PhD student turns her diagnosis into motivation
Lauren Dahlin knows that big goals are best achieved a step at a time.
It’s something she’s learned as a PhD candidate and triathlete, living with type 1 diabetes.
Dahlin was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2017, when months of incorrect diagnoses landed her in the emergency room. Finally having a definitive diagnosis was a relief, but it came with an understanding that her life would change forever.
“I went to four different doctors who all basically told me I was a workaholic who probably had a virus,” says Dahlin, a PhD student in information systems at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Their answer was to drink more fluids and get more sleep, but I knew that there was something wrong with me.”
The following year, as she adjusted to her new normal, Dahlin decided to run a marathon. It was something she’d never done before. So, she signed up for the Disney Marathon for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and raised $2,000 for the organization.
“After I was diagnosed, I was looking at ways I could spread awareness and raise money for charity,” says Dahlin. “I have this really strong desire to take on these athletic challenges to get that strength and empowerment.”
At the same time, she began her doctoral studies at Maryland Smith, adding full-time studying and research responsibilities to her already busy life. She was determined not to slow down.
“I have to give the faculty I work with at Maryland Smith a huge amount of credit for working with me and basically doing everything they could to keep the process as seamless as possible,” says Dahlin. “I’m so thankful for the tremendous amount of support while I pursued my research, adjusted to life with type 1 diabetes and took on these endurance sports.”
Eight months after the Disney Marathon, Dahlin completed an Ironman Triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run, raced in that order. For an athlete with type 1 diabetes, the contest poses particular challenges, not least of which is the need to administer insulin mid-race.
Nonetheless, Dahlin says, the competitions are a chance to live in the moment.
“You can just focus on one foot in front of the other, one pedal stroke after the other, for the entire day. And then you’re done and it’s the most amazing rush ever. For me, it’s the greatest form of meditation and everything else just fades away,” says Dahlin. “I think biking, running and swimming offer those moments where I can think about myself and, to a certain degree, my diabetes too without other things getting in the way.”
Now in her third year at Maryland Smith, Dahlin is still pushing herself both athletically and academically. She has more goals ahead.
She has her sights set on competing in the Ironman World Championship and becoming the fastest female Ironman with type 1 diabetes. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, she has remained focused on training, running virtual races.
At Maryland Smith, Dahlin has completed her coursework, has taught two sections of master’s level data analytics courses with Python, and has become known as the Ironman professor.
“I’m just trying to fill my life with meaningful experiences.”