ZEELAND — A young soccer player from Zeeland is hoping to set an example for others by overcoming a medical diagnosis to pursue his dreams in the sport he loves. 
Levi Rodriguez is an eighth-grader at Zeeland’s Cityside Middle School. He’s been playing soccer for 10 years and plays for Michigan Futbol Academy Grand Rapids and Lakeshore. 
“It’s fun, it’s a team sport,” Rodriguez, a center midfielder and striker, said about his love for soccer. “You don’t have to do it by yourself. I like all my coaches. Those are some of the things I like about it.” 
Rodriguez said he has goals of playing in college and professionally. His dream is playing for Michigan State in college, then playing for Liverpool. 
But those dreams were dealt an unexpected complication earlier this year when Levi was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in January.
Levi’s mom Rachel Rodriguez said Levi was exhibiting “classic symptoms” looking back, but they were also common behaviors for a teen — eating a lot, drinking a lot of water, falling asleep on car rides to and from practices in Grand Rapids.
One night, Levi was staying with his grandmother while his grandfather, a Type 2 diabetic, was in the hospital due to complications from COVID-19. Rachel had Levi’s grandmother check his blood sugar, which came back high. That led to doctor visits and an eventual Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.
“It’s just surreal,” Rachel said. “It’s more overwhelming than you could ever even think. Everything goes so fast.” 
Rather than letting the diagnosis put a damper on his dreams, Levi said he “pretty quickly” started researching the best ways to manage his diabetes and get back on the field.
“I wasn’t able to hang out and do things with my friends because they didn’t want things to happen to me,” Levi said of his push to learn about his diagnosis. “You have to make sure you take insulin at the right time and watch your blood sugar.” 
Managing diabetes and playing soccer at the same time wasn’t easy at first, Levi said. He had to be sure to check his blood sugar levels before games and at halftime. Now, Levi has a CGM — continuous glucose monitor — that he wears, giving him an update every five minutes. 
“It gives an update every five minutes,” Rachel said. “As long as he has that on, it helps (him) react. He doesn’t get too low or too high because we can do something first.” 
With the knowledge of how to handle diabetes under his belt, Levi is not only continuing to play, but thriving on the field.
“He’s not just OK and making it through, he’s killing it,” Rachel said. “He plays the whole game. He’s scoring goals (33 so far this season), making the plays. And he’s doing it all in spite of something that could be holding him down. As a mom, I’m so proud of him.” 
There are several professional athletes past and present who played through diabetes, but Levi noticed something when looking over those lists that gave him more motivation.
“I saw people from other sports, but not from soccer,” he said.
Through his club team, Levi will get an opportunity to learn from the pros this spring. Over spring break, his team is heading to Manchester, England, to train with Manchester City. He’s hoping to catch a game between Manchester City and Liverpool while he’s there.
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Type 1 diabetes is believed to be caused by an autoimmune response, when the body mistakenly attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. There is no known way to prevent onset of the condition.
Around 20,000 cases of Type 1 diabetes are reported each year. It’s most common in kids, teens and young adults, but can develop at any age. About 5 to 10 percent of all diabetes cases are Type 1. 
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. To learn more about Type 1 diabetes and its symptoms, visit diabetes.org.
— Contact reporter Mitchell Boatman at mboatman@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @SentinelMitch.


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