Here is our “Iron” Andy Holder interview and podcast. After being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 36, Andy decided to become an endurance athlete to promote diabetes health and achievement. Since this decision, he has completed 8 IronMan Triathlons. Incredible!
His education efforts also inspired his foundation and his work on a new commercial venture. Don’t miss this podcast or read the transcript below, if you prefer.
TRANSCRIPT AND INTRODUCTION – 8 Time IronMan
DWB: Welcome everyone! Today we are excited to have Andy Holder, also known as Iron Andy, to the Program. Andy is an eight-time Iron Man triathlete and the founder of The Iron Andy Foundation. He’s also Vice-President of Collaboration at SelfRX.com, which is the publisher of insulinnation.com, an innovative new online magazine for people with type I diabetes. Andy also has type 1 diabetes. Andy, thank you for taking your time to speak with us today. We are pleased to have you on our program.
GUEST:Great stuff. Thank you, Erich. It’s nice to be able to share my story and even talk about some of the things that I’ve been involved with
lately. Thanks for having me.
DWB: Great. Okay, first off, Andy, if you could explain to us a little about yourself, maybe when you were diagnosed with diabetes, and how that led to an interest in running triathlons?
GUEST: Yeah, you know, I was diagnosed at the age of 36. It pretty much came as a shock. I had no family history of type 1 diabetes, no warning. My wife and I just had our second child and I went for a life insurance exam. When the blood work came back, it showed my number was kind of off the charts – my A1C in blood, 30 blood glucose. So it certainly came with a shock. At the time my knowledge of diabetes was children got type 1 and type 2 is really for older people, more life style-related. And I was extremely fit, healthy. I was a competitive drug-free body-builder. So I didn’t fit the profile for type 2 diabetes, and being 36, I didn’t think I’d get type I diabetes.
But once my endocrinologist explained to me that you can get it a little bit later, I pretty quickly turned my focus to what I could control. And that was my attitude. I couldn’t change the fact that I had this disease and there will probably be a lot about the rest of life that I couldn’t control every day, but controlling my attitude became my focus. And I thought that if I can do something extraordinary in the face of type 1 diabetes, I could show my two young sons that their dad wasn’t going to have his life taken over by disease and I certainly didn’t want to affect them adversely at all.
But I also felt lucky that I was diagnosed at 36 and not as a child. I think we all know how difficult this is for a child and for their parents. So with that in mind I thought if I could do something extraordinary, to be a positive role model for my sons to inspire children with diabetes, to bring hope and comfort to their parents, well then that was something that I really could sink my teeth into, and, you know, again using a positive attitude to turn diabetes into an opportunity.
I’m often asked what made me lean towards Iron Man. I’m usually asked that question when people learn that when I made the decision to become a triathlete and do Iron Man not only was I just diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, but I had never done a triathlon before. I didn’t own a bike, I wasn’t a cyclist, I wasn’t a distance runner and I didn’t know how to swim. And, you know, that usually get some laughs and some eyes rolling but more often than not people ask me why. Why on earth would you pick Iron Man with everything that you had going on in your life? The answer was pretty simple for me. Iron Man was the hardest thing that I could think to do, and if what I decided to do was easy nobody would be inspired. So I kind of set my sights on doing the Iron Man and that involved learning how to swim and buying a bike and hiring a triathlon coach.
8 TIME IRON MAN
DWB: Well, it certainly is inspiring. And no one I think ever said that a Iron Man triathlon was easy, that’s for sure.
GUEST: It’s difficult for anybody, but when you factor in the nutrition requirements needed to train for and race in an Iron Man, and having diabetes, you know, it’s exponentially harder. I mean, I… You can imagine doing an event that takes let’s say 12 hours where you’re constantly moving – you’re swimming, you’re biking, you’re running – you know, testing my blood sugar as many as 75-80 times often, you know, while I’m on the bike, while I’m running. I recently switched to a catheter glucose monitor, which has made training a little bit easier, but I’m still really on top of my blood sugar. Because if I’m too high I’m going to feel horrible. If I’m too low, that could be dangerous, and I put too much time into training to have race day ended because of blood sugar that’s not cooperating. So I spend a lot of time trying to dial in my nutrition, and trying to get my blood sugar to where it is just to finish the race.diabetes well being
DWB:Do you find that during the swim, when you don’t have access to testing, is that more difficult for you or do you compensate through other means?
GUEST:That’s a great question, and that’s probably the hardest part of race day and really sets the tone for the next, again let’s call it the next 12 hours. I can’t test my blood sugar while I’m swimming so what I have to do to deal with that is get up 3 or 4 hours before the race starts, which means 3:30 in the morning, if it’s actually during the morning. I have a good pre-race meal that is filled with good carbohydrates and the energy I need to get through the swim and get through the first portion of the bike.
