Born and raised in California, Eric Tozer, now 37, is a lifelong athlete. Married with two daughters, Tozer refers to himself as ‘girl dad through and through.’ Although he played a variety of sports growing up, Tozer was a college soccer player and was planning to continue playing professionally, when the trajectory of his life changed.
In 2006, shortly after college, Tozer was traveling in Europe with his wife when he suddenly and unexpectedly lost 20 pounds in two weeks, despite eating and drinking nonstop. He was also experiencing frequent urination and constant thirst, all very classic symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). He returned home and was quickly diagnosed. And just like that, Tozer was started on insulin, checking his blood sugar multiple times a day, and counting carbs. “It’s a pretty life-altering diagnosis. Obviously there are far worse diagnoses, but I remember the competitor in me at the time, thinking that I didn't know much about this disease and there was no cure, but I knew that I didn’t want it to stop me from doing whatever I wanted to do with my life.”
Learning to manage his T1D took some time. At one point, he had a seizure in the middle of the night because his blood sugar had dropped too low. Although the diagnosis was frustrating and scary, Tozer was determined to not let this control his life. “One thing that I talk to kids about in my talks is that we can’t quit when it comes to T1D because if we quit we die. It’s a harsh reality, but there’s incredible power in that. We go through this challenge and it’s hard emotionally, physically, and mentally. However, going through that every day, we get mentally tough and that transfers into other areas of our lives.”
Years after being diagnosed, Tozer wanted to do something that would have a big impact and that hadn’t been done by someone with T1D. After some research, he decided to embark on the journey of completing the World Marathon Challenge, a challenge that involves running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days, an incredible feat for anyone, but even more so for someone with T1D. Tozer trained for 10 months, preparing by completing a training plan for a 100 mile marathon. The marathon started in Antarctica, with all of the sleeping, eating, and recovery happening on the airplane, and ended back in the United States in Miami for marathon number 7, where his family greeted him at the finish line. Tozer was never a runner so it was a challenging feat, but he successfully completed the World Marathon Challenge, becoming the first person with t1 diabetes to accomplish this feat. Speaking of the experience, Tozer said, “having the courage to sign up was the hardest part.”
Now an advocate for T1D, Tozer along with 8 other individuals with T1D, founded the Diabetes Sports Project, an organization built to inspire and led by a group of world class athletes who thrive with diabetes, their stories, athletic accomplishments and community outreach empower others to live healthy, responsible and active lives. In the initial founding group, there were individuals who had completed Ironmans, climbed Mount Everest, and even qualified for the Olympic trials for a marathon. “We wanted to use our accomplishment to help others, with the goal that people of all backgrounds would see themselves represented. We now have over 150 athletes over the world from basketball players to ballet dancers, with the hope that anyone with Type 1 can go to the website and find someone they relate to and can be inspired by.” As an organization, they go out into the community, speaking at children's hospitals, diabetes camps, conferences, support groups, and more, and they also bring the T1D community together through events.
Tozer is a diabetes ambassador who inspires the community through sports and continues to utilize his athletic accomplishments as a platform to be a role model in the diabetes community. “In 2006, social media wasn’t what it was now. However, today you can hop on Instagram and connect with other people with Type 1 – people you can relate to and learn from. I think of all the things I've been through and if I'm not using it to help educate and inspire, I’m missing the big picture. I wish I had that when I was just diagnosed so I hope people diagnosed now can see what I've done and have some confidence and hopefully it takes away some of the fear you might have after a Type 1 diagnosis.”
And speaking about how TD1 changed his outlook and perspective, Tozer says that he took what could have been an obstacle and turned it into a positive. “We have the choice to react to our circumstances. We have the power to choose how we respond to things and we get to respond negatively or positively. We can choose to do something great. We can transform our weaknesses into strength and use what might have been an obstacle to propel us forward.”
Written By Chrissy King