We have a bonus second interview this week with UCF junior Jessica Matteson. We talk with her about being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes last year and learning to be a Division I rower with the metabolic disorder.
row2k - You started rowing as a novice at UCF, what was your athletic background prior to enrolling and how did you end up in Orlando?
Jessica Matteson - Prior to coming to UCF, sports have encompassed a big role in my life. Growing up, I did a variety of sports ranging from tumble and ice skating to soccer and swimming. The summer prior to my freshman year of high school, I choose to pick up swimming again and swam for Titusville High School. I became a five time varsity letter winner by the time I graduated. Four times in swimming (Freshman through Senior year) and once in track (Freshman year). After my freshman year, I decided to focus solely on swimming and started swimming year round, both for club and high school. I earned six FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) State medals by senior year and qualified in both Speedo Sectionals and Senior Champs twice.
Fun fact for the reason I ended up at UCF in Orlando: My mom found out she was pregnant with me at the UCF health center in January of 1999. She worked on staff at UCF, and one day after work she thought she could be pregnant, went to the UCF Health Center and it was here my mom found out she was pregnant. I was born at Arnold Palmer Children’s hospital in Orlando, Florida in September of that year and later attended UCF’s Creative School for Children when I was three.
row2k - How did you start rowing and what was your novice year like?
Jessica Matteson - During my first week of UCF classes, I was on my way to a class and was approached by Coach Klunder to try out for rowing. I knew nothing about rowing; however, she encouraged me to try out anyways. I ended up missing the first few days of tryouts after a call from my mom saying I needed to come home. My grandma was giving cancer a run for its money; however the night before the first day of tryouts I made the trip with my mom to see her. The day after we arrived, she lost her battle with Stage 4 breast cancer. I was uncertain if missing tryouts meant I could not row. I was happy to find out after I emailed Coach Klunder that the coaching staff was very understanding and told me family is the most important thing. I came back to finish tryouts and made the team. Novice year was filled with so much new, different, and thrilling adventures. We learned rowing terminology, how to set a boat, how to row, and gained an automatic family. During novice year we learned early mornings and putting yourself out of your comfort zone was in fact a valuable life skill. I earned a seat in the Varsity 4 as a novice and our boat raced in NCAAs finishing 20th.
row2k - You had some health issues that affected your training your sophomore year, can you tell us about that?
Jessica Matteson - On October 22nd of 2018, I hurt my back at practice. MRI results showed a herniated L3-L4, L4-L5, and a bulged L5-S1. We opted for a steroid injection on December 7th 2018, after prednisone did not ease the pain or reduce the swelling. Three days later I experienced blurred vision. I called the neurologist that performed the procedure, and he said to get to an eye doctor right away since blurred vision after an injection could be a sign of a rare retinal complication of the procedure. The eye doctor said my retinas were well; however, he stated that since I couldn’t see the first letter on the board, there was an obvious issue. He asked me what I thought was a very random question, “Have you been drinking more water than usual?” to which I replied “Yes!” He told me he thought I could have Type 1 Diabetes, and to see a medical doctor as soon as possible for blood-work. Within the hour I was seen by a doctor, whom I told what I had been experiencing and what the eye doctor said. The doctor told me there was no need to test my blood sugar since I was fit and had no family history. He said steroids can cause these symptoms and not to worry. I left home for winter break after my appointment.
<>Over the break I started to thirst more, went to the bathroom more, my calf muscles started to cramp in the middle of the night, and threw up a few times. My vision did get better though! I came back to UCF for winter camp on January 3rd, 2019, only cleared by trainers to bike. I still felt sick; however my back felt good and I was ready to get back. At treatment I noticed I lost 15lbs in about a month. On January 8th, I knew there was something wrong with my body and could not take it anymore, I felt sick. The next day I was at the doctors where an assessment was made, my blood was drawn, and I was sent home. On January 10th, 2019, I was told to go the Health Center. I was called back right away, the doctor came right in, and sat down. (Ironically, the same health center system, where 20 years ago to the month my mom found life changing news of a pregnancy with me; I was told news that will forever change my life.) He told me, “We have your labs, and they are not good.” “They show you have Type 1 Diabetes.” I was taken upstairs to two Physician Assistants who themselves have T1D. My blood was so acidic, I was in beginning stages of Diabetic Ketoacidosis, a medical emergency. The doctors told me, if I did not come in when I did I would have been in the ICU within the next couple of days. My blood sugar was so high the machines that processed my blood on campus could not read it, it just said HIGH. I spent the next couple days, not only getting better but also having to learn about the disease and what I had to do to stay alive.
row2k - How did you learn to be a D1 rower with diabetes?