But the challenge that I have is if I gave myself the normal bolus of insulin to cover the carbs that I’m having, then 3 hours later, when I’m about to start my swim, my blood sugar would tank and I’d be out there in a body of water with low blood sugar and not really knowing it. So what I do is I give myself a percentage less of a normal bolus that I would give in the hopes that my blood sugar is high going into the swim.
But anybody out there with type 1 diabetes knows that’s near impossible to manufacture where you want your blood sugar to be three hours ahead. But through rehearsal, through trial and error I’ve gotten myself at a point where I can give myself a bolus that’s about 30% of the carbs that I’m taking. And hopefully when I start to swim my blood sugar is around 200, but a stable 200, not on the way up, not on the way down, with the goal of an hour of 15 minutes later, when I get out of the water, my blood sugar is still in a pretty good range, pretty good range being between 150 to 200.
And then I get on the bike. Then I start a six-hour bike ride where I’m testing my blood sugar, checking in carbs every 15 minutes. And that’s a challenge because it’s, everybody else there probably knows it’s really hard to put yourself in a situation where you’re active, extremely active for 6 hours, taking in carbohydrates every 15 minutes and trying to get a handle on where your blood sugar is going. So that really ends up being the hardest part of my day, is getting my blood sugar in a range where I need it to be.diabetes well being
DWB: Well, I’m sure that takes an incredible amount of unfortunately trial and error to figure that out over a long time period.
GUEST: Yeah, it does. And I mentioned before rehearsal – what I mean by that is if the race is on Sunday, I would get up Thursday morning at the same time that I would race day, 3:00-3:30. I’ll have the same breakfast. You know, I’ll try to nail where I want my blood sugar to be at the start of the race. And I’ll do it Thursday, I’ll do it Friday, I’ll do it Saturday, but inevitably in Sunday you have the race stage jitters, and you have all the things going on that also affect blood sugar.
You know, but I really-, if anyone listens to this is wondering, you know, again, why are you doing this? I said it before – I wanted something that was hard enough, that people would be inspired, that the parent of a child with diabetes would look at this and say, ‘You know what? If this guy, this 30 now 44-year guy can do this, then my child will be okay.’ I set my bar so high so that people can not necessarily run out and do an Iron Man, but so they could stop saying ‘can’t’ and stop letting diabetes limit what they can do. That’s really why I’m doing this.
IRON AND FOUNDATION
DWB: Well, I think that’s a great-, pretty cool. So, next we go into,your charity called The Iron Andy Foundation. Can you tell us a little about that charity and what good deeds the charity performs?
GUEST: Sure. Iron Andy Foundation – there’s a website, ironandyfoundation.org – and I spent six years traveling around the country as a national spokesperson for a pharmaceutical wholesaler. In that time, I spoke a lot. I spoke at hospitals, health fairs, diabetes events and companies, you name it – anywhere where I’d be up to tell my story and talk about how pharmacists can help somebody with a chronic disease.
Often times, I would be asked to come speak at diabetes camps. Now I didn’t have diabetes as a child, so I had no idea what a diabetes camp was or how important it was. And when I had the opportunity to visit these camps and see how important it was for these kids and then learned that there were thousands of kids across the country who just can’t afford to go to camps. Well, I thought that I needed to do something about that. And, you know, JDRF is working on a cure, and ADA is doing all the great things they’re doing, and from the research that I did I could not find an organization out there that was focused purely on sending kids to diabetes camps.
And what’s so important about camp is that it’s not just spending a week in the mountains, canoeing and doing archery and, you know, all fun outdoor things that other kids are doing when they go to camp. But it’s giving your kids the opportunity to just be kids and not forget about the fact that they have diabetes because you can’t forget about it, but when you spend your entire year – let’s call the other 51 weeks in a year – in most cases the only kid in your class, maybe the only kid in your school, who has this relentless 24/7 disease, that’s a heavy burden to put on a kid. So when they go to diabetes camps they get to spend a week with other kids that know exactly what they go through on a daily basis. That camaraderie and that opportunity to, you know, not be different to me is priceless.
So, I set up the Iron Andy Foundation with the goal of raising money and sending kids to camps all across the country. It has grown a little bit from that in that there are other organizations, other outdoor opportunities that kids like to go to that I’m sending kids in teens and young adults to… Just as a few examples – Riding on Insulin. Sean Busby was a professional snowboarder. He has an organization that takes kids with diabetes on snowboarding weekends.
