When Mariner High School quarterback Jackson Cole lines up behind center, the opposing defense isn’t the only opponent he’s facing.
But most people wouldn’t know that.
Cole was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 2 years old, but it’s never been a deterrent for the junior as he pursued his athletic aspirations.
“I’ve always wanted to prove that I was still just as good as everyone else, even though I have this setback, and just show that it’s not gonna hold me back and hope that I can inspire other people while I do it,” Cole said.
That determination has been evident since he was a child.
“Ever since he was 2 years old, he’s never let it hold him back from doing anything,” said Shanai Cole, Jackson’s mother. “For him, he doesn’t even see it as an extra hurdle because it’s so second nature to him. So when I say things like, ‘Oh, he’s battling a whole other thing on the field compared to other people who can just run out there and they don’t have to take extra steps,’ he always looks at me like that’s so weird to him (to hear that), which is just a testament to how diligent he is and how hard he works at it.”
Type 1 diabetes causes the body to stop making insulin, which is produced by the pancreas and regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, teens and young adults. Less than 200,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year.
Before games, Jackson uses his diabetic meter to test his blood sugar level. Often times its high because of the adrenaline flowing through his body, and he’ll give himself an insulin shot to bring his level down to normal. During the game, though, it isn’t quite as easy to monitor.
“I’m still trying to figure out my routine, like when managing it during games, because I haven’t been playing for a super long time,” said Jackson, who started playing football his freshman year. “But normally I keep my (diabetic) meter — which is what I use to test my blood sugar — I have one of my coaches or one of our trainers carry it on the sideline and, then, I always have sugar (on the sideline). My (quarterback) coach carries sugar in his pocket. …
“So, I kind of go off feel during games because if I wear my pump — which is what will inject insulin into my body — if I wear that during games, I’ve, like, crushed a couple of them because it’s kind of like a cell phone. They’re not very durable.”
Jackson gets the chance to run a blood-sugar test at halftime. Normally his blood sugar is high, so he’ll take some more insulin. If he’s feeling low when he gets back out on the field, he’ll eat some fruit snacks or whatever he has on the sideline to balance his blood-sugar levels. After the game, when his adrenaline fades, Jackson’s blood sugar drops again.
“It absolutely adds a whole other layer to athletics,” Shanai said. “For me, football is already stressful enough.”
Off the field, Jackson has had the chance to advocate for those dealing with Type 1 diabetes. When he was in sixth grade, he traveled to Washington D.C. as a part of the JDRF Children’s Congress, which offers kids ages 4-17 the chance to speak in front of members of Congress to share what life is like for a child with Type 1 diabetes and explain the importance of research to find therapies to help those with the illness until a cure can be found.
When Jackson visited the nation’s capital, he lobbied for Medicare to cover the cost of continuous glucose monitors. It was a rewarding experience.
“I got to meet a bunch of people that are doing the same things as me and have a common goal and want to spread awareness and try to make life better for other people who have the disease,” he said. “It kind of gave me a sense of community because I still talk to a lot of the people and follow them on Instagram and stuff. It was just really cool to see other people understand what it feels like and what I’m going through.”
He’s also seized the opportunity to help those his age and younger deal with the disease.
Shanai is an administrator for a Type 1 diabetes parent support group on Facebook named Parents Of Kids Experiencing Diabetes (P.O.K.E.D.). The page has more than 9,000 members. She said Jackson has reached out to children of group members to help them feel comfortable with the illness. He’s even spoke with some in person.
“We want the kids to thrive and feel like just because their pancreas isn’t working right, it doesn’t mean they can’t do whatever they wanna do,” Shanai said. “It just takes some added work.”
Jackson’s work on the field has been an example of that.
He was voted as The Herald’s Athlete of the Month for September — honored for his for his five-touchdown performance in a 51-6 victory over Mukilteo School District rival Kamiak on Sept. 20. Jackson went 7-of-9 passing for 144 yards and three touchdowns and added 82 yards and two TDs on the ground. He also made six extra-points attempts and a 30-yard field goal.
“It’s awesome, it feels good,” he said of winning the award. “It’s always nice to get recognized and stuff. It’s a big credit to my receivers, and my linemen, and the rest of the team and my coaches. They helped me get here, and it’s really cool to see all the hours on the field really start to pay off.”
Jackson wasn’t always the Marauders’ quarterback, though. He originally played running back and linebacker before Mariner coach Mark Stewart decided to give Jackson a shot at being the team’s signal caller.
“He’s a pretty tough kid. He’s one of those kids that brings the energy, is always the hardest worker,” Stewart said. “He’s what you really want in a leader. He’s going to go out and perform on Fridays, but more importantly he’s going to perform on Monday and be available and try and pull his teammates along and try and be positive and hold them accountable. From that standpoint, he’s just an outstanding leader and he’s fun to coach.”
And he’s not just a leader for Mariner’s football team. He’s also a leader for those facing the everyday challenges that Type 1 diabetes presents.