Maura Cissel, a transfer from Arizona State, recorded 111 draw controls last spring.

'Anything's Possible' for Athletes with Type 1 Diabetes

Maura Cissel excels at the craft of the draw by focusing on what she can control. Few understand the extra work that goes on behind the scenes for Cissel just to practice at an elite level.

Grace Harding does. The Drexel teammates each specialize at the draw. They both also have Type 1 diabetes — a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Cissel was diagnosed when she was 7. Harding found out two days before she started sixth grade.

“With Type 1 diabetes, it’s never going to be perfect,” said Cissel, a graduate transfer from Arizona State who set the Sun Devils’ single-season record with 111 draw controls last spring. “It’s hard to watch that affect something else that you work really hard to be your best at.”

Neither Cissel nor Harding has allowed the condition to deter their athletic pursuits. Both were three-sport athletes in high school. Cissel was a state champion swimmer growing up in Annapolis, Maryland.

“Having diabetes is difficult and playing Division I lacrosse or any collegiate level sport is difficult, mutually exclusive,” Harding said. “Once you put them together, it’s double the amount of difficult, but it is manageable.”

The two first met in 2018 at a fall ball tournament at Johns Hopkins after their mothers connected on the Facebook group “Proud Parents of Athletes with Type-1 Diabetes.”

During the contest between Arizona State and Drexel, Cissel and Harding squared off inside the draw circle. After the game, they took a picture together and traded notes on their shared experience.

“It was cool to know that I’m not the only one going through this,” Cissel said.

They’re not alone.

Last Wednesday, Riley Reese, the son of Maryland women’s lacrosse coach Cathy Reese and former professional lacrosse player and coach Brian Reese, signed his national letter of intent to play at Maryland, his parents’ alma mater. The defenseman at St. Mary’s in Annapolis also has Type 1 diabetes.

“I wouldn’t be me without my diabetes.”

— Brett Dobson

At the World Lacrosse Super Sixes event in October, the wire from Canada goalie Brett Dobson’s insulin pump was barely noticeable outside of his baggy St. Bonaventure sweatpants. A senior for the Bonnies who led all of Division I men’s lacrosse in save percentage (59.9) and ranked fifth in goals against average (9.1) last spring, Dobson also played for Team Canada the previous weekend at the USA Lacrosse Fall Classic.

The transition to goalie around age 6 helped Dobson manage his condition, but it still requires constant vigilance to stay at the top of his game.

“When I go low, anything on net will go,” Dobson told Damon Wilson back in September on the “Lax Goalie Rat” podcast in reference to blood glucose levels. “I’m usually pretty slow to the ball, don’t really react to it. So I’ve got to make sure I’m on the ball with that stuff and taking care of my health as well.”

“I wouldn’t be me without my diabetes,” he added.

Professional lacrosse players Callum Robinson and JD Colarusso also have Type 1 diabetes.

Robinson, a defenseman from Perth, Australia, nicknamed the “Big Koala,” started 11 games for the Atlas in 2019. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Stevenson graduate played for Australia in the 2014 and 2018 world championships, notably taking time after a round-robin game against the United States in Denver in 2014 to meet U.S. faceoff specialist Chris Eck, yet another prominent player who was undeterred by the autoimmune disease.

“He came up to me after the game and was like, ‘Hey bud, I’m diabetic, too,’ and I was like, ‘Holy crap,’” Eck said in an interview with Aaron Field, a junior midfielder at Fairfield Ludlowe High School in Connecticut who has Type 1 diabetes and blogs about it.

Eck was diagnosed when he was 19 and rehabilitating from ACL surgery at Colgate.

“In a weird way, I think it’s helped me more than it’s hurt me,” Eck told Field. “I’ve turned it into a superpower given the discipline that diabetes has to teach you. I’ve been able to take that to a lot of other things.”

After impressing as an emergency goalie during the 2020 Premier Lacrosse League Championship Series in Herriman, Utah, Colarusso was signed by the Atlas this past offseason. He reprised a starting role over the second half of the season and helped the Bulls secure the No. 2 playoff seed.

While the playoff run, during which Colarusso made a pair of starts, fell short in the semifinals, this season was a realization of his goal to return to the pinnacle of the sport. Colarusso was at the peak of the collegiate game with Albany, leading the Great Danes to the final four in 2018, before turning in what he called one of the worst games of his career.

Despite earning first-team All-American honors and being named the best goalie in the country by the USILA, Colarusso constantly felt fatigued as the season progressed. He lost nearly 30 pounds.

