The Lady Bears' 46-point victory over Coppin State in mid-November was in many ways a typical early season victory; however, that afternoon’s crowd included special guests there to see more than a game. They were there to celebrate Baylor’s second-annual Type 1 Diabetes Awareness game and to witness a role model making her presence felt on the floor.
Sophomore forward Lauren Cox was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) as a 7-year-old. Now, she is one of the top players on one of the nation’s top teams, and her performance served as an inspiration to dozens of children in the crowd that day who also live with T1D. On a day when many impressionable eyes were on her, Cox showed that diabetes doesn’t have to keep children from living out their dreams.
“It’s really important to me to be able to show kids that they can do whatever they want to do,” Cox said. “I want to be a role model to show them they can do what they dream.”
To most Baylor fans, Cox is more associated with titles like “No. 1 recruit in the nation,” or “Big 12 Conference Sixth Man of the Year” than she is with the word diabetes. But to earn those titles, she had to learn to live and play with
“When I first found out I had diabetes, I was eating a Pop-Tart at one of my sister’s soccer games,” she said. “My parents got a call from the hospital telling them my bloodwork had come in.”
“It’s really important to me to be able to show kids that they can do whatever they want to do.”
Cox never finished the snack. She soon found herself visiting with a diabetes educator, who helped her begin to understand what she was going to have to do to manage T1D.
“My pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, so I have a pump that gives me insulin,” Cox said.
“I don’t take shots like I did when I was younger. I have that pump and change the infusion set every two to three days. It’s definitely a hassle sometimes, but I have pretty good control of it.”
Based on the numbers on the screen, Cox adjusts accordingly. If it’s too low, she can grab a bite to eat to elevate her blood sugar. If it’s too high, she takes additional insulin. It’s a give-and-take she speaks of with the matter-of-fact frankness of someone who has integrated the diabetes routine into everyday muscle memory.
“I’ve learned I can’t let it control me; I have to control it,” she said. “There are a lot of factors that impact my blood sugar, but I’ve grown used to them. It’s a daily thing I have to do, and I won’t let it stop me.”
At practice and in games, Cox regularly pauses with a trainer to gauge her blood sugar levels. The numbers she sees usually are managed with relative ease, but not always. Before a key non-conference matchup against Tennessee during her freshman season, Cox’s blood sugar levels were dangerously high. Head coach Kim Mulkey held her from the game until the levels returned to normal.
“Lauren never uses diabetes as crutch,” Mulkey said. “You will see her sneak off in the middle of practice on the sideline to check her blood sugar levels, then she gets right back in the drill. I think maybe at an early part of her life, she didn’t want a lot of people to know about her diagnosis. But, I’ve told her, that’s her platform, and she’s meant to share it with young people.”
It’s a platform Cox has embraced. Last year, she appeared on a panel at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s TypeOneNation Summit in Dallas, where she shared her experiences with children who attended. Her panel included musicians, a podcaster and other professionals and students who lived with the disease.
“I love being out there, talking to kids,” Cox said. “I really learned a lot from them, too. It’s important to connect with them and use your experience to teach them they can do whatever they want despite having diabetes. When I get older, I want to be a spokesperson for diabetes to even bigger crowds of people.”