Brendan Budy remembers that because he was looking forward to going home after his third-grade class to build an outdoor hockey rink.
“I was 8 years old,” he said. “December 11th.”
His teacher pulled him out of class that day. His mother, Colleen, was there. She had tears in her eyes. She told Brendan that doctors finally figured out why he was drinking so much water and constantly having to use the bathroom: He is Type 1 diabetic.
“I didn’t understand it at first,” he said. “I really didn’t know what it was at all.”
Brendan left school and got in the car with his mom. They drove to the local hospital in Langley, B.C. He asked his mother, “Does this mean I can’t play hockey anymore?” She didn’t know the answer.
When they met with a doctor later that day, Brendan asked again.
“Absolutely you can,” the doctor said. In fact, he told Brendan, exercise would help him manage his diabetes.
Knowing that comforted Budy as he spent a couple days in the hospital to get his blood sugar levels under control. Then, he transferred to a children’s hospital, where he spent five days learning all the ways his life would forever change because his pancreas does not produce insulin.
For the last 13 years, Budy has been pricking his finger roughly 10 times per day to check his blood sugar levels. For the first three years, he used a pen to inject insulin several times a day. For the last 10, he’s had an insulin pump attached to his hip.
Budy has to monitor every meal and every drink. He counts carbohydrates and offsets them by telling his pump to give him insulin. If his blood sugar is low, he eats or drinks sugar sources.
There are no days off, no breaks.
“It’s an every day thing for me,” Budy said.
Growing up, Budy kept his condition mostly private, but he is changing that this year as the 13th anniversary of his diagnosis approaches. Now a player for one of college hockey’s most prominent programs, Budy is using his platform to raise money for diabetes research and he’s hoping to inspire others who fight the same battles.
“I want to show people that you can do anything you want,” said Budy, a junior forward for the UND hockey team. “It doesn’t matter what you have. If you keep working every day and stay healthy the best you can, anybody can do anything.”
Learning how to manage
Budy had his own source of inspiration early on.
While he was still in the hospital in the days after his diagnosis, word reached Anthony Ast, a forward for the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. Ast, also a Type 1 diabetic, made a trip to the hospital to meet with Budy and share his story.
“That was a feel-good moment,” Budy said. “I knew it was possible. He was playing a high level of hockey at a young age. It made me feel a lot better.”
Budy credits his parents, Tim and Colleen, for learning everything and taking care of him in the early days and years after his diagnosis.
They planned a diet for him and gave him all of his insulin shots.
They gave him a phone, so during intermissions at his youth hockey games, he could poke his finger, check his blood sugar levels and text the reading to his parents. They would figure out what he needed to do to get his blood sugar levels to the right range.
“A Type 1 diabetic does not do well playing six games in a weekend,” Colleen said, recalling old youth hockey tournaments. “He was on the ice all the time, too. A lot of it was figuring out how to manage that. He was a trooper. He was bound and determined this wasn’t going to hold him back.”
Because exercise typically lowers blood sugar levels, Budy kept Skittles and Gatorade on the bench.
“I owe it all to my parents,” Budy said. “They did all the learning for me. They did pretty much everything for me. I was pretty young. I had no clue what it was. As time went on, I picked it up myself.”
It never held Budy’s hockey career back.
He took off in juniors, starring for the local British Columbia Hockey League team, the Langley Rivermen. While there, he earned a scholarship at Denver, where he played for a semester before opting to transfer. Last season was his first at UND.
Budy scored four goals and tallied nine points in 28 games, while figuring in some of the team’s biggest moments. He scored in the Penrose Cup-clinching victory over Omaha. He scored again in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff as the Fighting Hawks won the tournament for the first time in program history.
This season, he missed time with a leg injury, but returned to the lineup two weeks ago and scored a third-period, game-winning goal against Minnesota Duluth.
“His dad and I are so very proud of him,” Colleen said. “We really recognize what he has had to do to get to where he is. All of these boys have sacrificed and what they’ve put in is phenomenal. But we know the extra that Brendan had to put in. He’s never wanted it to be some badge of honor. What he had to do extra, for him, it was normal. He was just never going to let it beat him or hold him back and we’re just extremely proud of how hard he’s worked to get there.”
UND forward Brendan Budy shows his insulin pump and his tattoo that identifies himself as a Type 1 Diabetic. Submitted photo.
Keeping on top of it
When it comes to game days, Budy is hyper aware of his blood sugar levels, knowing that’s a key to his on-ice success.
“If it gets too low, you can’t really play at all,” he said. “You’re really weak and shaky and stuff. If it gets too high, you lose your focus and get really groggy and stuff. To play my best, I have to try to make sure I keep it in my range.”
Longtime athletic trainer Mark Poolman, who said Budy is the first Type 1 diabetic in his 25 years with the UND hockey program, keeps juice boxes near the bench for Budy in case his blood sugar goes low.
If his blood sugar is high, Budy has his pump give him insulin. During games, he tucks his pump underneath his pants. He said the pump has never caused problems during games.
Budy said he checks his blood sugar levels before the game, in between each period and after the game.
“When you play, you have a lot of adrenaline and sometimes that can make your blood sugar spike a little higher,” he said. “After the game, when that winds down, that’s when your blood sugar drops. It’s making sure I have a big meal, eat a lot and watch it closely after the game. That’s important.”
Budy said his roommates — Riese Gaber, Griffin Ness and Cooper Moore — have learned a lot about diabetes and can recognize when Budy’s not feeling well and has low blood sugar.
“Pooly has been a big help, too,” Budy said. “He always has a juice ready and is checking to make sure everything’s good. The coaching staff knows. They’re really supportive of it. Sometimes, if my blood sugar goes low, I’ll have to take a couple minutes off on the ice. They know that right away. Everyone here is supportive of it and aware of it.”
Over the summer, Budy made two additions.
He now has a sensor in his body that communicates with his pump to help manage his blood sugar levels. Budy still has to do manual reads to recalibrate the sensor, but now he’s pricking his finger two or three times a day compared to 10-plus like before.
“That changed a lot, too,” he said.
Budy also got a tattoo on his left forearm with a medicine symbol. It says “diabetic” and “T1” on it.
“It’s something pretty close to me and something I live with,” he said. “If there was a case where I was passed out from being too low, the paramedics would know what to look out for. That’s another reason why.”
Since revealing that he’s a Type 1 diabetic this week, Budy has heard from numerous people.
One fan wrote to him: “I’ve been diabetic since I was 8, and you nailed it with this post. No days off, ever. Best of luck with your battle Brendan. Keep grinding. I know I’ll forever be a fan.”
Two others wrote to tell stories of their diabetic children who came across his post and were inspired.
“My phone has been blowing up,” Budy said. “Obviously, it’s something important to me. The goal is to do it for a good cause. I want to give back to help out to try to eventually find a cure someday. I didn’t expect it to blow up like it has. I’ve been seeing a lot of people around here who have it or even people who don’t reaching out. It’s good. I think it’s making an impact and that’s what I want to do.”
13 years ago in the month of December I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. That marked a new normal of a new life. Something that is challenging at points but something that has shaped me into the person I am today. My diabetes is my 247….. https://t.co/MdLWnvYu5l
— Brendan Budy (@BrendanBudy) November 29, 2021