved. Second, that his T1D is managed to the point where he can last an entire period without checking his blood sugar. He can wait for the intermissions. That’s a change from his early career in Arizona, when he’d check his blood sugar while on the bench at the halfway mark of the period. Now he can “treat each period like a minigame” and get by with either a carbohydrate drink to keep his sugar up or an electrolyte drink to keep it down.
On his service dog, Orion:
“He’s my best buddy in the world...He basically does the same thing my sensor does now, my Dexcom G6. He would detect when my glucose levels would go high or low. I’d wear something on my belt loop and he’d pull it off and sit there and look at me. I’d always test my blood and honestly he was right basically 99.9% of the time. He’s a lot smarter than I am, that’s for sure.”
Domi has posted pictures of Orion in Blue Jackets apparel on his social media. “He’s a #1 fan, that’s for sure. He’s got his collar on right now. He loves it. He’s excited to get down to Columbus, that’s for sure.”
What excites him about joining the Blue Jackets?
“Anytime you get traded it’s tough; it’s never fun. But at the same time, when you’re going to a new situation, a new chapter, a chapter closes and a new one opens up for you. The teammates that I have now in Columbus seem unbelievable. They’ve all basically reached out to me. Very welcoming. A great group of guys. I’ve known some in the past, which is great. So to get to play with those guys is going to be super cool.
“Just how good they are as a team. I know how hard it is to play against Columbus. It’s one of the hardest if not the hardest team to play against day in and day out. It just speaks volumes to the personnel they have, the work ethic and character the locker room has, and obviously they’re a very well coached team, too. They come at you in waves. I’m just looking forward to jump on board and help out in any way I possibly can and compete for a Stanley Cup.”
On the kinds of wingers he likes to play with:
“No one ever really dives in to what they have to play because you always adapt as a player; that’s what our job is. Playing center is something that was new to me in Montreal and I actually certainly enjoyed it. Got to play with some great linemates. You look at guys like Andrew Shaw who won multiple Stanley Cups and what he brings to a line and an ability to play all over the ice and give you the puck and let you have the puck and make plays and then he hits the hole, gets open, and then he can put the puck in the back of the net. Guys like that are fun to play with. Obviously I like having the puck, I like making plays and skating with it. Using my speed and trying to generate offensive chances.
“I look at our roster now in Columbus and there’s so much depth. A lot of opportunity to play with a lot of amazing hockey players. So, whoever that might be, I’m looking forward to that and helping making them a better hockey player and bring out the best in them just as I’m sure they’ll do with me and that’s the key to having a good line. It’s developing that chemistry, building that day in, day out. I mean, complementing each other and supplementing each others’ weaknesses but really highlighting strengths as well. Whoever that might be — I’m sure lines will change throughout the year, that’s just the reality of the business we’re in — but Columbus, you look at the depth chart they have, it doesn’t matter who I’ll be out there with. I’m super excited about it.”
On the possible plans for the NHL’s return to play:
“As of right now, we’re all kind of in the same boat as you guys are. We’re just playing the waiting game, getting little updates here and there. As far as I know we’re still hoping for a January 1 start.”
He complimented the way the league ran a bubble for the postseason, but said that players would not be thrilled to go back into a bubble for the whole season. They would prefer to play in home arenas.
On those new, red Reverse Retro jerseys:
“I love it! I think it’s awesome. When you get traded, you’ve worn the same jersey every day for the last couple of years. I’ve been lucky enough to wear some pretty amazing jerseys: Phoenix’s throwback jerseys were great...and you go to Montreal and it’s one of the most historical logos in the history of the game so I was very fortunate enough to wear that. Now in Columbus, the normal jerseys are great, but then when you get some new flair, the new ones, ‘oh wow, this is super cool. This is exciting.’
“I’m pumped. They look great.”
Thanks to Max Domi for his time, and to Angela Nicholas at Allison + Partners PR for setting up the interview.
To learn more about Type 1 Diabetes:
- JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation): https://www.jdrf.org/t1d-resources/about/
- ADA (American Diabetes Association): https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/type-1
- Beyond Type 1: https://beyondtype1.org/
- CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/type1.html
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