Diabetes Doesn't Stop UNO's Chappell

Friday, January 28th 2005, 8:45 am
By: News On 6

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Rob Chappell never thought he'd be able to play college hockey when he found out he had diabetes 12 years ago. Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Clarke convinced him otherwise, and today Chappell is a defenseman for the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

A few days after being diagnosed when he was 8, Chappell wrote to Clarke, who wrote back and told him to keep playing hockey.

``It gave me a boost, seeing he's one of the top 50 NHL players of all time and was able to play with diabetes for 15 years,'' Chappell said. ``I cherish that letter he sent me because it fueled me to get where I am today.''

Clarke doesn't remember Chappell's letter. He's received many over the years from diabetics looking for inspiration. Clarke said his advice is always the same: ``If I can do it, you can do it.''

Clarke overcame diabetes to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to Stanley Cups in 1974 and '75 and win the Hart Trophy three times as the NHL's MVP. Clarke is now the Flyers' general manager.

``I always thought I was a hockey player who had diabetes, not a diabetic hockey player,'' Clarke said from Philadelphia. ``I had to train a little harder maybe, take needles in the morning. But you can make adjustments. The disease is not an excuse to not play hockey.''

The gregarious Chappell, a freshman, is eager to spread the same message. Last year, he addressed a group of recently diagnosed diabetic athletes at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, near his hometown of St. Albert. He's told the Omaha hockey staff to give out his phone number to anyone in need of motivation.

Chappell was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when doctors discovered his blood-sugar level was four times higher than normal.

Chappell said Clarke gave him tips on how to keep the disease at bay when playing hockey.

Clarke's management of his diabetes is the stuff of legend. Other than having serious diabetic seizures on two occasions during training camp as a young pro, Clarke had few, if any, problems.

He would drink a bottle of Coca-Cola with three spoonfuls of dissolved sugar before games, and he would drink a half-glass of orange juice between periods.

The 6-foot, 212-pound Chappell can sense his blood sugar is too low if he starts to feel wobbly on his skates. In that case, he leaves the ice to take a swig of sports drink or orange juice _ kept on the bench specifically for him.

Chappell, who injects himself with insulin three times a day, carefully prepares himself before each game. His pregame meal includes lots of pastas, breads and dairy products, and he eats a bagel and drinks juice 45 minutes before the opening faceoff.

Rusty McKune, the Mavericks' athletic trainer, tried to gain more knowledge about diabetes when he found out Chappell would be joining the team this season.

``I was probably more concerned about it than he is,'' McKune said. ``I just watch for how he looks, if he's groggy and if he's able to perform the skills the way he normally does.

``If I ever started to see him lag, I'd go talk to him. But normally by that time, he's coming over to me saying he needs to take a shift off and get a drink.''

Only twice this season has Chappell needed a break from practice to take measures to raise his blood sugar. He's never missed a shift in a game because of his condition, and has played in 20 of the Mavericks' 24 games.

Coach Mike Kemp said he never hesitated to recruit Chappell despite the diabetes.

``We didn't take it as a negative, primarily because in our conversations with his previous coaches, it had never been an issue,'' Kemp said. ``He monitored himself very, very well and as a result it didn't seem to affect him.''

Clarke said the treatment of diabetes has come a long way since his playing days and that the disease is much more manageable.

``If you can put the puck in the net, who cares if you've got diabetes?'' Clarke said.