FARMINGTON — The month of November means something special to the Piedra Vista softball team.
The month doesn’t just symbolize the start of the holiday season, which can mean a reprieve from the Lady Panthers’ offseason workouts. It’s also American Diabetes Month, serving as another reminder of what one PV player deals with on a daily basis.
Livia Hensley, a senior third baseman for the Lady Panthers, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 8 years old.
“When I was diagnosed, I knew nothing about it, and my family knew nothing about it,” Hensley said. “I kind of figured it all out as I went through it.”
But she’s still figuring out how to live with the disease while carrying her 4.3 GPA in school and playing softball.
Last spring, at the start of the softball season, Hensley got sick. An infection ravaged her immune system. She was prescribed antibiotics to handle the infection, but the medicine created more problems by throwing her blood sugar level out of whack. It got so bad she needed an emergency appointment with her endocrinologist in Albuquerque.
“I was a wreck mentally and physically. I just wasn’t OK,” Hensley said. “(My doctor) told me, ‘I think you need to be done (playing softball).’ But I wasn’t ready to be done.”
Hensley planned to take a couple of weeks off to get her health back. But those two weeks stretched out as she needed more time to recover.
“It was tough. I was sick, and I wasn’t used to sitting around and not being with the team,” she said. “Having those couple of weeks made me realize I needed to take care of it. I always have, but I had to look at things differently. I had to look at it as, ‘This is the reality of it, and if I need to step back, my health is more important than the game.’”
She was eventually able to get back on the field with her teammates, proving to herself, her coaches and her teammates what an individual is capable of overcoming.
“When the girls find out she’s diabetic, and they see how hard she works, I think it clicks with a lot of kids,” PV coach Kevin Werth said. “They see someone who struggles with type 1 diabetes and how she never complains. I think it makes them realize it could be a lot worse for them. I think a lot of the girls look at her and say, ‘If she can get through all of that, I can get through this.’”
Tracking her blood sugar is a nonstop process, and it’s different every day. If it drops too low, Hensley begins to shake. She gets lightheaded and dizzy and runs the risk of fainting or slipping into a coma.
It’s challenging enough to deal with the constant worry of her diet and health, but when those factors are added to competition, when she’s pushing herself to perform, it’s even more difficult.
“It’s kind of a scary thing, and that’s something that for me makes things a lot different on the softball field. I can’t just focus on the next play, I have focus on how I feel, because the idea of me going down on the field and having my team see that is a big fear for me,” Hensley said. “I don’t think people realize (T1D) takes a lot of lives. It kind of has a stigma, and it’s not just, ‘Oh, you can’t eat this sugar.’ It’s an every-second thing that takes lives.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, and diabetes ranks as the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S.
When Hensley joined the team as an eighth-grader, she told the coaches and players about her disease, and the support she received from them was overwhelming.
From that time, Hensley and Werth have had an agreement. Whenever she feels her blood sugar dip, she’s expected to walk away from a drill to get something to eat or drink to get her back to a healthy level.
Werth said he rarely has to think about Hensley during practice or games because he knows how well she monitors her health.
“She’s so good at taking care of herself that I don’t have to worry too much. Sometimes, she’ll want to come back too early, and I have to tell her not to worry about it and to sit out,” he said.
That was often the case last spring when Hensley was forced to take a hiatus. She desperately wanted to be on the field with her team. When she was strong enough, she’d attend practices, sitting in the dugout and watching the Lady Panthers, helping in any way she could.
Now that she’s back and capable of playing, her helpful attitude hasn’t waned. If someone needs a ride home, there’s a seat in her car. If someone is lacking confidence on the field, she’s there with an arm around her teammate, encouraging her not to give up.
“It’s a daily thing. It’s not something that she does occasionally, it’s something she does all the time,” Werth said. “It’s refreshing that there are kids out there like that. If we were blessed with more girls like Livia Hensley, the world would be a better place.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.