Olympic hopeful Kate Hall on shattering records + stigmas

WRITTEN BY: Jordan Dakin

If there’s one thing you should know about Kate Hall, it’s that she doesn’t back down.

The 22-year-old professional long jumper from Maine was ten years old and just beginning her track career when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. A self-described outgoing, positive kid who was rarely emotional and always active, Kate and her family knew something was wrong when she began exhibiting the classic signs of T1D — she found herself eating and drinking constantly, easily upset, and opting to lay in bed all day. An attempt to see a doctor yielded nothing — Kate says, “He just kind of blew me off and said it was a growth spurt. My parents said that didn’t make any sense because I wasn’t growing or gaining weight, it was the opposite.”

When the family returned home, things worsened, prompting Kate’s parents to look up her symptoms online, only to find that they matched up with Type 1: “They were pretty confident about it because one thing that really stood out was that my mom was able to smell my fruity breath from the ketones.” Kate’s father bought ketones strips, she tested high, and the Halls were pretty much able to diagnose their daughter then and there.

Kate’s strength and perseverance in the face of her diagnosis showed early on, when at a followup hospital visit she insisted on giving herself her first insulin shot. She says, “I gave myself the shot and I think my mom was worse than I was. She was crying in the hospital bed and I looked at her, ‘Why are you crying? Stop crying. Everything’s going to be fine.’” Kate’s focus quickly shifted from her diagnosis to more important things, particularly her love of sports.

Plan of attack

From the outset, Kate wasn’t really worried about having Type 1 in particular. She explains, “I was worried it would stop me from doing what I love, which at the time, this was soccer, basketball and track.” Her fear manifested while at a championship soccer game shortly after her diagnosis, sitting on the sidelines, watching her teammates play. The experience proved motivating: “I said to myself, ‘This isn’t ever going to stop me again. After this, I’m going to go and work hard and control this disease and not let it control me.’ Having that love and having diabetes both went hand in hand for me so the harder I worked at controlling diabetes, the better I’d be at sports. And if I worked hard at sports, then it would all just work out.”

There have been moments when Kate’s diabetes has affected her ability to compete, but she takes these in stride: “Before I had a CGM, I was doing long jump for a high school conference meet. I took my blood sugar before the meet and it said I was at like 300. I gave insulin and then ended up going low right after, so I think it was a false reading. Suddenly, I got a really bad calf cramp because my blood sugar was so low and I just couldn’t compete anymore.” While these moments are frustrating, Kate says she always tries to turn them into learning experiences and works to make sure she doesn’t make the same mistake twice.

Kate explains that even with all the technology and experience she has with her diabetes, issues still arise when she least expects them — preparedness and a little experimentation is key. In a competition earlier this month, her blood sugar spiked to 300 after being 150 going into the event: “It was my first competition of the season, so there’s a lot of nerves, a lot of adrenaline. It just spiked like crazy but once I gave a correction, it came back down. Maybe next time if it’s at 150, I’ll just have to give a correction anyway because I don’t want it affecting my performances.” Kate treats her diabetes management much like she treats her training: putting in the work to ensure success and making a point to learn something new every step of the way.

Looking to the future

The track star’s list of accomplishments is as extensive as it is impressive. In high school, Kate was a 26-time State Champion, a six-time New England Champion and a two-time National Champion. She also set the new national high school record in the long jump, jumping nearly 22 ½ feet and beating the previous record that had been held for almost 40 years. In college, she was a two-time NCAA Division I Champion and as a professional world, Kate is a recent USA Long Jump Champion. She has lofty plans for the rest of 2019 as well: “This year, I have to hit the qualifying standard, which I’m really close to, so I should be able to go to the World Championships (in Qatar) at the very end of September.”

When asked about her biggest accomplishment, Kate says, “I’m most proud of the national high school record that I broke back in 2015. It was my dream to hit the Olympic standard to go to the 2016 trials and when I broke that record, it made that dream become a reality.” The track star did indeed go to the 2016 trials, finishing 10th overall. After World Championships, her sights are set even higher: “I have a much better chance of making the Olympics because I’m more consistent now. That’s what my ultimate dream is: the Olympics next year.”

Finding a tribe

Kate doesn’t have an extensive in-person community of people who understand diabetes particularly well or live with it the way she does. She didn’t know anyone when she was diagnosed and still doesn’t know too many, but she managed to find camaraderie by making connections with people over social media. She has a blog, which she describes as being “mainly focused around having diabetes and being an athlete. I think my last one got the best feedback, and it was about how it’s okay to struggle because everyone struggles with having Type 1 and other people with diabetes know what you’re going through.”

Kate has some advice for anyone recently diagnosed with T1D: “Type 1 doesn’t have to stop you from doing anything that you want to do. If you work hard at it, you can accomplish anything and you can control it – it won’t control you.”

She also urges more people to talk about their chronic health conditions because too many people are afraid to openly discuss the subject: “I found from personal experience that once I opened up about it, my friends didn’t judge me. They treated me like I was a superhero because I had this disease but I was still accomplishing all these super cool things – it was almost inspiring and motivating for them… I think it’s important to show others out there that having diabetes — or any disease — doesn’t have to stop you from doing what you love.”

Next summer Kate expects to be doing what she loves most: competing for the Gold, representing both dreamers and people with diabetes on the world’s biggest stage — the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.