Photos by Hillary Ehlen and NDSU Athletics
Steffan Stroh, from Underwood, Minnesota, is a standout senior thrower for the NDSU men’s track and field team. He’s a multiple All-Summit League performer and won the conference championship in the hammer throw and discus during the 2017 outdoor season, breaking the NDSU school record in the hammer throw that year. He’s done it all with the everyday challenge of having Type I diabetes.
In the NDSU Career Record Books
1st – Hammer Throw (217-7)
2nd – Discus (177-8)
3rd – Shot Put (60-3 1/4)
3rd – Shot Put (59-9 3/4)
4th – Weight Throw (66-7)
Stroh was in junior high when he started losing a lot of weight. He was drinking water at an unusual rate while using the bathroom more frequently. His mother, a nurse, recognized what may be going on and took him to the hospital to get checked out. Stroh was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, which was like déjà vu for his family.
Stroh’s older brother, Eric, was a mid-distance runner at NDSU when, at the age of 19, he was diagnosed with diabetes around 2006, which led to him retiring from the sport. Steffan, a three-sport athlete, continued to excel on the court and field despite the challenges of having diabetes.
“Right from the get-go, having my brother who experienced it and having my mom being a nurse and already gone through it, plus having good doctors who told me nothing was going to change, I was old enough to be aware that it was a serious thing, but at the same time, I tried to remain positive,” Stroh said.
He was an all-conference player in football and started for the basketball team in high school. But track and field was his sport, winning the discus state title in 2012 and was runner-up in the shot put. Stroh decided to continue competing at NDSU, where his brother’s career ended prematurely. He’s since put together a stellar career, holding multiple spots on the all-time school record list.
“I remember through my recruiting process that I was worried how the coaches would react when I told them that I was diabetic and it may affect my training overall performance in competition,” Stroh said. “In my head, I thought this would be a deal breaker for them. Much to my relief (Don Larson) and Justin (St. Clair) didn’t skip a beat when I told them and have been incredible through my whole career.”
Diabetes is an everyday challenge for Stroh, but he doesn’t use it as an excuse and has the routine down. He is consistently monitoring his blood sugar and always keeps snacks on hand. On competition days, he watches closely what he eats and needs to have a good sugar range when it’s time to compete.
“When my blood sugar is high, I get pretty tired and I feel like I have to take a nap,” Stroh said. “When it’s low, a lot of people say it’s like being drunk. I’ll stumble a little or slur my words. Sometimes my friends and family notice it before I do. But I usually can feel it coming on in practice and I have plenty of granola bars. And at the SHAC, having that food bar is really helpful for me.”
Stroh said it’s hard for him to say how much being diabetic impacts his performance. Besides being overly conscious of what he eats, there are also other small nuisances such as his insulin pump flying off as he threw during the first meet of the outdoor season in mid-March.
“It was just one of those things where I had to figure it out and keep throwing because it was my first throw,” Stroh said. “I’ve had it fly off before. And people with Type 1 know that sometimes your sugars are weird. If the adrenaline is going, sugars can do weird things. Competing, you have to stay on top of it. If my blood sugar is really high, I get tired and that’s not a good thing if you’re competing.”
Besides his brother, Stroh knows other athletes going through the same thing he is. At one of the home meets this year, a fellow shot putter noticed his insulin pump and told Stroh he was recently diagnosed with diabetes. The two shared stories and experiences. And in high school, Stroh learned that former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was also diabetic.
That gave him confidence that his diabetes shouldn’t be an excuse when competing. And, as he’s shown at NDSU, it hasn’t deterred him from becoming one of the elite throwers in the Summit League.
“One thing that I think I’ve learned having a very unpredictable condition like diabetes is that every day is a gift and the only limits in life are the ones you put on yourself,” Stroh said.