July 1, 2013

No 'Sweetest' Ending, but Sugar Free Accomplishes Mission at US Lacrosse West Championships

By Paul Krome | LaxMagazine.com |West Championships Scoreboard

Team Sugar Free, an Orange County, Calif.-based squad, used its nickname and JDRF-adorned uniforms to raise awareness about Type 1 Diabetes at the US Lacrosse West Championships, powered by Lacrosse Unlimited, in San Jose June 28-30. Coach Brian Eisenberg and midfielder Lauren Gonzales have Type 1 Diabetes, in which the body does not produce insulin to process glucose and other sugars.
©Damon Tarver

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Brian Eisenberg remembers the day his life changed. He was 6 years old, as excited as most Baltimore kids at that age are when they hop into the car for a family vacation to Ocean City, Md.

“It should’ve been a two-and-a-half- or three-hour drive. It ended up being four hours, because I couldn’t stop going to the bathroom,” Eisenberg, now 35, said Friday after coaching Sugar Free (Calif.) to a 7-4 win over BearLax 2018 Blue (Calif.) in the U15 girls division at the US Lacrosse West Championships, powered by Lacrosse Unlimited. “When we got back from that trip, my parents took me to the doctor and they diagnosed it. It’s been a long ride.”

The diagnosis: Type 1 Diabetes, a disorder that has the body’s immune system attacking beta cells in the pancreas, according to JDRF.org. Those beta cells would normally produce insulin, a hormone that helps the body move glucose from food into other cells in the body, which use glucose for energy. Without insulin, glucose remains in the blood stream, where it can damage the body’s organs.

You wouldn’t know it from the outside, watching Eisenberg draw up plays and give his players tips like any other coach. He wears an insulin pump, exercises as much as he can and lives, most of the time, on a moderated diet.

“I’m aware of what I eat, but I can’t even say that I eat perfectly. I love not-great food. I love carbs,” he said.

Type 1 Diabetes differs from the more common Type 2, where the body produces insulin but at incorrect times or at incorrect levels for the body to process. Type 2 can be acquired genetically or through prolonged unhealthy eating habits.

“Type 1 – they don’t know why it happens,” Eisenberg said. “It happens usually when you’re younger.”

Having been involved in lacrosse for most of his life as a player and coach in the men’s and women’s games – he recently coached the women’s team at alma mater Chapman University in their inaugural season of NCAA Division III competition after a few years in the US Lacrosse Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Associates – Eisenberg knows the penchant of the lacrosse community to support noble causes. He previously worked with Team Relentless, which supported the Headstrong Foundation, a blood-cancer research fundraising entity established in memory of former Hofstra University player Nick Colleluori.

“It was such an incredible experience, and I wanted to do something for diabetes as well,” Eisenberg said.

So he established Team Sugar Free, based in Orange County, Calif., to compete in US Lacrosse’s first youth tournament in the Golden State. Players would wear jerseys donned with the JDRF logo and the slogan “Improving Lives. Curing Type 1 Diabetes.”

But this wouldn’t be like any other travel team. Players would have to embody the uniforms they would wear.

“The girls knew, to get their uniform, they all had to write a paper showing that they knew what Type 1 Diabetes was, the difference between Type 1 and Type 2, and if they had any personal experience with a family member or friend – and how that related to what they learned about it, if they didn’t know before,” Eisenberg said. “Some of the papers were really awesome.”

Only one player wrote that she did not know anyone affected by diabetes. And then there was midfielder/attacker Lauren Gonzales, a rising freshman at Mater Dei (Calif.) High School. Eisenberg had seen Gonzales play in the spring and asked her to play on Sugar Free, but he didn’t know at the time that they shared a link.

“My older brother (Garrett) is 17 and a senior, and he has diabetes as well,” Gonzales said. “My mom had known what the symptoms were because of my brother. One night we were doing homework, and I had told her I had been drinking lots of water. She noticed I had lost weight. She tested me at night. My blood sugar was so high that the meter couldn’t read it. The next morning we went to the hospital and they told us I had Type 1 Diabetes.

“Coach Brian didn’t know I had it when I was playing [earlier in the spring] until someone told him. Then my mom told me that he had diabetes as well,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales, who has been playing lacrosse since the third grade, also has Celiac disease, an intolerance to gluten. She can’t eat pizza, bread or even her own birthday cake. But she jumped at the chance to play for Eisenberg on a team named Sugar Free, to help raise awareness for Type 1 Diabetes.

“I really appreciate that. I think it’s good that people will learn about diabetes. Type 1 is not well-known enough,” she said.

“We’re not about raising money. We’re just trying to raise awareness and have fun with it,” Eisenberg said. “We named ourselves Sugar Free and hope the girls get asked some random questions.”

Sugar Free set out to represent Orange County and earn an automatic invitation to the US Lacrosse U15 National Championship, powered by Lacrosse Unlimited, July 23-25 in Orlando by reaching the semifinals of the West Championships.

“That would be the sweetest thing for us,” Gonzales said Friday.

Though the squad fell short, finishing with a 2-3 record, its players and coaches spread the word about Type 1 Diabetes. For Eisenberg, a welcome, successful stop on his long ride.

For more information about Type 1 Diabetes, visit jdrf.org.


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