THE GAME PLAN: Football legend and broadcasting icon Mike Golic tackles type 2 diabetes

Mike Golic knows all about game plans.

As a nine-year veteran of the National Football League (NFL), the former defensive lineman knows about zone blitzes, complicated blocking schemes, and the man-to-man struggle that exists in the trenches on a football field.

As an award-winning broadcaster, Mike knows that preparation is the key. He is one of the two “Mikes” on Mike and Mike in the Morning, a nationally syndicated radio program on ESPN radio and broadcast on television on ESPN 2

And as a patient with type 2 diabetes, he knows that the only way to win is to have a game plan.

Mike Golic has always been very aware of his body and its needs. As a football player for the University of Notre Dame, Mike faced the same struggles that most young linemen face. He needed to get bigger and stronger. As he moved into the NFL, the demands on his body became even greater. He put on more weight and worked out as hard as he could “When you play football, you eat whatever you want, because you can burn it off,” said Golic.

But when his nine seasons in the NFL were over, Mike saw a change. He ate many of the same things as he had during his playing days, but his workout routine wasn’t as strict.

“I gained some weight… lost some weight, kind of did the yo-yo diets as a lot of linemen do coming from the NFL,” Golic remembered. His weight grew to 295 pounds. Finally, one day after an examination about six years ago, his doctor gave him the news: “You have type 2 diabetes.”

“I can’t say it came out of nowhere,” Golic shared. His father had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes years before. “But, I think I was somewhat prepared for it.”

Despite growing up around diabetes, Golic didn’t really understand at the time about the disease, its tendency to run in families, and how his post-football lifestyle had likely been partly to blame for his current condition. He was aware of what diabetes was and what it meant to his father, but he had no idea of the scale of this national epidemic. Today, 26 million Americans have diabetes and another 79 million people have a condition known as prediabetes—a condition that can progress to diabetes over time.

So Mike decided to do what he knew best

“I treated it kind of like a sport,” said Golic. “What do I need to do to excel at this sport? I asked the doctor ‘What do I need to do to stay ahead of this?’”

So with his doctor, Golic worked out a game plan that included a nutrition plan, fitness regimen, and medication plan. He studied these plans like he would study a playbook. And, like a real football game, there was only one goal in his mind.

“Every time I go to the doctor, I want to win.”

And by winning, he means meeting goals that he and his doctor agree to for optimal care of his diabetes. These goals include weight reduction and measuring his A1c.

Because of his athletic background, the fitness part of the game plan was not a big deal to Golic. But losing weight also required a change in his food habits. And the concept of taking medications to manage a disease was something he was not happy with.

“If I needed medication for football I took it because it made me feel better when I played,” explained Golic. “But when I started on medication for [diabetes], my goal was ‘What do I need to do to get off?’”

So Golic gathered his team: his doctor, his wife, children, and father, and shared his game plan with them. He told them that he was going to work at this as hard as he worked at football. And he told them that he was going to win; that with their help, he was going to put everything he has into beating diabetes.

“[In football,] if you want to beat out the guy in front of you, you’ve got to outwork him,” said Golic. “No one is going to feel sorry for me if I don’t beat him. Diabetes is the same way.”

Since that time, Golic has dropped about 35 pounds to get to around 260. He’s continuing on his game plan and revels in the “win” whenever he goes to the doctor’s office. But these “wins” don’t come without adversity.

He’s had to learn the hard way about the pitfalls of diabetes management.

“You want to talk about a scare?” Golic said, reliving an incident that happened to him at the gym. He was used to being in control of his body and his environment. But one morning he went to the gym without eating anything. He was working out hard when suddenly his blood sugar dropped to dangerously low levels. “All of a sudden I’m sitting there, sweating, shaking, getting dizzy… you realize quickly ‘I’m not controlling anything.’”

He was able to eat a snack and get his blood sugar back on track. But the incident taught him ”how quickly diabetes can take a hold of you if you don’t manage it.”

Today, Golic is in control of his diabetes. He updates his game plan every time he sees his doctor. Now, he’s looking to add to his team. He sees the growing epidemic of diabetes in America and sees that much has to be done for us to get it under control. He wants to be a role model to help open people’s eyes to diabetes.

“I’ll tell you the truth, a lot of people get it in their minds that it’s not going to happen to me, and then boom, it’s there.”

But it’s not just people with diabetes that Golic says need to be more aware of diabetes, it’s society as a whole.

“A lot of people think ‘You get diabetes, you did it to yourself.’”

But Golic knows there’s more to it than that. He had a higher likelihood of becoming diabetic because his father had the disease. And his sons, both football players at his former college, Notre Dame, are also at higher risk.

“We live in a microwave society where people say ’What do you have?’ and ‘How do you fix it?” Golic explained. “Diabetes doesn’t fit in that box. Diabetes is a lifelong process to maintain.”

Ultimately, Golic believes most people underestimate the serious nature of diabetes. Even though one in every three dollars spent by the government in healthcare is spent treating a diabetes patient, Golic feels people just don’t understand.

“There isn’t empathy. If someone is a cancer patient you go ‘Ahhh… so sorry.’ With diabetes it’s like ‘Well, maybe you shouldn’t have eaten so much.’”

As Golic continues his personal game plan to control his diabetes, and to spread the word about empowering others to do the same, EmPower will continue to follow his progress on EmPowerYourHealth.org, and on our website BloodSugarBasics.com.