Connected in Motion is an organization in Canada that does really cool outdoor experimental learning programs through new trips, hiking and backpacking. So what the Iron Andy foundation does is it sends kids and teens to diabetes camps and/or experimental learning programs like the ones I mentioned that give them an opportunity to be active, be around other kids that have diabetes and just enjoy things that other kids without diabetes are doing in the summertime.
DWB: That’s great. How can somebody contribute to the charity if they want to?
GUEST: Well, the website has a donate function. So, you know, the easy way is to just go out to ironandyfoundation.org and push the donate button and make a donation. Our contact address is there as well, so, you know, we accept checks in the mail. I do a Fund 5K event in my town, where we try to raise money, but obviously the grassroots effort of people who are listening to this, who would like to help out with kids… Any amount of money would be wonderful.
Some camps – it’s as little as $50 for a child to go to a camp for a week. A lot of camps are underwritten by organizations like The Lions Club and Alliance International and some other groups. You think about $50 as not being that much money. Well, I can tell you that some lives have been changed for the better because of the number of $50 donations that people have made, and I’ve been able to send kids to camp for a week for just $50. So, you know, with that in mind, we welcome donations of all sizes.
DWB: Well, I think this truly is an example of a little money goes a long way in this case.
GUEST: Absolutely. And I wish I could read some of the emails that I’ve gotten from, you know, moms and dads who we’ve he
DWB: Well, Andy, one of the newest projects you’re working on is, as the Vice-President of Collaboration for selfrx.com. If you could tell people a little bit about SelfRX and, what exactly is a VP of Collaboration?
GUEST: Cool title, cool made-up title. SelfRX is a new company that I’m involved with. Selfrx.com is a website we’re a digital publishing company that is focusing on creating digital mobile platforms for people with chronic diseases. Chronic diseases, diabetes being one of them, not only do you need education and inspiration and motivation, but you need to be connected to other people that go through what you’re going through. And not just the patients themselves, but also the family members and the caregivers. Their chronic disease, unlike other, it’s always there and that can be burdensome. So the goal or the plan for SelfRX is to have these wonderful digital mobile app and web-based platforms for chronic diseases. Right now we just have one publication – it’s called Insulin Nation. insulinnation.com is the website, or you can download the app for free for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire.
What I love about Insulin Nation – I was approached about a year ago to be involved with this company – we really try to be on the cutting edge of technology and science, to bind with community, to show how outcomes can be improved for people with diabetes. Our content really centers on the technology as part of a care plan, the science behind pure focused research and development. And we’re trying to connect readers not only with each other, but with the companies that are on the forefront of finding a cure and trying to create the best technology to help us manage this disease.
So it’s different than your typical diabetes publication. There’s not going to be a lot of recipes for low-carb muffins and exercise programs. We’re really talking about the science and the technology and the people that are benefiting from those, too. So, it’s pretty exciting to be on the ground floor of something like this.
To me it’s another chapter of Iron Andy, in that I’m able to provide inspiration and motivation through the pages of information, but also use the relationships and the connections that I’ve made being out there in the diabetes world for the last 6 years to build collaboration. So getting… If you have a question about ‘what’s that title?’, with a start-up company like this you end up doing a lot of different things. So I’m really charged with audience developing, business developing, building relationships with companies who can potentially sponsor some of the content.
Right now the app is a very cool mobile version of information but we’re about to unveil our new website that takes on what’s called ‘a continuous publishing model’ where we’ll have stories and videos and content updated on a weekly basis. We also have a very cool engine in place. It’s called News Feeds, where we’re able to go out into the social media sphere and pull in the most influential blogs, tweets and stories that are being written about diabetes and pull them all into the pages of Insulin Nation.
So if you’re somebody who has diabetes and you want to read about what the most influential people are talking about and writing about, you only have one place to go, and that’s in the apps version of information or on the website. So it’s a little cool one-stop shop for people who kind of social media junkies and want to read about diabetes. In a nutshell that’s what Insulin Nation is and that’s what I’m doing as VP of Collaborations.
DWB: That’s great. You know, I noticed while looking at Insulin Nation this week that you folks are during your seventh issue. What’s been the feedback so far?
GUEST: The feedback has been phenomenal and it’s mostly coming from healthcare professionals, which I think is good news. It takes a while for things to catch and to get some buzz around, but from the standpoint of the endocrinologists and the diabetes educators, organizations like (unclear 18:05) and The Diabetes Research Institute down in Miami, who we partnered actually with both of them. We’re getting some fabulous feedback on that front – the grassroots feedback that we’re getting from people that we’re talking to, people that we’ve written about in information and they’re getting it out to their social media world. The feedback has all been phenomenal.
