Although Mark Woolley was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, he has known for his entire life what it is like to live with the disease. His older brother, Matt, was diagnosed at birth, and Mark has regularly helped test Matt’s blood sugar (glucose) and give him insulin.
Mark has been playing hockey since he was a kid, with dreams of making it to the NHL. Now 19 years old, he currently lives in his hometown of St. Thomas, Ont. For the past two years, he has been a defenceman on the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), bringing him one step closer to fulfilling his dream as he prepares for the NHL draft.
As an elite athlete, Mark was initially worried about how diabetes would affect his game. Thanks to the support of his family (which also includes his brother, Michael, and parents, Tracy and Steve), as well as his diabetes care team, trainers, and coaches, he has developed a routine that works for him. He tests his blood sugar before and after games, as well as in between periods, to ensure he is not experiencing high blood sugar, known as hyperglycemia. He has snacks on hand in case he feels a low coming on.
I was quick to learn that type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to define who you are as long as you take care of your health.
Mark wants other kids to enjoy the same sense of accomplishment that he has found in hockey. Last summer, he made his dream come true with the launch of his non-profit Woolley’s Warriors (WW28), which is raising funds to send children and youth with type 1 diabetes to Diabetes Canada’s D-Camps. WW28 also supports and connects young athletes affected by type 1 diabetes, while offering a platform for others to share their personal story.
Mark has raised $35,000 to date through partnerships with local businesses and fundraising events, which have also collected clothing and household items for Diabetes Canada’s reusable goods donation program. He has invited D-Campers and their families to his games, chatting with and answering any of their questions afterward.
“I am so excited about the work Mark has done for D-Camps, which touches children from across the country and unites them in being empowered in their lives,” says Diabetes Canada’s community engagement coordinator, Laura Toito. “With his campaign, he has helped us spread awareness about type 1 diabetes across Ontario and has sent multiple children to our D-Camps.”
“Not too many people know the intensity behind type 1 diabetes and the effect it can have on your life,” says Mark. Both he and Matt have experienced potentially life-threatening diabetic comas (a serious complication of the disease in which a person can lose consciousness because their blood sugar is too low or high for too long). “I came home one weekend to celebrate my dad’s 50th birthday,” Mark recalls. “I woke up in an ambulance at four in the morning. That was probably one of the scariest moments of my life, and one of the reasons why I wanted to spread awareness around type 1 diabetes.”
As a proud player in the OHL, Mark welcomes the opportunity to make a difference. “People look up to people who play in the OHL,” he says. “I love giving back to the community. I think that’s a big part of the game.”
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