Andreas Petz Q&A: Living with diabetes and competing in triathlons

New to the Team Novo Nordisk ambassador program for 2021, but not new to the team is Danish triathlete, Andreas Petz. The 49-year-old has been associated with the team for a few years and has competed in numerous Ironman and triathlon events proudly wearing the TNN jersey including the 2015 World Ironman  Championships in Hawaii.

How long have you been associated with Team Novo Nordisk?

It all started in 2013 when a friend told me Novo Nordisk was starting an all diabetes sports team. I was trying for years to find someone to get the message out that it’s possible to race with diabetes and achieve goals. I called Novo Nordisk in Copenhagen and they connected me to the team. I was scheduled to do Ironman Roth and the day before, five months later I got an invitation to meet CEO and Co-founder, Phil Southerland, at the Tour of Denmark. Phil invited me to the team camp in Santa Barbara. It was really great to meet athletes with the same condition as I have. 

It sounds like you’ve been passionate about spreading the diabetes message for a while. 

It was mostly with the people living in my local area in Denmark. With the team’s outreach, you can reach so many more people. I remember going to Ironman Kona in 2015 racing with the team jersey. I had 3 people stop me in the airport to say it’s great what we’re doing. In the 2017 Ironman 70.3 world championships in Chattanooga, the same thing happened again. I was doing my warm-up before my start and someone shouted, “It’s great what you guys are doing.”

How old were you when you were diagnosed?

I was 29. I had nobody in my family who had type 1 diabetes. I didn’t know anything about diabetes. In 1999, I qualified for the Ironman world championships in Kona for the first time. In my qualifying race, I finished 37th out of 3000 athletes. In Kona, I had a horrible race. It felt like my legs were blowing up. I finished the race, then went back home training with the intention of qualifying for Kona again. In late September, I had lost a lot of weight and thought it was the ideal race weight but then I started getting thirsty a lot and urinating more than usual. I went to my physio and he didn’t know why. I was on my way out of the room and I told him I was very thirsty. He then asked if he could check my blood sugar level. It was through the roof. 30 minutes later I was at the hospital and newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. 

How did you adapt your sports after the diagnosis?

I knew I still wanted to do triathlons and I knew I still wanted to go to Kona to do the Ironman world championships but I also had this little doubt in my mind. I thought “what if I get a low blood sugar level during the 3.8-kilometer swim!” For years this thought held me back a little, especially during the swim. 

In 2010 I started getting comfortable with diabetes. I have a 15-kilometer bike loop where I live. I would ride it ten times in training and after each loop, I would stop to test my blood glucose. Year after year I got more comfortable and started believing I could push my exercise level more. I started winning my age group in duathlons, triathlons and in half Ironman. By then I felt like it wasn’t diabetes controlling me, I was controlling my diabetes. 

Today, training is part of my diabetes management. I wouldn’t know how to control my diabetes without exercise. 

What does your training look like?

We have two kids, 10 and 13 years old and I work full-time as a teacher so I have to manage my time carefully. I do around 12 – 14 hours of training a week. That amounts to 13 – 14 kilometers of swimming a week, around 300 kilometers of biking, and 40 kilometers of running with some strength work. Lucky for me, I have a great wife and we made a choice to be active. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I wake up at 4:45am and I’m in the pool at 5:30am. 

What would you say is the highest point of your sporting career up until now?

I did one race, where it’s not about how I finished the race but what I went through during it. It was Ironman Kona in 2015, I was racing in the Team Novo Nordisk kit. I got a really high blood sugar level in the race. I urinated at every aid station every few miles. My hands started swelling up. I was able to push myself and still finish the race in 10 hours 6 minutes. I felt horrible on the bike and run but I knew I was racing for everyone affected by diabetes and couldn’t give up. I’m proud of that performance. 

What’s the message you share when you try to encourage people?

I have a kid in school living with diabetes. His parents sometimes pity him and I’m trying to show them that he can achieve almost anything in life. It’s all about setting goals and working through the process of achieving them. I work with him to manage his diabetes and help him be in certain glucose ranges for certain activities. I’m a goal-driven person and am always looking to be a better father, husband or athlete. I’m 49 now and my friends ask me when I am going to stop doing triathlons. My answer is always the same: “hopefully, never.”

— Xylon Vaneyck to www.teamnovonordisk.com