Making the Most of Chronic Illness in Sport with Mandy Marquardt

Learning to live with a chronic illness can be a challenge, but for USA Cycling National Team member, 18-time U.S. National Champion, and 2020 Olympic hopeful Mandy Marquardt, receiving the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes was a challenge that has since made every moment of success that much sweeter.

professional headshot of Mandy MarquardtMarquardt, who won two USA Cycling Junior National Road Champions in her first year on the competitive cycling scene at the age of 10, told TrueSport, “Type 1 diabetes has impacted my life in a positive way because from such a young age, it’s made me a better person – more accountable and disciplined. I don’t know what my life would be like if I didn’t have type 1 diabetes. I’m not looking back and saying I wish that it was different. This is who I am and I’m hoping to impact more people while I’m reaching my dreams to hopefully be in the Olympics next year.”

When Marquardt was diagnosed, she was 16 years old and living abroad in Germany with her father. The doctor told her that she would never be able to race at a high level again. But that didn’t stop her from trying.

“After I was diagnosed, I was overwhelmed because I was only 16 and I thought that was the end of my career. But I competed at nationals [in Germany] later that same year and won bronze while managing my diabetes. I still knew I had so much more work to do, but it was cool to prove to myself that I was able to do it,” said Marquardt.

Finding that strength and confidence did not come to Marquardt overnight.

“In Germany, at the time, I didn’t feel like I was accepted. I felt like I was different. A lot of coaches didn’t talk about it, or ask me about it,” said Marquardt.

After her bronze win at nationals in Germany, Marquardt headed back to the U.S. to finish her senior year in high school and spend time with her mother.

“She was there to help me through that turning point to get me back on my feet in racing,” explained Marquardt. “There were times I was motivated, and there were times I wasn’t. So [my mom and dad] were a big part of helping me.”

“It brought my dad and I closer together. He knew my potential and sometimes I would get lazy. So, he would push me a lot,” added Marquardt.

In addition to the support from her parents, Marquardt discovered a whole community of strength when she joined Team Novo Nordisk.

mandy marquardt racing on her track bike“I found Team Type 1, which is now Team Novo Nordisk, the all type 1 diabetes cycling team that I race with. It’s the world’s first all type 1 diabetes professional cycling team. It’s an amazing community. We’re so supportive of each other and always give each other tips and encouragement.”

Marquardt has been with the team for 10 years now and attributes her courage and confidence to the growing community of support that she’s found in them. She continues to be an engaged member of their mission to “inspire, empower, and educate people affected by diabetes, whiled doing what [they] love, and showing what’s possible with type 1 diabetes.”

Marquardt is not only an engaged competitor for Team Novo Nordisk, but she is also a mentor for a young cyclist, McKenna McKee.

“She’s 16 years old and she’s racing at the top level nationally. She has big goals to join Team Novo Nordisk someday and that’s inspiring. I feel like there’s a sense of purpose to why I have [diabetes], even just to communicate my diabetes and educate people and have those conversations has opened up opportunities to reaching my goals. And impacting other people is that much more fulfilling for me.”

When all is said and done, Marquardt wants young athletes who face adversity to “get out of your comfort zone, because it will make you a better person – whether that be in sport, or in school, or in your career someday.”