Everybody loves… It’s visually appealing, the app is meant to be not just a replica of a digital magazine, but it’s more local in micro-publishing where it’s video-driven, so it’s meant to be observed in a 10 to 15 minutes sitting. So you’re sitting on a train or an airplane, you have your iPad out, you can get through an entire issue. It’s a combination of written words and videos, pretty much all of the content is created in-house so we have a fabulous talent and editor-in-chief, and we have film crew that we send all over the country to do stories and vignettes about people.
This is exactly what makes it different than anything else that’s out there. It’s pulled from the ground, it’s really meant to leverage the mobile age, people that are on the go and don’t have a lot of time to sit through reading a 80, 90, 100 pages of anything. But again, what I’m really excited about is the new website that should be out in about a week or so that people can really get new information, new content, new stories daily and on a weekly basis, because on the site you have to wait a month for the new app issue to come out.
DWB: Well, that’s certainly something to look forward to because just looking at the current version I was very impressed with how you posted and presented the information. Those people who are listening to this and haven’t seen, do you some favor and – although it’s focused on type 1 diabetes, there certainly is some good information on diabetes in general over there, at insulinnation.com. So, by all means, great job and it really is a spectacular magazine.
GUEST: Thank you Erich. You know, it’s called Insulin Nation, obviously people who have type 1 are using insulin, but more and more people who are type 2 are getting prescribed insulin, so it’s really not just for type 1 but for anybody who is using insulin as part of their care plan to manage their diabetes. It’s insulinnation.com, and again, the app version is available for iPad, iPhone, Android devices and Kindle Fire.
IMPORTANCE OF A HEALTH CARE TEAM
DWB: That’s great. Andy, the last thing I wanted to touch up before we let you go is in researching this interview I noticed you talk a lot about the importance of putting together a good healthcare team to succeed as an endurance athlete and if you could talk a little bit more about it – I know you touched upon it a little bit already – but talk about who’s on your team, how did you put it together and, more importantly, how do you think the other diabetics who are not necessarily endurance athletes, how they can learn from your experience.
GUEST: Well, first and foremost, I would tell people that I only have personal knowledge of one chronic disease, but unlike other diseases, when you have something like type 1 diabetes, it’s encumbered upon yourself as the patient to do a lot. You need to eat right, you need to exercise, you need to be on top of your blood sugar and testing and counting carbs and weighing your foods. So I think it really starts with the individual. And we all need to be proactive in managing our own disease. You obviously can’t do that alone.
You need an endocrinologist, you need a diabetes educator, you need a pharmacist. I have a wonderful endocrinologist and a diabetes educator and I’m glad this is great, as well, but I may see them on average maybe 15 minutes a year. And when you have a disease that’s chronic like this you need more help. So things like a pharmacist, somebody who’s there available and knowledgeable that you could rely on every single day if you needed to, I think need to be part of a healthcare team. That’s also why I’m so excited about Insulin Nation, because we also are giving somebody that other added platform to be almost part of their healthcare team where they can interact with other people, where they can learn about the latest and greatest technology science that’s coming down the road.
So I think there’s so much out there. I think, again, it starts with the individual, the patient, but you need to surround yourself with a good doctor, nurse, pharmacist. And tools like Insulin Nation and the other websites and publications that are out there. This is not a disease where you can just sit back and let things happen. You need to be proactive, but you also need to know what’s out there and what’s around you to help you manage this disease, and not just manage it. I mean, I’m all about thriving. I don’t think it’s enough to manage diabetes, I think you need to manage it and thrive in the face of it.
DWB: Well, I think you’re right. And I think I’ll let you go at this point. Andy, since you’ve given us a lot to think about. You’ve been a great sport and what it is to know about what’s going on in your life. I’ll wrap it up, I think. Thank you, and if there’s anything else you want to add or… You’ve already promoted some websites, but if you want to reiterate them, then please feel free.
GUEST: Thank you, Erich. Thanks for the time and thanks for the platform. You said, I think I’ve talked enough about SelfRX.com and Insulin Nation and my foundation, IronAndyFoundation.org, but I would love to… I’m up there on Twitter and Iron Andy and Facebook – Andy Holder.
There’s also an Iron Andy Foundation Facebook page-, information on the Facebook page. So, I would love to hear from people and any questions, comments. I love interacting with folks and if there’s any aspiring endurance athletes who have diabetes, feel free to reach out to me – andy[at]ironandy.net is my email.
So, I’m pretty much an open book and I can be found easily. So thanks again, and good luck to you, with your website and good luck to the folks out there listening.
DWB: Great. Thank you very much.