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Diabetes doesn't slow Lightning right wing B.J. Crombeen

Lightning right wing B.J. Crombeen pricks his finger to check his blood sugar level, which he does 15-20 times a day.
Published Jan. 11, 2013

BRANDON — There might be a time, Lightning right wing B.J. Crombeen said, he will have to inject himself with insulin during a game or after a practice.

When he does, it will be in his stomach, thigh or, as he said, "anywhere there is a bit of fat."

But Crombeen, who has Type I diabetes, won't retreat to the training room or bathroom. He will inject himself while sitting at his dressing stall.

"I don't want to offend anyone or gross anyone out," he said Thursday at the Ice Sports Forum. "But it's something I've always tried to be out and open about and not hide it."

Crombeen, 27, diagnosed when he was 9, said he never has had a dangerous diabetic incident during a game or practice. But with training camp, which opens Sunday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, expected to be an intense seven days before the Jan. 19 opener, precautions must be taken.

So each day, Crombeen, like he does on any practice or game day, will check his blood sugar level 15 to 20 times.

"It's not like we have to check with him every day and say, 'What's your level?' " head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said. "As someone who has dealt with it as long as he has, he knows what to look for. It's more self-managing for him. For us, it's important just to be aware."

As of 2010, 285 million people worldwide had diabetes, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Those with it do not get enough insulin from the pancreas to move sugar from the blood into the body's cells, where it is converted to energy.

Instead, the sugar stays in the blood, where it can cause short-term problems such as blurred vision and stupor. Long-term issues include blindness, nerve damage and kidney disease.

To prevent an attack, Crombeen, son of former Blues player Mike Crombeen, takes three to five insulin shots a day. During games, he checks his blood sugar at least once between periods. The real trick, he said, is balancing his intake of carbohydrates and sugar, which he needs as a pro athlete, with his insulin injections.

"You really have a set routine of what you're eating and when you're eating, when you're testing your blood," said Crombeen, whom the Lightning acquired from St. Louis in July. "I've gotten into a pretty good routine where I'm pretty structured."

That includes a bowl of oatmeal and a smoothie in the morning, "so I know exactly how many carbs I'm getting," he said.

"I'm getting good energy, but I know how much insulin I need to counterbalance it with. You can have days when it goes out of whack and you don't know why. That's why you have to check it so often and stay on top of it."

There is no ready list of NHL players with diabetes. The most famous was Flyers great Bobby Clarke, whom Crombeen called an inspiration.

Lightning prospect Cory Conacher, at AHL Syracuse, also has Type I diabetes. But while he uses an insulin pump strapped to his hip, Crombeen is "old school" and prefers to use a needle.

"As long as you're willing to take the time to manage it and check your blood and watch what you're eating, it becomes a way of life," he said.

As for the potential Crombeen will shoot up in the locker room, center Nate Thompson whose stall at the Ice Sports Forum is next to Crombeen's said, "Whatever he has to do to get ready."

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