Lakes’ Ben Wilson named Gil Heard Courageous Athlete
By EDDIE O’NEILL
LAKE LINDEN — A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes at the age of 8 was not going to stop Ben Wilson from doing what he loved to do: play sports.
On the contrary, it was athletics that has kept him healthy and positive over the past decade.
Last month, the 18-year-old Wilson graduated from Lake Linden-Hubbell High School and competed in not just one sport but three during four of his years there.
For him, it was football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and track and field in the spring as a shot putter and discus thrower.
He not only lettered in those three sports but excelled in a special way in his favorite one — football.
“I have been playing tackle football since I was 10,” he said.
Last fall, Wilson was named to the All-Copper Mountain Conference and All-Upper Peninsula football teams by the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. In addition, he has been honored with the Gil Heard Courageous Athlete Award.
The Heard award is presented annually to a U.P. athlete who demonstrates perseverance in overcoming a handicap to participate in athletics. It is named in honor of the late Gil Heard, who was sports information director at Northern Michigan University for 23 years and is a member of the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame.
“You certainly could not tell what Ben was dealing with in terms of the way he competed on the field and on the court,” said his high school football coach, Andy Crouch. “He did an incredible job of monitoring his situation and was still able to compete at such a high level.”
Crouch said that was evident in the outstanding football season he had this past year as a guard and linebacker for the Lakes.
“He really played well on the offensive line and on the defense for us,” Crouch said.
Until his senior year, Wilson had to monitor his blood-sugar levels manually. That meant pricking his finger and using a test strip on the sidelines during a timeout or between quarters. Last season, however, he was able to monitor and manage his insulin much more easily, thanks to a patch or pod that he had on his lower back and an app on his phone.
“That made things a lot easier,” Wilson said. “During a timeout or at halftime, I could just look at my phone on the bench and see where I was at.”
Wilson added that experience with the disease has been a great instructor as well. He could tell whether it was a good blood-sugar day or not without the use of a monitor, pump or app.
“If I was feeling sick or nauseous, that usually meant my (blood sugar) level was high,” he said.
“If I was feeling lethargic and had no energy that typically meant my numbers were low.”
However, he said that method of self-diagnosis couldn’t always be counted on. The nature of competitive sports with its high level of stress and high heart rate added an unknown to his well-being on the field or court.
“Going into a sport or game, I sometimes didn’t know whether my blood sugar was going to go up or down,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was going to do because there is so much going on physically and emotionally with sports.”
In fact, Wilson took himself out a football game for the first time in his high school career last season because of blood-sugar complications.
“During the Houghton game, my levels dropped really low. For some reason, they were uncontrollable, and I had to … sit out most of the game,” he said.
“I felt bad as we lost that game in the last few minutes, and I blamed it on myself.”
On the other hand, he was most pleased with he and his fellow Lakes’ performances against L’Anse.
“It was our last homecoming game together and our first win of the season,” he recalled. “We played really well as a team and came away with the victory.”
Wilson is staying busy working construction this summer and plans to take classes at Gogebic Community College in the fall. After a year there, he hopes to study finance at Michigan Tech University.
He said he is grateful for his high school experience, both on the field and in the classroom.
“Because we are so small, Lake Linden is like family,” he said.
“You know you can go to anybody for help, and that was very comforting for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to play like I did.”