Team Novo Nordisk doing more than just racing

Team featuring athletes with diabetes wants to inspire and empower other athletes
By: Matt Long of the Telegraph
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One of the teams competing in the Tour de California is different than the others.

All eight riders competing for Team Novo Nordisk have Type I diabetes, the first professional cycling team of its kind.

CEO and co-founder Phil Southerland, himself a Type I diabetic, put the team together in 2012, something he once felt would be impossible. The idea first came to him as a college student.

“I was riding my bike home from Georgia to Florida for winter break and about three hours into my ride by mp3 player died so there was nothing to do but think,” Southerland said. “I came up with the idea of taking the two things I love, helping people with diabetes and cycling, and putting them together and use cycling as a platform to help those with diabetes.”

The team is truly a dream come true for the 34-year-old Southerland.

“Ten years ago you couldn’t fine seven other athletes with diabetes,” he said. “Now there are 17- and 18-year-olds out there with a clear ambition of winning races and that’s a far cry from 10 years ago.”

Team Novo Nordisk is spearheaded by the professional cycling team, but also features nearly 100 triathletes, runners and cyclists. A motto of the team states, “Team Novo Nordisk athletes don’t just manage their diabetes for the sake of managing diabetes; they manage their diabetes to have a better chance of achieving their dreams.”

One such athlete is Joonas Henttala, a 24-year-old from Finland who lives in Spain. Henttala will be one of the team’s eight racers competing in the Tour de California. Soon after he began racing competitively as a 9-year-old, he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes.

“I never made a big deal about it; I always just accepted it,” Henttala said. “Only my closest friends knew about it. I just felt I was a bike rider with a condition and with this team that’s more of the message. It’s nice to be able to share my experience with my teammates and talk about it between each other. A big part of what we want to do is also help others with diabetes be the best they can be.”

Henttala’s advice to any youngster with diabetes is to not let it keep from achieving whatever it is they want to achieve.

“Don’t let the condition hold you back,” Henttala said. “Take control of the condition. It shouldn’t hold you back. You can still reach your goals.”

This will be the third year for Team Novo Nordisk to enter the Tour de California and also the third year for Henttala. He’s looking forward to the race.

“I’ve always felt this was a beautiful race,” he said. “It’s going to be a harder race this year because of the competitors in the field, but also because some of the stages look to be more difficult, as there’s a lot of climbing. We’ll be ready to fight.”

The Tour de California is just one of more than 500 sporting competitions around the world Team Novo Nordisk will compete in this year. The ultimate goal for the men’s cycling team is to compete in the Tour de France by 2021, the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin.

“That would be a defining moment,” Southerland said, “a great unification point for people with diabetes and diabetes lacks a global unification point.”