Finding out he had diabetes on Christmas eve was certainly not the gift he was hoping to receive, but Stefano Ratto has never let his diagnosis define his will to succeed. At 9 years old, this Lima, Peru native had to figure out how to live like a kid again.
“Being told I had to get several shots a day was like telling me to be an outcast,” he said. But after getting used to eating more healthily and learning how many units of insulin to take, Stefano now sees these adjustments as a normal part of his life.
Now, at 21, Stefano just competed in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. “I started doing some resistance tests and I had good results. When I told the people I was diabetic, they didn’t believe me…. When people are surprised that I’m diabetic getting the results I have, it makes me feel proud of myself,” he said.
Stefano was always athletic while growing up. He played basketball, soccer, tennis—you name it, he did it. But in academy, Stefano took on another sport and decided to learn how to swim. “One year later I swam ‘La Ruta de Olaya,’ an open water event which is 22km (13.6 miles!) long and won it! It took me a little more than 9 hours. It was the year of the earthquake in Japan and the currents in the sea were REALLY hard.
“Then I did a cross-triathlon and won my age group. I didn’t train for it; I just wanted to try the sport because I found it amazing for people to do 3 sports, one after another,” Stefano said. He was hooked–“after that I just kept training and racing until I won my age group at Ironman Los Cabos.”
Stefano always shows up to races prepared, and he knows that if not monitored, having diabetes could put him at a disadvantage. “[At races] I make sure to have my glucose monitor, insulin, and glucagon at each transition [from sport to sport], and I have glucagon with me on the bike and in a belt while I’m running,” he said. He knows that there are risks involved, and having a hypoglycemic attack would be his worst nightmare. “I have had the support of my Dad in every race I’ve done and that also helps,” said Stefano, thanking his Dad for his ongoing reinforcement.
Ironman has been named the world’s most challenging endurance event, and for good reason. 140.6 miles broken up into swimming, biking, and running, an Ironman is next to impossible for most people. But for Stefano, it’s just another goal he has set for himself. Unbelievably athletic, Stefano had competed in just one Ironman before being invited to the World Championships this past October 12.
Finishing 1,198 out of 2134 participants with a total time of 10:59:28, Stefano was pleased with his race. “Overall I felt really good. I was told to enjoy the race (as this was my first time in a world championship) and that’s what I did. I felt a lot more prepared than in Los Cabos’ Ironman,” he said.
“The most challenging part was the biking. The winds were really strong and I could feel how they stopped me. It was really hard on the legs and on the mind,” he said. Stefano faced no trouble with his diabetes during the race, and handled his overall health very well. Now that it’s over, he’s proud to have participated. “I’m really happy! It was an amazing experience!” he said.
When asked if there was anything else he wanted to share, Stefano was insistent that people not let diabetes control their lives. “The problem with diabetes is that people see it as a disease, and for me it is more like a condition, like having asthma,” he said. “I’ve seen many diabetics be held back by their families. I have always had the support of my parents while learning [about] diabetes and while setting myself any goal. The key is to not make diabetes something more than it should be.”