Girls Basketball: New opponent no match for Cardinals' Wolhowe

Claire Wolhowe was preparing for one of the most exciting days of her young life. She was ready to sign her NCAA National Letter of Intent to play Division II basketball for the Bemidji State Beavers next season. The Staples-Motley senior was com...

Staples-Motley’s Claire Wolhowe plays during a recent game against Aitkin. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Staples-Motley’s Claire Wolhowe plays during a recent game against Aitkin. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Claire Wolhowe was preparing for one of the most exciting days of her young life.

She was ready to sign her NCAA National Letter of Intent to play Division II basketball for the Bemidji State Beavers next season.

The Staples-Motley senior was coming off a successful girls tennis season. She also concluded a fall AAU basketball league and was two weeks away from starting her final season as a Cardinals basketball player.

Her future path was becoming crystal clear. Then Nov. 1 put a dense fog on everything.

Wolhowe was taken by ambulance to Children's Hospital in St. Paul. She lost about 25 pounds in three weeks. She was feeling lethargic. She wasn't herself. She was hit with flu-like symptoms and her parents brought her into the hospital where they checked her blood sugar.


A normal blood sugar reading is anywhere from 80 to 150. A high reading is in the 500s. Wolhowe registered an 850.

The Wolhowes spent three days at Children's where they learned their youngest of child had Type 1 diabetes.

"It was quite a shock for many of us in my family, but the support has been really great especially from my family and my friends and the community," Wolhowe said. "I was searching my symptoms that I was having so I kind of had an initial thought going into the doctors. I was thinking in the back of my head that it might be diabetes so when I got the news I wasn't as shocked. I thought I had an easier time accepting it knowing in the back of my head that it might be diabetes."

Her father and Cardinals head basketball coach Craig Wolhowe was sitting in the hospital. With his daughter's health at the forefront of his thinking, he started thinking about the upcoming basketball season.

"It's a whole new game," Craig Wolhowe said. "My outlook changed for this season even for her. From the standpoint of 'Hey, you need to carry the load, but guess what I just want to keep an eye on you so you don't collapse out there.'"

In hindsight, the signs were there, Craig Wolhowe said, but it was such a slow decline in health that nobody noticed.

Emily Stunek, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Essentia Health in Brainerd, said early symptoms of Type 1 diabetes are fatigue, increased urination, increased thirst and weight loss.

"For Type 1 diabetes, those are standard," Stunek said. "Weight loss is significant weight loss. It's 10 to 20 pounds in a month. Going to the bathroom multiple times in an hour. Feeling so thirsty you just can't quench your thirst. Often times feeling very hungry so you're eating all this food, but you're still losing weight."


Claire Wolhowe was released from Children's Nov. 5 less than two weeks before the start of the high school basketball season. That wasn't really on her mind, though.

"Our diets changed as parents," said Craig Wolhowe. "Her diet changed and how we eat and snack and everything flipped upside down in a heartbeat. It was just overnight.

"The first thing we asked, 'What did we do wrong as parents?' Nothing. Claire did nothing wrong. They said 'one in 250 kids develop Type 1 diabetes and you just happen to be one of them and you have it. It's a life-changing disease and hopefully by the time you are older there will be a cure for it.'"

Stunek said Type 1 is becoming more and more common and that it used to be incorrectly diagnosed as Type 2 in older teenagers or adults.

"Type 1 diabetes tends to have specific ages that it happens to be a little more common. So like 2-3-year-olds. 6-7-8, 12-13 and 16-17 so it does have times where it's a little more prevalent that we see the diagnosis. It also tends to be a little more common in the fall and in the spring months also.

"The whole idea with diabetes is that is an autoimmune condition. Type 1 diabetes, the problem isn't with the pancreas and insulin production. That's the result. With Type 1 diabetes, the immune system has been told that those insulin-making cells in the pancreas are bad like they are a virus or a bacteria so it's the immune system that destroys them all."

Wolhowe gained back the weight she lost. She's leading the Cardinals in points and rebounds through the team's first nine games. She surpassed 1,000 career points in the second game of the season.

And while she's healthy again she's more aware, too.


"I'm more in tune with my body, especially knowing if I have low-blood sugar," Claire Wolhowe said. "I have to be more conscience of my symptoms of low-blood sugar like shakiness and feeling drowsy. I'm much more in tune with my body.

"My diet hasn't changed a whole lot because you can still eat whatever you want. You just have to give yourself insulin for it. I am eating healthier because I don't want all of those carbs."

Her blood sugar is checked before every basketball game. It's checked during halftime and then again right after the game

"A lot of times when I'm playing my adrenaline goes up so my blood sugar goes up," she said. "When I'm done playing, I have high numbers, but it goes down really fast after I'm done playing. I have to be very cautious of that, but other than that it's going well and I'm just keeping being me.

"It's definitely been a learning experience. It's gotten easier to talk about now that I'm accepting it more."

Craig Wolhowe said the family is in a honeymoon phase. He said his daughter's pancreas is still making insulin, but it will eventually stop and her blood-sugar numbers will again go out of whack. They're all preparing for that day.

"We are cautiously watching for that," he said. "For us, our first couple of games we would come home and her sugars would be very low and we would freak out.

"We as parents and her are continuing to look. Continuing to monitor. So for right now she has her pregame meals. She has to see what she's going to eat. She has to count her carbs. Give her an injection and we have to plan on it based on when the game is. She has her little tote that she has to carry with her that she keeps her insulin in. She has her little snacks. She's got her healthy things with her. She has a juice box to bring that sugar level up.

On Nov. 8, Wolhowe signed her letter of intent to play basketball. There was concern whether she would be able to sign that letter.

Stunek hopes that stigma changes. She said Type 1 diabetes is controllable and some of the top athletes manage the disease and still perform at a high level. She said there is still too much misinformation about this disease. She said it has a huge negative stereotype when in fact there is nothing someone could have done differently to prevent it.

"Everyone that wants to be a high-level athlete you have to dedicate yourself to being fit, to being healthy and doing those right things," Stunek said. "Diabetes is just one extra step. There are so many athletes out there with Type 1 diabetes right now that it's not something that's unachievable.

"You have (Luke) Kunin of the Minnesota Wild with Type 1 diabetes. You have Kris Freeman, who is an Olympic skier, with Type 1 diabetes. You've got Ryan Reed, the race car driver, and (quarterback) Jay Cutler with Type 1 diabetes. Athletes with diabetes doesn't have to be as hard.

"Yes, you have to be aware of what your body needs and the glucose values and monitoring in between, but those athletes who are able to build that into their structure, routine or game plan really can find success regardless of the diagnosis."

For Claire Wolhowe, she's accepted her situation. She's also glad it happened now and not next year while alone in Bemidji.

"Especially the learning part of it," she said. "My dad is my coach so if anything happens he knows what to do. At Bemidji, I don't know if that will be a new thing for them and new for me too.

"Figuring it out now instead of in college away from my family and my parents it was nice to have it happen now. My family is around and they're always there."

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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