FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind. — When Madi Clay was a sophomore at Northeastern High School, Princess Darnell took over as head coach and started a new tradition: team meals before away games.

Clay was the most experienced player on a very young team, and her team relied on her to spend quite a few minutes on the court.

On top of that, certain things she was eating during those team meals made her extra tired during games.

It was all part of managing the life of a high school teen, rebuilding a basketball team, and adjusting to life as a diabetic.

As a freshman, Clay found out she had Type 2 diabetes.

Three years later, she says the obstacles she’s faced have only made her stronger – just like the growing pains of rebuilding Northeastern’s girls basketball team.

Clay is a member of the National Honors Society and with a 3.85 GPA, among the top students in her class.

On the basketball court, she’s helping turn around a girls basketball program that won just six games combined in the last two years, and has surpassed that total in this season, at 10-12 entering sectional play.

Clay and Northeastern won a Wayne County tournament game for the first time in 19 years, and are right in the mix entering the girls basketball sectional tournament.

“I think right now, where me and my team are at right now, it’s a good spot,” Clay said. “We’re trying better, there’s little things we’ve talked about recently. It’s just little things that we can piece together and we can do some big things.”

“Every person with diabetes is different”

Clay’s diabetic diagnosis was a surprise, but it wasn’t a shock. Her grandmother and her mother are both diabetic, so her mom raised them to watch what they ate.

“She would watch what we ate, but she also let us eat what we wanted too,” Clay said. “Sometimes, she would be like, ‘OK, let’s check your sugar and see what it is.’ She’s kind of watching to make sure, if the sugar was too high, we need to go to the doctor to see if you have it.”

One day during a walk-thought her freshman year, Clay was waiting on the sidelines, before she started to feel uncomfortable.

“I actually passed out and fell on one of my teammates,” she said. “I stopped practicing, went to the hospital, and they referred me to a specialist at Riley (Hospital for Children). After getting about 15 blood tests, I found out I had Type 2 diabetes.”

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, people with Type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but their bodies don’t use it as it should.

Clay takes medication, usually in the morning to regulate her sugar levels, but must also watch what she eats. It’s been quite the adjustment – but she never stopped playing basketball.

“After I found out, it was really hard for me to adjust,” Clay said. “I had to watch what I ate, I had to exercise and diet more. Starting my sophomore year, we would have team meals, just a little team meal before away games. When we had those away games, I would get in the games and I felt super tired, worn out and didn’t play to my best potential. We found out that the food I was eating before the games would make my blood sugar too high.”

Clay started packing lunches for the team meals, but even that took time to adjust.

Limiting grapes, one of her favorite fruits, was hard. Early in her life as a diabetic, she ate candy bars during games to try to adjust her sugar levels, but often found her sugar shooting up too high.

“Every person with diabetes is different,” she said. “There’s different foods that affect your body differently and make your sugar levels differ. It took me a while to adjust, but after I did, it wasn’t too hard. By now, I’m able to know exactly what foods I can’t eat, when I can eat them.”

“The love for the game kept me going”

While Clay was adjusting to life as a diabetic, Northeastern was adjusting to a new coach.

Clay started at point guard for the varsity team about two games into her freshman year. When she was in eighth grade, Northeastern won just one varsity game, and with Clay in the mix a year later, the Knights improved to seven wins.

When head coach Max Adams resigned following Clay’s freshman year, she and her teammates had to adjust to a new coach.

Clay was the most experienced player, and voted captain as a sophomore. But being a captain meant she needed to stay on the floor as much as possible, which meant more pressure.

“My freshman year, probably after two games, maybe, I started varsity as a point guard – that was a lot of pressure,” Clay said. “But I think being able to play against girls that are older than me and probably stronger than me was able to help me.”

Darnell said Northeastern lost several players who didn’t want to be part of the rebuild, and were tired of losing.

Quitting was never an option for Clay.

“I never thought about quitting; I think the love that I have for the game kept me going,” she said. “At the end of the day, win or lose, I’m still playing the thing that I love. I’m doing my favorite thing ever, so I kept going.”

“We want people to know that we got better”

By the time Clay ended her junior year, she started to notice things change for Northeastern’s basketball team.

They weren’t necessarily winning all their summer games, but a lot were much more competitive than they had been.

She was also finding new ways of managing her sugar levels during games, so she knew her senior year would be different.

“We really didn’t know what my sugars run during games until this year,” she said. “My doctors saw on the monitor that read my sugars for I think 14 days straight. I’d get a little prick and they’d be able to read my blood sugar.

“Before I found out what my sugars were running in games, I would eat like a candy bar at halftime. Sometimes that candy bar would make my sugar too high, I wouldn’t feel good in the games, I had to drink lots of water and my blood sugar would just go crazy during the games, so it was really hard to adjust to that and know what I shouldn’t eat, or what I need to eat during games, or what to drink and all of that.”

Another nice change this year was the addition of a talented freshman class, which meant more breaks for Clay, less stress, and more playing her game.

“I planned on this year her finally being able to have some breaks,” Darnell said. “We had some nice freshmen come in that were going to be able to help handle the ball. We got (freshman) Jenna McFarland giving her breaks, but really, we still love having Madi on the floor.”

The Knights finished an up-and-down first year under Darnell with a 2-20 record. They went 4-19 a year ago, and made a big leap this year.

This season includes Northeastern’s first win in the Wayne County tournament since 1999.

They received a bye in the sectional and were to play Lincoln in one semifinal Friday night.

“Being able to realize what I need to eat, what I need to do to manage what I need to do to help me in games – me and the younger class worked so hard in the offseason,” Clay said. “Our goals are to win. We want to win, we want people to know that we got better, that we haven’t slacked off, and I think this year it’s shown.”


Source: (Richmond) Palladium-Item


Information from: Palladium-Item, http://www.pal-item.com

This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the (Richmond) Palladium-Item.