Raleigh girl outruns diabetes

— Kelly Christ stood at the starting line at dawn, surrounded by thousands of other runners, stretching her legs for a 13-mile run – her third as a diabetic.

She checked her blood sugar: 192. Good.

She knew glucose would be waiting at the water stations if she needed it.

So at the starting gun Sunday, she loped off into the early light in a pair of hot pink running shoes – confident she’d make it back.

“I train five days a week,” Kelly, 14, of Raleigh, said later. “It takes a lot of energy.”

The Tobacco Road Marathon regularly draws about 5,000 runners who compete for an $8,500 purse and a qualifying slot in the Boston Marathon. Most of them don’t have to worry about the chance of falling into a diabetic coma along the way.

Kelly, a runner since 2010, ran her first half-marathon only 13 days after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Sunday counted as her third, and she also has finished a 5K obstacle course as a diabetic.

Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is far less common than type 2 diabetes. It is a chronic condition marked by a pancreas that cannot produce enough of the hormone insulin to allow sugar to get into cells and create energy. More than 3 million Americans live with type 1 diabetes, relying on insulin to manage it.

Kelly takes insulin at every meal. She pricks her finger 10 to 15 times a day to monitor blood sugar. Everything she does, especially exercise, impacts her glucose level, and her life is a constant balancing act. While she’s running and her endurance is stretched, she relies on her instincts. Once, she said, her blood sugar dropped to a low 57.

“I can feel it,” Kelly said. “I feel shaky in my legs.”

Most of the marathon course follows the American Tobacco Trail in western Wake County. Allscripts, a health-care software firm, is the main sponsor this year for the marathon, which has raised more than $200,000 in the past three years for charities including the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which works to cure, treat and prevent type 1 diabetes. Kelly knew another diabetic running in the race Sunday, just as dedicated as she is.

“They’re the single most driven people you’ll ever meet,” said Kathy Peterson, a spokeswoman for the foundation. “Kelly is by no means alone.”

Kelly felt nervous in 2011, when she was first diagnosed. But her mother runs marathons, including Sunday’s in Cary, and Kelly feels inspired.

Run on St. Patrick’s Day, the marathon had a light-hearted feel. Runners wore shamrock-shaped antennae and emerald-green tutus.

But as Kelly rounded the final bend with No. 1903 on her bib, and crossed the finish line at two hours and six minutes, she didn’t look like a leprechaun.

She looked like a survivor giving diabetes a knock on the chin.

Shaffer: (919) 829-4818