At 22 years old, Lauren Cox already has an impressive athletic resume that includes an NCAA Championship (2019) and a Big 12 Player of the Year Award, which she won in her senior year at Baylor University. On April 17th, 2020, Cox made history when she was drafted third overall by the Indiana Fever in the 2020 WNBA draft, making her the first ever professional women’s basketball player with Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the pancreas has trouble producing insulin, the hormone that allows glucose be used to produce energy. It typically develops in children and adolescents; Cox was seven years old when she was diagnosed.
Although it’s not easy to spot, her parents first became worried when they noticed that their daughter was struggling to perform while running track.
“I was running summer track, and I kind of went from winning all my races to losing all my races and my parents were like something is wrong because this is not the Lauren we know. So, they took me in to get some tests done and do some blood work.” Cox said on a American Diabetes Association virtual event for teens and their families.
That checkup would lead to a call from their doctor, informing them that Cox had Type 1 diabetes.
“So, we get to the hospital and I’m seven years old, I had never heard of diabetes before. So, they’re sticking needles in my arms, testing my blood sugar, doing all of these things, and I am just kind of in shock, like I don’t what to say, I was scared, my parents were scared. We didn’t know anyone [who] had Type 1 diabetes and we weren’t around anyone [who] had it. So, we were all scared. It took a lot of educating at first.”
That education included learning how to count carbs, monitoring her blood sugar and much more.
Nonetheless, Cox shared that one of the biggest challenges for her to overcome was dealing with her diabetes in public.
“Growing up with diabetes was hard for me because I am not the type of person who wants to be the center of attention,” Cox shared. “I didn’t want people looking at me, so I was kind of embarrassed about having diabetes. I didn’t want people looking at me in the restaurant when I was pulling out my meter and testing my blood sugar. I didn’t want people to see me give myself a shot.”
“One example, we would be sitting at a restaurant and I’d be about to test my blood sugar and the waiter would come back and I would hide it under the table just because I didn’t want to have answer any questions about it. So, it was scary for me.”
However, Cox said she grew in her confidence and vulnerability when she went to play for head coach Kim Mulkey at Baylor University, who not only wanted to learn as much as possible from Cox about being type 1 diabetic, but encourage her teammates and staff to do the same.
“As soon as I got on campus, Coach Mulkey just asked me all these questions, she wanted to know everything about it. She was really curious about it; she had never coached a player with diabetes, and she was the kind of person who got me out of my comfort zone. She would see me pull my insulin pump out and be like, ‘hey what are you doing, explain this to me.’ She would pull over my teammates and be like, ‘hey look at this, watch what she is doing, ask her questions about it.’ So, she definitely got me out of my comfort zone.”
It wouldn’t stop there, in January 2017, Cox’s freshman year, Baylor hosted its first Type 1 Awareness Game, providing an opportunity for diabetic fans to attend and enjoy the basketball game together and then afterwards get a chance to interact with Cox who is succeeding at a high level while managing her condition. That game would become an annual part of each Baylor season, giving Cox the opportunity to inspire others.
“It made me realize that this is what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to inspire people, I’m supposed to talk about diabetes make people aware of it and just get it out there you know and with the platform that I have I am able to do that.”
Since going public about her diabetes, Cox has not only become a spokeswoman for diabetes awareness and research, but she continues to showcase that even with diabetes you can excel in your chosen sport even if it does come with its challenges.
“I am the first professional women’s basketball player to play with is, so whatever your passion is you could be one of the first with diabetes to do it.” Cox said with a smile.