Jay Hewitt: Envisioning the Finish Line

By Sarah Senn

Jay Hewitt has a vision. He’s driven to complete everything he begins, everyday. Jay is a dynamic speaker, successful lawyer and gifted triathlete. He doesn’t let anything slow him down or keep him from having a positive outlook on life. Not even diabetes.

Jay wasn’t always a triathlete. He had always been good at sports, but a triathlon was the furthest thing from his mind. In 1990 Jay finished college and entered law school, one of his life’s goals. In his first year of law school, he spent many hours studying. Like most graduate students, he did not have time to be sick or worry about his health. In the winter of 1991 Jay figured that his growing lack of energy must be because of a virus or his stressful schedule. Yet, his condition continued to worsen, and he lost 20 pounds in 6 weeks. In February 1991 he ended up semi-conscious in the emergency room. An endocrinologist [en-doh-cri-NA-lo-jist] examined Jay and diagnosed him with type 1 diabetes. No one in Jay’s family had ever been diagnosed with diabetes and up to that point, he had been healthy.

“It was a huge shock,” Jay remembers. “As a 23-year-old, I felt invincible. I didn’t even know what diabetes was.” Jay remembers asking the endocrinologist three questions in the hospital: 1) What is diabetes? 2) Am I going to die? and 3) Is there a cure? The doctor explained the condition and ways to manage and treat it, but told Jay there was no cure. His life was about to change. No cure? It wasn’t easy for Jay to hear.

“It became a turning point for me. I soon realized that my health was up to me until someone finds a cure.”

Jay spent much of the next decade researching and learning everything he could about diabetes. He read about the benefits of exercising and staying involved, even with diabetes. Jay was determined, so in 2000, he decided to do something he had never done before – run a marathon.

“I didn’t want people to see me as sick or weak. I wanted to test myself, maybe send a message to this disease: ‘you’re messing with the wrong guy.’”

He trained for months to build up the strength to compete and traveled to Hawaii to complete the 26.2 mile race. He even raised money for the American Diabetes Association. Jay wasn’t a top finisher, but he finished the race. While he was there, a fellow competitor told him that this same location was home to one of the world’s most famous endurance events, the Ironman triathlon. Every triathlon has three events – swimming, biking and running, but not every triathlon is an Ironman triathlon. The Ironman triathlon is the longest, most grueling triathlon race. Participants must swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles, totaling 140.6 miles in one day.

Jay was nervous to compete in a triathlon at first, but he decided if he was able to finish a marathon, he could at least train for a triathlon. In 2002, after two years of training, completing several marathons and shorter Olympic distance, and half Ironman triathlons, he completed his first Ironman Triathlon.

“I had so much pride and joy when crossing the finish line the first time,” Jay reflects. “It was both emotional and overwhelming, satisfying and painful.”

Jay continued to compete in triathlons, and in 2004, he qualified for the US National Team for Long Distance Triathlon. He says racing for Team USA in Europe and Australia is the highlight of his athletic career.

“It was an incredible honor; so humbling to wear U-S-A on my chest,” he says.

To date, Jay has competed in 14 Ironman triathlons, with his best finishing time being 9 hours, 47 minutes. He is often asked about the challenges he faces as a triathlete with diabetes. Jay is quick to note that one must be very determined and disciplined to manage diabetes while competing. He has to check his blood sugar before, during and after each race and he has learned to cope with using his insulin pump while wearing a wetsuit for the swimming part of the competition. He must carefully balance his nutrition and hydration during the race. Through hours of training and testing he has determined that he needs between 60 and 80 grams of carbs per hour—any less and he will get low blood sugar, any more and he will get high blood sugar and risk dehydration later in the race. He will burn approximately 11,000 calories and consume several gallons of fluid in an Ironman triathlon.

“When I’m racing I don’t forget that I have diabetes,” Jay explains. “But I do forget that the other athletes don’t have diabetes. It’s just a part of my race and all the steps I take to manage it are just the things I have to do to get to the finish line. Some races I get it right, other races it doesn’t go as planned. I have to be able to adapt and keep going.”

Jay stresses that having diabetes is not an excuse to give up. While he hopes to influence others who have diabetes, he is passionate about inspiring people with and without diabetes. Jay has always been motivated by the thought of crossing the finish line and he recognizes that everyone else has goals they would like to accomplish. Whether it involves reaching an ideal weight or making a promotion, everyone has a “vision” of their finish line in mind. Jay took this idea to the next level and developed Finish Line VisionTM, a motivational concept to inspire others to set goals and reach their finish lines.

Jay admits that having diabetes can be difficult, especially when taking insulin in public or checking blood sugar levels multiple times a day, and always having supplies and glucose handy to prevent or correct low blood sugar.

“You have to plan, prepare and be able to react and adapt, kind of like the Ironman,” he adds with a smile.

But he has learned to overcome his adversities by looking ahead to his finish line. Today, Jay speaks around the country and even internationally, inspiring others with Finish Line VisionTM.

Jay explains that at the end of the day, his is just like anyone else – he’s a husband, a father, a businessman, and an athlete who just happens to have type 1 diabetes.

“It’s all about making the worst thing that ever happened to you, the best thing that ever happened to you. Use it as motivation. Improve your health, be a role model for your family and others to eat healthy and exercise. You will reach your finish line.”

To read more about Jay and learn about how to reach your finish line, check out his new book, Finish Line Vision, available in late 2011 or visit his website, www.finishlinevision.com.