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A Bisons coach finds strength in midst of diabetes

Armando Gutierrez, 28, in his first season as strength and conditioning coach for the Buffalo Bisons, spent part of an afternoon late last month meeting with young people who share something in common with him: Type 1 diabetes.

He found out at 17 that he would need insulin shots, and to watch his blood sugar levels very carefully, for the rest of his life, and he shared what that meant with his young audience.

Mentally, it was draining for a decade, he told them, but he has accepted: "I have it and it’s something I have to deal with. It’s something I can’t be embarrassed about or scared of."

It helps being physically active, he told me during an interview for today’s What are you eating? piece in WNY Refresh, after signing autographs and posing for several photos.

"Playing sports helps a lot," he said. "I train myself as if I’m training my athletes. I’m kind of on the same routine, running, working out. On weekends, I try to be active. I go on hikes, I bought a road bike. I’m trying to find trails out here. I love being outdoors, staying active."

His advice to someone just diagnosed with diabetes:

"Don’t be afraid. Do not be embarrassed, do not be afraid. That was my biggest problem. It affected me in a way that I put the worry on someone else. ... I always tried to handle things on my own. I didn’t want someone to take care of me, tell me, ‘Oh, you should do it this way or do it that way.’ But I found that trying to manage it on my own really affected me. There are times when you’re going to get low and when you get low your body doesn’t function right, you don’t comprehend things. It’s almost as if somebody’s alcohol levels are too high. Your mentality, it doesn’t function.

The first time his blood sugar fell dangerously low, "People were like, ‘What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with him?,’" he said. "Finally, I said, ‘I’m diabetic can you help me?’ And people were scrambling to find juice or something. It’s one of those things."

He continues to learn about how to best manage the disease and said he thinks the lessons he’s learned help the players he works with, too.

"My meal choices fluctuate all the time but I try to keep it pretty balanced," he said. "I love food. The two biggest things hardest to resist for me: chocolate and pizza. It’s something I struggle to control, but I do. Chocolate is my weakness and pizza I pretty much try to avoid. Otherwise, I’d just demolish it.

"The biggest thing is staying in proportion. I can eat almost anything and everything I want, which I do. But I try to keep it in control, within my limits. It’s important to keep that sugar level in balance. That’s true for everyone. A lot of one thing is never good for anybody."

I asked him if there was anything Bisons players could eat to help them hit more homers.

"The biggest thing I try to tell them is, ‘Have a piece of fruit before they play, close to game time,’" he said. "After batting practice, where they have a couple hours before the game, I try to get them more of a solid meal: complex carbs, peanut butter and jelly sandwich with banana, something that’s full of energy that will keep the body content for the hours they’re playing on the field."

Something’s working pretty well. The team was in second place in their division going into the weekend and several games over .500.

– Refresh Editor Scott Scanlon

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