Weightlifting, Body Building Become Refuge From Type 1 Diabetes
At 45, Doug Burns has achieved a level of fitness most people his age only dream about. Today he enjoys worldwide acclaim for his weightlifting prowess. But Doug wasn't always so healthy and strong.
DOUG: I ended up being the smallest kid in the class. I weighed less than any other kid, and, understandably, I was picked on a lot by the other kids: Pushed around, tripped, made fun of.
At age 7, Doug contracted mumps. Recovery was slow and difficult. He was always thirsty and kept losing weight.
DOUG: Finally, I was brought back into the hospital, and they tested my blood sugar. It should have been between 80-120, that's what a normal blood glucose range is, and mine was 750-800.
Doug was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. His body could not produce insulin to regulate his blood sugar.
DOUG: I just assumed I left the hospital, I was cured, but that wasn't the case at all.
Just a first-grader, Doug had to learn to inject himself with insulin. It was the early 1970s, a time when diabetes was much tougher to control.
DOUG: I was repeatedly hospitalized. I was brought in 30-40 times by evac within the first few years of diabetes.
Doug was so skinny, his nickname was "bag of bones." he assumed he was destined to stay that way until one day he came across a picture of Samson from the bible wrestling a lion.
DOUG: And he's got these gigantic deltoids and these huge arms and so I became transfixed with that image and it just stuck to me and I said 'That's my solution, that's what I've got to do. Somehow I've got to get like this guy."
Though today it's known that exercise is beneficial for people with diabetes, at that time, they were told to avoid strenuous activity. But that didn't deter Doug.
He built his own gym and started weightlifting. There were no gyms in his Mississippi town so he built his own gym in the woods. At first, no change. But he stuck with it and even entered a competition. He finished... dead last.
DOUG: But I didn't care, because here I was competing in a contest whereas before I was competing just to not get knocked around by other kids.
As he became more fit, his diabetes became easier to control. Doug kept competing and he didn't stay "dead last" for long.
DOUG: I went to the nationals in Allentown, Pennsylvania and set an American record in the bench press before I left high school.
Doug went on to become a personal trainer, and a father of three.
Doug's story could have ended happily here, but it gets even better. After years away from competition, he set his sights on a new goal--competing in so-called "natural" weight-lifting contests.
DOUG: No steroids, no hormones, nothing.
Doug trained intensely.
DOUG: I would train for hours on end. To me the distance between myself and the prize was how much work I was willing to do.
His hard work had paid off. But Doug still wasn't done--he kept training and two years later, competed in the Mr. Natural Universe contest and won.
DOUG: It was very gratifying, it felt incredible.
While he's low key about this achievement, his kids were positively thrilled.
EMILY: I was really excited. I burst into tears and I was really proud of him. My dad put in a lot of hard work for it and he trained for a long time and it was just like, you know, it was a big deal.
With the title "Mr. Natural Universe" came another title: role model to children with diabetes.
DOUG: They love him, they actually think he's a superstar, they say "Oh my god, your Dad's Mr. Universe, that's so cool.""
Diabetes is just an obstacle just like everything else, now it's a complex obstacle, and you have to obviously work. You have the ability to do what you want if you're willing to choose it, choose it wisely and dedicate yourself to doing it. That's it.
This entry last modified on: February 27, 2013 6:08 PM
About the Video
How does a sickly, skinny kid become Mr. Natural Universe? Doug Burns credits diabetes, the disease that taught him personal discipline at an early age.