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Mandy Marquardt & Team Novo Nordisk - providing a platform for elite athletes with type 1 diabetes

Photo: @DanChabanov

We recently caught up with US track cyclist and Team Novo Nordisk member Mandy Marquardt to discuss her goals, how she trains at elite level with type 1 diabetes, and what advice she can offer to others in the same position.

Young Talent

Mandy resides in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she trains alongside Edge Cycling, and she is an 18-time US National Champion and two-time American Record Holder. Growing up in South Florida, she first tried track cycling at the age of 10 when she was considering partaking in a triathlon. Mandy comments: “I picked up track cycling really quickly, and less than a year after first trying it, my parents and I drove from Florida to Texas to compete at my first Junior National Championships, competing in the women’s 10-12 age category. I won two gold medals and realise ‘hey this is fun, maybe I could really do this’”.

Mandy went on to claim two more gold medals at her first US National Junior Cycling Road Championships. At the age of 15, she decided to move to Germany to live with her father and to gain experience racing on the European circuit. Shortly after the move, she made the Baden-Württemberg State Team and one year later she secured a bronze medal in the 500m time trial at the German Junior National Championships.

Reality Kicks In - How a VO2 max test changed everything

A year after her bronze medal performance, Many went in for V02 max testing and blood work - something that is pretty standard for any high level athlete. Doctors however quickly discovered that she had elevated blood sugar levels, and Mandy was hospitalised for two weeks to undertake tests to ensure all of her organs were functioning properly. A few days later, the doctors told her she had type 1 diabetes and that she would never be able to compete at elite level ever again. Mandy comments: “I was heartbroken. But my parents were my biggest supporters, and helped me get back on the bike. I always knew it was my happy place. I started riding again, and just training for fun and told myself to just see what happens”.

After getting her diagnosis, Mandy started working together with an endocrinologist in the hopes of getting herself back to the velodrome, and she was provided with the right resources and insight to manage her diabetes. In November 2008, a year after being diagnosed, Mandy competed in the 500m Time Trial at the German Junior National Championships again. It was her first race as a person diagnosed with diabetes, and she defended her bronze from the previous year, which made her realise that she could still race and earn good results with the diagnosis.

Living and Training with Diabetes

Mandy discusses how living with diabetes has affected her life as a professional cyclist, and states: “as an athlete, I’m so tuned in to my body already. Living with diabetes can be challenging because any variables affect my blood sugars - stress, food, hormones, time zone changes, travel, the list goes on - so it takes a lot of monitoring, awareness and control. But I feel that it has made me a better athlete. I’m not looking back and wishing things were different”.

When asked about what kind of advice she would give other athletes with diabetes, Mandy states: “keep a daily log of your exercise, nutrition and diabetes management. This has really helped me fine-tune what affects my blood sugars. It’s important to recognize that everyone with type 1 Diabetes isn’t alike, and some days I still have my own changes and challenges to overcome”.

To manage some of these challenges, Mandy always makes sure to have her insulin and snacks ready to manage her diabetes. She adds: “It’s also important to me to communicate with my coach how I feel. I will never use diabetes as an excuse and my coach and I have a great relationship and understanding. He knows I will always give everything I’ve got and if I’m having an off day with my diabetes management, then we will discuss the next steps to get the most out of my training”.

A normal training day for Mandy starts with gym in the morning and track cycling in the afternoon. She also does double track days, and if it’s raining or too cold outside, Mandy says “it’s not a lost training session, because we can maximise our sessions on the Wattbikes”.

It’s this positive attitude and hard-working spirit that has led to Mandy’s cycling career taking off in recent years. She was named for the US Olympic Team for track cycling in 2016, but unfortunately the US female track sprinters did not qualify for the Games. This, however, has not stopped Mandy from looking forward and continuing to achieve great things on the international circuit:

“The 2019/2020 UCI Track World Cup season has been one to remember - I finished 4th in Belarus and had a couple of other top-10 finishes, placing me 9th overall in the UCI World Cup standings. I’m also currently ranked 12th in the UCI Sprint World Ranking.”

Team Novo Nordisk

Apart from being a member of the US Track Cycling team, Mandy is also a member of Team Novo Nordisk - the world’s first all diabetes professional cycling team. All athletes on the team compete with type 1 Diabetes, and race to “inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes [whilst competing] against the best cyclists in the world”.

The team was co-founded by Phil Southerland and Joe Eldrige in 2008, when they assembled a team of eight cyclists with type 1 Diabetes to take on the gruelling 3,000 mile Race Across America to raise diabetes awareness. The team went on to win the event in 2007, 2009, and 2010 and quickly became a magnet for endurance athletes with diabetes.

Today, Team Novo Nordisk compete on a global scale in both road and track cycling and its athletes are providing endless empowerment and inspiration for people with diabetes worldwide.

Training with Wattbike

Mandy has been obsessed with improving her performance with Wattbike for eight years now. Mandy comments: 

“Since I began specifically focusing on track sprint cycling at the end of 2012, I began training on the Wattbike because I live in Allentown, PA, and it’s too cold to train outside during the winter. The Wattbike’s accuracy and the ability to adjust the magnetic resistance for a real ride feel is what I like most about the Wattbike. It’s my performance equipment of choice because I’m able to put full force and power into the pedals and really build solid strength. The Wattbike is such a great tool that I can train on because exercise in general helps me manage my diabetes, and cool downs on the Wattbike are essential for recovery and they also help stabilise my blood sugars.”

When asked about her favourite session on the Wattbike Mandy jokes: “none of them!”, pointing out the notorious love-hate relationship that so many athletes experience when training on the Wattbike. Mandy adds: “All jokes aside, I really enjoy repeated accelerations on the Wattbike, anywhere from 7-15” efforts and to be honest, I do have a love-hate relationship with 500 m’s on the Wattbike. I enjoy the process and seeing the progress”.

Before we said goodbye to Mandy, we asked her about her max power:

“Isn't that top secret...? It’s around 1700!”

Mandy’s Top Tips for improving performance

  1. Don’t always focus so much on the numbers
  2. Stay consistent with your training
  3. Get out of your comfort zone and turn on some good beats!