Unstoppable: How Chris Dudley Has Redefined Success While Navigating Society With Type I Diabetes

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It’s OK to ask questions. So often people shy away from someone with disabilities because they don’t know what to say. I am always happy to have a conversation about Diabetes because it creates more awareness and eliminates a lot of misinformation.

As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Dudley.

Chris Dudley was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 16. He was a sophomore in high school and was diagnosed soon after his basketball season was over. One of his biggest fears was not being able to play the sport he loved: basketball. Thanks to a supportive healthcare team, Chris was not only able to play basketball again but went to the pinnacle of the sport and became the first person with Type 1 Diabetes to play in the NBA. Chris played 16 years in the league with Diabetes where many players only last for a few years due to the intense competition to make an NBA squad. Chris started the Chris Dudley Foundation, a nonprofit organization, in 1994 for people living with diabetes. The Chris Dudley Foundation was a way Chris could help to encourage kids to follow their dreams. In 1996, he started the internationally renowned basketball camp and provided many basketball clinics throughout the country in an effort to educate, inspire and empower kids to live active with Diabetes.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I have been married for 25 years, have two sons, a daughter, and a bulldog. I played sixteen years (1987–2003) in the NBA on five different teams, six years with the Blazers and going to the NBA Finals while playing for the NY Knicks. Prior to entering the NBA, I attended and played NCAA basketball at Yale University (1983–1987).

Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?

In 1981, I was a skinny high school sophomore when I started having the classic symptoms of Diabetes: being excessively thirsty and needing to constantly go to the bathroom. This is because your body has stopped producing insulin and your blood sugars are going sky high, so the body is trying to “flush” the sugar out of your system.

I was devastated when I first heard that I had Diabetes. The first question I asked the medical staff was how long I was going to live. By asking that question I was really asking about lifespan, as I had heard (correctly at that time) that having Diabetes greatly shortened your expected life span. The second question I asked was if I would be able to continue playing sports, specifically basketball. I was fortunate in that I was encouraged to continue playing sports, provided of course, that I take care of my Diabetes.

I was motivated to play in the NBA because it was both my lifelong dream and I wanted to prove that someone with Diabetes could play in the NBA (since no one had done it previously). Bobby Clarke, a professional hockey player living with Diabetes, was someone who had inspired me as a kid, and I hoped by becoming a professional basketball player, my story could do the same for others living with Diabetes who wanted to pursue their own dreams.

Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability or illness?

I have always taken the attitude that I did not want having Diabetes to stop me from going after my dreams. The biggest dream was to play in the NBA, and I take a lot of pride in being the first NBA player with Type 1 Diabetes. I was able to play in the league for 16 years (the average NBA career is 3+ years) and never missed a game because of my Diabetes.

What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?

Do not let your disability define you: you have it but it does not have you. Embrace it and take care of it, but do not let it stop you from living the life you want to live. It certainly is not easy — and it can be frustrating — but it is important that you control it and not the other way around.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

My wife, Chris, has been a godsend. She really has helped me along the way in finding the best ways to take care of myself, helping me keep everything in perspective and not getting down because of having the disease.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In 1994, my wife and I started the CDF (Chris Dudley Foundation). Through the foundation we started a weeklong basketball camp for youth living with Diabetes. And after 27 years it is still going strong and has hosted youth from all over the world. Our entire family works at camp. It is our family’s favorite time of the year, and it has been such a blessing to be a part of the extended Diabetes family that has emerged from the camps and the clinics that the Foundation has hosted.

Another area I knew I wanted to be involved with was working with a company passionate about advancing the medical care of people living with Diabetes. In 2011, after a significant amount of research I joined the board of Diabetomics, a medical diagnostics company based in Oregon that originally focused on Diabetes.

I am also very proud that in addition, Diabetomics developed an FDA authorized rapid antibody saliva-based test during the global COVID 19 pandemic. So recently, I have been focused on spreading awareness of the health and safety value and importance of antibody testing through the antibody test, CovAb.

Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with physical limitations” and why.

We do not want sympathy. We have a challenge, but it does not define who we are.

Having a disability can make you even more appreciative of all the other gifts that we are given.

Everyone has challenges in life. Mine is Diabetes but others’ may be mental, physical, or emotional.

It’s OK to ask questions. So often people shy away from someone with disabilities because they don’t know what to say. I am always happy to have a conversation about Diabetes because it creates more awareness and eliminates a lot of misinformation.

Some of the most successful people I have met in my life have some sort of disability. I believe it is because the discipline and drive that they exhibit to overcome their challenge, helps them in other areas of their lives.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

I have two quotes:

“A life is not important, except in the impact it has on others,” by the late, great Jackie Robinson. We have had our camp for kids with Diabetes for over 25 years, and all the staff and campers are having positive impacts on everyone else there.

The second is our family motto. “You have no right to complain unless you are willing to step up and do something about it.” While not always easy (or possible) it helps drive all of us to hopefully help others when we see a need.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Elon Musk.

I would love to ask him his thoughts about the future of solar energy, electronic cars, space travel (and now Twitter). I have been impressed with his success but more importantly his drive and confidence to take on such major endeavors and to make a real impact.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Unstoppable: How Chris Dudley Has Redefined Success While Navigating Society With Type I Diabetes was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.