Jessica Matteson - TEAMMATES, COACHES, and FAMILY. That’s how I learned to be a D1 rower with diabetes. With diabetes, there is so much planning, learning, and executing that sometimes (a lot of times) it is overwhelming. The amount of time it takes to learn how to function in day to day life with diabetes then to transition into a D1 rower takes an army. At UCF, I’ve learned we have something immensely larger than an army, we have a family. When I was diagnosed, I spent a lot of time scared and overwhelmed. My mom has made every effort possible to make sure that I have the love and tools that I need to thrive, even going out of her way to visit me throughout the semesters. I had to learn how to manage diabetes in day to day life, as wells learning how to manage diabetes in a boat. Coach Becky told me to take as much time as I needed before I came back, to take the time to be me again, to feel better, and figure out what I needed too. Teammates surprised me with a signed poster, texted me to check in with me (even though I did not see all of them face to face while I got better), and did what they could to make me feel comfortable and confident while managing a chronic life long disease. It’s that feeling of love and inclusion that helped me learn to be a rower with diabetes.
When I came back, Coach Becky gave me a few days to figure out what it was like to exercise with diabetes. After those days, she handed me the workout along with the rest of the team. To be honest, I was nervous, could I be ready to do this? I was, even if I could only do three rounds, I still did three rounds. Coach Becky did not want me to be left out and has helped in every way possible to help me be a rower with diabetes! We have a system in place to make sure I am safe and can continue to workout even with diabetes. I continue to learn about diabetes management every day and every day I learn something new. Type 1 Diabetes has a lot of misconceptions, people do not understand the facts, and it’s frustrating at times. Diabetes management is not perfect, insulin needs to be changed day to day, food, stress, exercise all effects this disease differently. Diabetes is not the same in other individuals with diabetes, it is very individualized. However, teammates taking the time to learn, understand, and educate others gives me confidence that I do not battle this disease alone.
row2k - You’ve done some work to advocate for better/easier access to Insulin, can you tell us about that?
Jessica Matteson - Without insulin, people with diabetes will die. In as little as hours, without insulin, diabetics can and have died. Personally, I would not have lived to my 20th birthday without insulin. One vial of insulin, depending on the type, costs around $323.99 which does not even include the price of syringes (which you have to have to inject the medication into the body, which costs about $51.99 for one box). Some people need upwards of quadruple that amount of insulin a month (Costing $1,295.96 a month and some people require even more than that). Some people are on insulin pumps (like me) to better manage their disease, which can cost up to $6,000 for the unit and thousands more for supplies each year. There are other supplies we need as diabetics to live, however insulin is what we absolutely can not live without. In November of this past year, I had the opportunity to speak at the Florida Capital to both House Representatives and Senators to advocate for our right to equal access to live long and healthy lives through access to affordable insulin. The purpose of this talk was to advocate for House Bill 116, a bill set forth by Senator Cruz, capping the price of insulin at $100 a month regardless of the brand or how much insulin a person requires. The bill is in current need of support by other members of the House and Senate. Anyone can get involved and make a difference! A way anyone can help right now is to reach out to your representative in the government (email, phone call, or write a letter) and show your support for affordable insulin in your state.
row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?
Jessica Matteson - The AAC 2019 V4 Championships has been my most memorable race. This race started off with us not hearing the starting call, resulting in an unclean start. After we got going, we faced our strongest headwind all season and pulled higher splits than normal. The boat was heavy as all get out, yet this race became the best race. As we went through our power 10s (each ten representing a call chosen by each athlete in the boat), you could feel the energy in the boat rise to push harder for each other. After crossing the finish line first, hearing teammates shouting, and looking at each other in the boat laughing and crying together, doing it for each other made this race special.
row2k - What’s your favorite aspect of rowing?
Jessica Matteson - Looking at another teammate after a really hard practice or piece and knowing we have the interdependence to rely on one another to experience the emotions that practice gave us together, is indescribable. Having a team that loves each other in our unique ways, sharing moments of trust, and getting a note from your secret sister is what makes spending time with teammates my favorite aspect of rowing.
row2k - What are you studying at UCF and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Jessica Matteson - I am studying Health Sciences Pre-Clinical in preparation for a career in the healthcare field. I am currently a Certified Nursing Assistant and will finish up clinical hours to apply to become either a Physician Assistant or a Nurse Practitioner after graduation.