Finn O’Mahony has an important pre-volleyball tournament ritual.
It includes pounding down Smarties and any other sugary treat he can find.
The 16-year-old doesn’t just have a sweet tooth. O’Mahony has Type 1 diabetes, and the sugar makes it possible for him to make it through tournaments and demanding practices with his High Performance boys volleyball team with minimal disruption.
“I usually bring a bottle of insulin and some syringes everywhere I go,” O’Mahony said. “I also bring a bottle of juice. It brings (my blood sugar level) up really fast.”
Type 1 diabetes means the cells that make insulin are dead, so O’Mahony is insulin-dependant.
He almost died from the disease five years ago before doctors figured out what was wrong with him.
“A glucose stick just to see if your blood sugar is high or low to see if you have diabetes is only a dollar at a doctor’s office,” said Carla Scuzzo, O’Mahony’s mother. “Why not try to see if that is what it is? Three doctors overlooked it and his pediatrician got back from vacation and she rushed him to the hospital. She knew it right off the bat.”
O’Mahony spent a little more than a week recovering from the missed diagnosis. He’s been on top of his levels since.
The 6-foot junior at Kirkwood High hasn’t let diabetes from keeping him from playing the sport he loves. He has found a home with High Performance, one of the area’s elite volleyball clubs, where he plays outside hitter.
High Performance co-founder Bryan Pieschel has never coached a diabetic player before O’Mahony, but he said it isn’t a problem. O’Mahony has the green light to take himself out of drills in practice to make sure his blood levels are safe.
“We’ve had clear conversations that he doesn’t even need to come and say anything to me, just go,” Pieschel said. “It’s not an issue, just go. I think it’s harder on him when he has to come over and talk to me or talk to the coach. It can impact practice and I think it’s just more attention drawn to it. So I want to make it as simple as possible.
“So I just told him, ‘I know when you’re in rough shape, the coaches know when you’re in rough shape, the guys know when you’re in rough shape, just go handle it.’ And when you’re feeling good come back in.”
O’Mahony appreciates the leeway.
“It’s really nice honestly,” O’Mahony said. “Not needing to think that this might be jeopardizing my chances of making a team is just a nice feeling to have during tryouts.”
Unfortunately for O’Mahony, coaches in other organizations were not as accommodating.
“I feel like a lot of the issue lies in the fact that it’s me going off the court for awhile makes it look like I don’t want to be there, but the exact opposite is true,” O’Mahony said. “It is me going off checking (my levels) over and over again so I can stay on the court.”
O’Mahony had a scare recently at an open gym where his levels dipped and wouldn’t come back up right away. In response, one of his teammates reached out and asked Scuzzo what he normally packs so he could pack backups, just in case O’Mahony needed them.
“You always hear that High Performance is so (competitive), but our experience hasn’t been that macho thing, it’s been very different than that,” Scuzzo said.
While High Performance has a well-earned reputation for on-court success, Pieschel said the club cares just as much about its players off the court.
“I know once people come into the program that people recognize it immediately and that’s what’s important is that our families and our players have the trust in us and know what we are trying to accomplish and they understand that it’s not all about win, win, win,” Pieschel said. “The success is a byproduct of how we develop the kids as individuals and as volleyball athletes.”
O’Mahony will be a VIP for the JDRF One Walk at MilliporeSigma in St. Louis at 9:30 a.m. Sunday. All proceeds from the walk go toward finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes.
O’Mahony has personally raised more than $3,000 for the walk by baking homemade bread and giving it away for donations in the Kirkwood/Glendale area.
“He’d bake all day and we’d deliver it fresh that evening,” Scuzzo said. “He worked really hard. It was really neat.”
O’Mahony’s fundraising efforts don’t surprise Pieschel.
“I love having him in the gym,” Pieschel said. “He’s one of those individuals that once he’s applied his mind to doing something he’s going to do it. He’s going to grind away until he finds success.”
The irony is O’Mahony’s baking, primarily French Batards, are full of carbs, which is what insulin is designed to counteract.
O’Mahony is quick to point out he can eat anything as long as his blood levels are safe. The hope is one day a cure will be found and he won’t have to continue to monitor his levels.
Until then, O’Mahony will continue to show the world having diabetes doesn’t define him.
“It feels like your world is going to be different, but we chose for it to not be different,” Scuzzo said. “It took us six months or so to ramp up into it. Now it’s just part of our routine and because he’s so good at managing it, we’re not like some of the families who have a harder time. The complications come with people who do not manage it.”