As I wrote about here, I was recently diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Ever since I got my diagnosis, I’ve been looking around to find inspiring people who share the same burden I do. I learned that rookie winger for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, Max Domi, is also a diabetic.
When the Coyotes came to play the Capitals last week, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to grab this interview with Max. The Coyotes invited me to their closed workout at the Verizon Center, and afterwards I got to ask him a couple questions about how he deals with diabetes.
There’s nothing you can’t do when you have diabetes, but being a professional athlete is one of the hardest things you can do. As you’ll see below, Max describes the complicated routine he goes through during a game to make sure he stays healthy.
Before we get to this Matt’s Bats Chat, let me tell you about the day. One of the best parts of the interview was the part before it! The practice began at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, February 22, which meant that I got to leave school early to go to Verizon Center. Because the practice was closed to fans, the only other people in the entire arena were beat writers for the Coyotes. We took some great seats right behind the visitors bench behind the glass and right next to the player tunnel. Being that close to the ice meant you could see every detail on Louis Domingue‘s helmet and almost get sprayed with ice as Shane Doan skated by. Some players gave me high fives or said hi as they walked onto or off the ice. We had a great view watching Oliver Ekman-Larsson take a heavy slap shot or watching Anthony Duclair and Max Domi having some fun stick handling. By the time practice was over, the Coyotes’ Director of Media Relations took us down to the locker room to interview Max. I knew I was going to get to meet the rookie phenom, but I didn’t know I was going to be interviewing him in the locker room! That was a great surprise because even though I’ve seen the insides of many stadiums, I have never done an interview in a locker room. I was able to see everything that goes on behind the scenes at a hockey game.
For those of you who don’t know Max Domi, he is a 20-year old right winger for the Arizona Coyotes. He made his NHL debut this season after being drafted 12th overall in the 2013 NHL draft. He has already scored his first NHL hat trick. Domi is the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs player Tie Domi.
Max was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was 12 years old. He has a tattoo on his arm that says “diabetic.”
He wears #16 on his jersey as a tribute to hockey legend Bobby Clarke, who made 8 consecutive All-Star Games, and is a 2-time Stanley Cup Champion. Clarke also also has type 1 diabetes.
Matt’s Bats – How did your diabetes diagnosis effect your road to the NHL?
Max Domi – The first question I asked after I was diagnosed was whether I could still play hockey and the doctor said, yes, of course. After he said that, I didn’t let the diagnosis phase me. Now I’m lucky enough to be here playing 4 years in the OHL [Ontario Hockey League], which is a junior league in Canada. I learned a lot and had a great time. I’ve learned a lot about how to live playing hockey with the disease. Now I’m here and doing OK.
MB – I’ve learned that you have a diabetic alert dog named Orion. How does he help you deal with the disease?
Domi – He can alert me when I go high or low [meaning when he becomes hyper- or hypoglycemic]. So when my blood sugar goes out of range, Orion comes up to me and nudges my waist and grab this thing that I wear on my belt buckle and he’ll just sit there and look at me. When he does that, I know that I’m either low or high. In the middle of the night, as well. He’ll be a normal dog, but he’ll wake me up if my blood sugar goes out of range. He’ll lick my face until I wake up. The good thing is he can catch stuff before it gets to be a problem and dangerous, and he’s good at it.
To read more about Orion, including a video of how he helps alert Max to dangerous blood sugar drops, I recommend this article.
MB – That’s amazing that he can do that. Was he trained?
Domi – Yep. So, I got him when he was 2 years old, but it takes a minimum of 2 years to train a dog. Obviously, with the obedience thing, you can bring him in public. He’s a service dog, so you just throw on his vest and he can go anywhere with you. The scent work takes a while. And all the standard stuff to train a dog.
Listen to Max explain how he manages his diabetes during a game:
MB – What’s your routine in terms of managing diabetes before, during and after a game?
Domi – There’s a couple things I have to do. I’m making sure I’m eating at the same time or almost the same time on game days as practice days and workout days. And then testing my blood pretty frequently. So, I’ll test my blood 2 hours before the game, an hour before the game, right before I warm up on the ice before the game, half-way through the first, after the first, half-way through the second, after the second, half-way through the third, after the third, and then two hours after the game.
MB – That’s a lot!
Domi – It is a lot, but, I mean, it makes me feel better and a little more confident with how I feel, so I do that and it works out pretty good.
MB – Do you wear a pump? [Ed. note: Diabetics need to take insulin in order to process the food they eat. You can’t take insulin in a pill, so you either need to inject it using a syringe or use an insulin pump that you wear on your hip].
Domi – Yes, I do.
MB – Does it affect your game in any way? Can you not body check, or…
Domi – Nope. I broke a couple, though. I’ve actually blocked a shot and it shattered the whole screen. There’s a 1-800 number I can call on the back, and within 2 ½, 3 hours they’ll send a brand new one. If anything were to ever happen and I couldn’t get one right away, I have these protocols where I’d go back to injections and manually do that stuff. There are a couple different settings that the pump can do that injecting can’t do. I have a lot of stuff so in an emergency I can manage it without any issues.
MB – Is wearing a pump better than using a syringe, being a professional athlete?
Domi – No. It’s definitely not better. But everyone’s different, obviously. It’s just a matter of finding what makes your life easier and more manageable. For me, the pump’s been great. I’ve had some issues with it, but you find a way to manage those and keep living your life. For me, it’s been going pretty smoothly with the pump, so I’ll keep it up for now.
MB – What do you do to raise awareness about the disease?
Domi – To be honest, I’m more involved with the Canadian side. There’s this one company, Bayer, which makes the Contour Link meter that I use to test my blood. They’re a pretty wealthy organization, so I’ve been able to partner with them and make some videos, and tweet some stuff out, and post on Instagram. They’re all on board. The JDRF is huge as well; they’re great at raising awareness and raising money and trying to find a cure. We’re going in the right direction, and hopefully we’ll find a cure.
MB – I remember seeing a post you put on Instagram a couple of months ago that said you would donate $1 for every like you got. I think that was very good for the diabetes community.
At this point, goalie Mike Smith came into the locker room and took a seat on the bench at his locker across from us. He took some ice from his skate and threw it at Max as a joke to distract him. “Don’t mind him. He’s trying to get me wet,” Domi said.
Domi – Yeah, that got a lot more than I was anticipating, but, hey, that’s great. We’re raising awareness and did a good job.
MB – The more the better!
Now just some general questions. What is your favorite moment ever playing hockey?
Domi – My first NHL game was pretty cool. World Juniors last year was pretty cool. I was lucky enough to play for Team Canada and we won the gold medal in Toronto, which is where I grew up. So that was pretty sweet. Those two are pretty much tied, I think.
MB – And, finally, what’s been your favorite arena to play at in the NHL?
Domi – I haven’t played in all of them yet. The rink in Toronto is pretty sweet. The ACC [Air Canada Centre in Toronto] is awesome, but I’ve only played their once. That’s probably my favorite, just because I grew up around there. I haven’t played in many Eastern rinks yet, but the one in Phoenix is pretty cool. They’re all really good nowadays. It’s fun. I’m looking forward to playing in the Verizon Center tonight.
MB – Max, thank you so much.
Domi – Alright, buddy. Thank you so much. That was great. A pleasure.
It was great meeting Max to talk about how he is a role model for others who have diabetes. I also got to take home a souvenir: a stick from center Viktor Tikhonov, and a puck they used during practice.
I returned to the Verizon Center later that night for the game. Even though I was rooting for Max, the Caps won 3-2.