Taking Life by the Horns: Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho
Wrestling Steers and Diabetes
Luke Branquinho, 30, is a two-time World Champion Steer Wrestler in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). In addition to wrestling steers, he also wrestles blood sugar levels.
The Rodeo Life
Steer wrestling, or bulldogging, involves a horse-mounted rider who chases a running steer at full tilt, drops off the speeding horse onto the steer, and wrestles the 500-pound steer to the ground. At the professional rodeo level, all this happens in 3-4 seconds -- faster than your glucose meter result!
Two years before going pro in 2000, Luke hurt his shoulder and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. For athletes, injuries are always a setback. But Luke's shoulder injury (and subsequent surgery) gave him the time and space he needed to figure out the basics of life with type 1 diabetes.
Managing Diabetes on the Road
Luke, funded by his winnings and sponsors, is on the road traveling to rodeo events almost 300 days each year. And traveling so much makes blood sugar management difficult. He consults on the phone with Michael Lai, M.D., his doctor in Santa Maria, California, his hometown. Lai helps Luke make the most of the medical devices he uses and the blood sugar data he collects.
Luke works hard to keep his blood sugars in target range as much as possible. That includes all of the time he spends practicing, training with steer-wrestling horse Spyderman and haze horse Rowdy and exercising to stay in shape. While there's a lot of natural skill and ability necessary to be a professional rodeo cowboy, there's just as much dedication and hard work involved. Luke wants to do his best to be sure his diabetes doesn't get in the way. "You can let diabetes control you," Luke says, "or you can control it."
Luke's Medication and Monitoring
Luke wears an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to help track his blood sugar levels. He also injects Symlin to help even out his postmeal blood sugar spikes, and he tests his blood sugar using a traditional meter many times each day.
Managing Blood Sugar During Competitions
For competing, Luke likes his blood sugar to run a little higher (150-160 mg/dl) because the intense exercise often makes his levels drop. Luke did treat a low once before his turn in the ring. He didn't go low again, but he felt a little distracted by the worry of it and didn't perform as well.
What Works for Him
He also compensates by using less insulin and sipping on Gatorade on hotter days. "People don't often think about the weather when making adjustments to their insulin needs," Luke says, "but I notice a big difference and try to pay attention to the temperature and season when deciding what to do."
Taking Life by the Horns
Before an event Luke disconnects his pump and stores it in a duffle bag slung from a fence in the rough end (where the cowboys prepare to compete). Luke says his stomach and sides are covered with bruises and scratches from steer horns, but he's never had his pump infusion site or CGM sensor dislodged or knocked loose.
Luke uses every available resource to keep diabetes from slowing him down. Now that's grabbing the bull by the horns!