Mike Geffner examines the sometimes-conflicted world of a WPBA star.
(Photos by John Gress)
SARAH ROUSEY can’t help herself.
She tries her damnedest not to obsess over things, she really does, but from the moment her dark-chocolate brown eyes flicker open to start a new day to the time her tiny 5-foot-1-inch frame conks out in bed at night, she worries like crazy about the most curious of things.
She worries about blood-sugar level — hers, that is — and whether it’s too high or too low or just about right, forever monitoring it like someone measuring radioactivity with a Geiger counter making sure to steer clear of danger zones.
She worries about what she ate and when she ate it, carefully counting carbs along the way, making a simple meal anything but simple.
And, most of all, she worries nearly every minute of every day, especially at tournaments, about her worst nightmare: whether everything will suddenly go haywire on her, whether her diabetes, which she’s had since she was 10, will abruptly seize her, body and soul, and drag her to that scary, uncontrollable, dark place she’s visited countless times before and in which she knows, no matter what she does, she will find herself again.
Will she begin to drip sweat, struggle to breathe, and get so woozy she’ll feel like passing out?
Will she space out to where she seems like someone buzzed on something, where she’s not even sure where she is or what she’s doing, while uttering something unintelligible or totally out of left field (like when, at 14, she kept saying that George Washington was the current president of the United States and that she wanted to play soccer)?
Or will it be like the time when she was 21, when, so alarmingly, she didn’t wake up one morning, lapsing into a coma during sleep and needing a team of paramedics rushing over to desperately pump her up with dextrose to revive her?
“Diabetes,” says Rousey, who kept her disease hidden from outsiders for years, who has never wanted to be defined by that word or have it as an excuse for failure, “can be hell.”
Rousey, 27, has been one of the WPBA’s best players since being its Rookie of the Year in 2003, ranked at one point as high as eighth. She’s a heady player with a determined heart and who possesses a wallop of a break clocked between 26-28 mph.
But unlike the rest of her sisterhood on the tour, she’s the only one forced to constantly pack a bulky insulin pump — often confused for a cell phone or an MP3 player — and a bunch of pink, disgusting-tasting, watermelon-flavored glucose tabs.
“It all kind of sucks,” she says, “but it’s better than being dead, I guess.” She pauses for a second before adding: “Or so I hear.”
She was just a chubby, normal, fun-loving kid growing up in the middle of the Midwest cornfields, two hours south of Chicago and two hours north of St. Louis — in Bloomington, Ill. — when her life turned upside down for good.
She suddenly, inexplicably, all at once, felt incredibly weak, developed an insatiable thirst, and kept getting strep throat. Then along came a flaming red flag of an undeniable fact: In a single month, she lost 30 pounds. And on top of that, she came down with a bad case of pneumonia.
Her doctor narrowed down the problem to mononucleosis or diabetes, but considering her young age he figured it was likely the latter and not the former.
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