In the early-morning hours a few days after Albany’s NCAA semifinal loss to Yale, Colarusso’s mother noticed several empty Gatorade bottles he downed after returning from a friend’s house. With the help of JD’s sister, Anna, who was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes around age 9, Pamela Colarusso discovered her son’s blood glucose was in the 600s.

JD Colarusso was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes June 4 after being rushed to the hospital. His routine during games now includes checking blood glucose levels during timeouts with a meter the Atlas athletic training staff carries on the sidelines or on his phone during halftime. Colarusso cited Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews as an inspiration while charting his path to the pros.

If Colarusso’s story in some way can help others persevere in their playing careers, even better.

“Anything’s possible,” he said. “Even if you have Type 1 diabetes, you can still chase your dream.”

A Ravens fan, Cissel met Andrews at a Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund event in Arizona her junior year and has been following his career since. Beyond an arena to prove herself, the lacrosse field serves as an outlet. Cissel knows it might sound cliché, but she considers practice the best few hours of her day. She’s yet to find another activity that provides the same type of active, but meditative state.

“While I’m out on the field, I genuinely feel like I can do anything,” she said.


After impressing as an emergency goalie during the 2020 Premier Lacrosse League Championship Series in Herriman, Utah, JD Colarusso, who has Type 1, was signed by the Atlas this past offseason.

Cissel would like to help others achieve the same feeling. At first after she was diagnosed, she continued to compete to defy the odds and prove everyone wrong who told her to set her expectations lower. She likes to say that one never imagined she’d be able to play a college sport, let alone Division I lacrosse. 

At a certain point, however, Cissel realized she wasn’t doing it for the people who didn’t believe in her. Instead, she wanted to play for her family and friends and those that did. “I definitely would not be where I am without their support and their help,” Cissel said. “They have gotten me through a massive amount of tears.”

The hardest part, Cissel said, is watching how an out-of-range blood glucose level, even from the day before, can affect her performance. She uses a Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor and a Tandem t:slim Insulin Pump attached to her abdomen. The readings go to the pump and via Bluetooth directly to her phone along with those of her parents and her boyfriend.

Cissel’s mother, Mary, who’s in her 20th year as a faculty member at Anne Arundel Community College, believes that knowledge is power, especially when it comes to diabetes. “Your child is as normal as everybody. There’s just a lot of more bumps in the road for them,” she said, recalling a conversation with one of her daughter’s first doctors. “The more you know, the lower the bumps will be for her.”

The family even had shirts adorned with three words: “Learn. Manage. Live.”

“That’s kind of been the mantra along the way,” Mary Cissel said.

Still, it’s a constant process of trial and error figuring out how certain activities affect one’s blood glucose level. A routine will work for a day or two, and then it won’t. Even certain weather conditions or altitude can alter Cissel’s numbers.

That made the success last season all the more satisfying for Cissel and those supporting her from 2,000 miles away. While recuperating a few hours after she experienced a seizure the summer before her sophomore year at Arizona State, Cissel asked her father, Matt, if she knew where her CC Lax uniform was.

“You know you’re in the hospital, right?” he replied.

“I know,” Cissel said. “But they need some extra girls to play tonight and I’m going to play with them.”

“I can’t speak for her,” Mary Cissel said. “But I think she wants to show that nothing is going to hold her back.”

Cissel worked for five summers as a counselor at Camp Possibilities for children ages 7-15 with Type 1 diabetes and a few events with JDRF, which is leading the fight against the disease by funding research and advocating for policies that accelerate access to new therapies. She also released a video last year on Nov. 14, World Diabetes Day, on the Arizona State lacrosse team’s social media channels to help raise awareness.

“I’m doing it for the little girls and boys who don’t think that they’re going to be able to do the things that they love because they’ve had people tell them they can’t,” she said. “You can do whatever you want with a great support system and a willingness to put in the work.”

World Diabetes Day came around again Sunday, the start of a three-year awareness campaign centering on access to care. Globally, an estimated 422 million adults were living with diabetes in 2014, compared to 108 million in 1980, according to the United Nations.

Cissel’s impact has already been felt closer to home. Jogging around the Naval Academy this past summer, her mother, Mary, crossed paths with swimming coach Reb Cobb, who coached Maura at the Navy Academy Aquatic Club. He had a story to share.

Two years ago, a 10-year-old swimmer he coached told him he had to give up the sport because he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

“Let me tell you about Maura,” Cobb replied, before detailing how Cissel never missed a practice and would have been his first nationally ranked swimmer had she not liked lacrosse better.

“He’s still swimming two years later,” Mary Cissel said, completing the story that moved her to tears when she first heard it. “I was just so happy we were able to help somebody else. That’s exactly what a parent wants to hear. If another child out there sees Maura and says, ‘I can do that,’ my day is fulfilled.”