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Diabetes Can't Keep Shafer Off The Lanes

Ryan Shafer is a creature of habit.

He always picks up his bowling ball with his left hand. If at all possible, it has to contain a serial number with a five or eight in it, from the time a lucky ball with two fives and two eights snapped a dry spell. He wears his shirts in the same order each tournament, unless he has a bad round; then that shirt is only used in practice or pro-ams.

So when his doctor wanted Shafer, who was diagnosed as a Type I diabetic at age 19, to switch to an insulin pump, he resisted. Shafer, who is competing in the Dick Weber PBA Playoffs at Woodland Bowl this week, was comfortable with his routine of taking insulin shots then eating something. The PBA switching schedule formats in 2004 changed that.

"It would have been impossible to live my life the way I was taking shots and eating (with the more condensed Friday schedule under that format)," Shafer said.

So he got the pump and calls it perhaps the best move he ever made.

Type I diabetes is believed to be caused by a virus that results in the body attacking its pancreas until the organ can no longer produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starch and other food into energy. The 44-year-old Horseheads, N.Y., resident said the pump is more precise than shots. Shafer, who is second in the South bracket after the second round, enters the carbohydrates he consumes and the pump administers the exact amount of insulin he needs. In addition, he doesn't have to worry about eating while bowling.

"I used to be very private about being diabetic," said Shafer, who is now a spokesman for the Animas insulin pump. "When I first got the pump, it was visible. I made the TV show and (announcer) Randy Pedersen mentioned it on TV."

Soon, diabetics and their parents were asking him how he dealt with it.

"I realized I could be a pretty good advocate and teach them their life isn't over with that diagnosis," Shafer said. "If you live your life right and monitor your blood glucose, keep things balanced (and) visit your doctor, you can do whatever you want with your life."

Among the people he has spoken to about living with the disease is fellow bowler Chris Barnes, whose son, Troy, now 8, was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008.

"Ryan was one of the first people to reach out to us after Troy was diagnosed," said Barnes, who has a greater understanding of what Shafer has to go through during five-hour bowling sessions. "He gave us tips on day-to-day living. When I have questions, he's on my very short list. He's been great.

"(And) he has it a lot more difficult than the rest of us."

Despite that, Shafer has consistently been a top performer on the tour.

He finished fourth in the U.S. Open on Feb. 27 in North Brunswick, N.J., and has been in 12 television finals in a major without winning a title, more than anyone in history. Two of those majors losses came at Woodland, where he finished third in the World Championship in 2006 and '08. He also finished second in the 2007 Pepsi Championship at Woodland, bowling a perfect game on TV in the semifinals to earn a $10,000 bonus.

"It's almost like home to me; I have a ton of friends here," Shafer said. "This is the place where I bowled my first professional tournament in 1986. My ball seems to always react good here . . . knock on wood."

Written by
Mark Ambrogi
The Indianapolis Star