Former Avon standout Olivia Jurrens leads at SD Mines, while raising Type 1 diabetes awareness – Mitchell Republic

RAPID CITY, SD — Olivia Jurrens didn’t always like talking about what ailed her since she was 10 years old, but that all changed early in her career as a student-athlete at South Dakota Mines.

Jurrens, an Avon High School graduate and a thrower on the Hardrocker women’s track and field team, was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 10. What she had to learn was to tell people that it was something she was dealing with and not being ashamed of it.

“If I was open about it like I am now, if an issue comes up, then it is not a big deal if I have to sit out 15 minutes or whatever,” she said. “But I think that took me eight years to learn to be okay with it. All through high school I was pretty quiet about it and didn’t tell anyone who didn’t have to know about it. I kind of talk about it a lot now.”

What prompted Jurrens to start opening up about dealing with Type 1 diabetes is when she took a class at South Dakota Mines, medical humanities, in her freshman year. Her professor talked about people with illnesses and diseases need to talk about things and share their stories so that other people can learn about them.

South Dakota Mines’ Olivia Jurrens

Coming to college, Jurrens said if she told somebody she had diabetes it was often, “You don’t look like you have diabetes.” She realized that no one really knew anything about it despite it being a common illness, especially in younger people .

“After hearing her saying that and witnessing it first hand, I was like, ‘If I don’t start talking about this, those stereotypes are going to keep going and no one is ever going to learn about the struggles,'” she said . “If I talk about it, maybe that will help somebody later on.”

One positive about dealing with Type 1 diabetes in college is she knows other athletes at South Dakota Mines who are going through the same thing.

“It sounds a little morbid, but it is a really strong bonding thing,” Jurrens adds. “It’s like no one else knows the feelings I have other than these people.”

South Dakota Mines interim head track and field coach and throws coach Dan Haakenson said he came to the Hardrockers at the same time Jurrens did, and he feels like they have begun their journey here together.

Yet, he said he didn’t know she had Type 1 diabetes until a couple of years in at South Dakota Mines.

“It didn’t come up, which is weird because I had a couple of other athletes who had Type 1 diabetes and it almost always comes up,” he said. “It seemed like for other people it was ‘the big deal of their life.’ She is just managing very well, very conscientiously or she just didn’t talk about it much. Then we did talk about it, and it can affect her a lot with her exercising.”

Type 1 diabetes happens when your immune system destroys cells in your pancreas called beta cells, which makes insulin. Without insulin, too much glucose (sugar) builds up in your blood. Untreated, Type 1 diabetes can cause serious health complications and the patient needs insulin every day.

Jurrens said she didn’t know anyone personally that had Type 1 until she came to college. Before that, she said it was isolated and scary.

“It was hard to not feel like you were the weird person, having to give yourself a shot every time you ate,” she said. “Luckily, I had a great support system and I coped with it well. I had some good doctors to support me. I never felt like it was something I couldn’t do.”

After 10 years of self-injections, she now uses an insulin pump. The Bluetooth pump is wireless or tubeless so it is like a little patch that she sticks on some part of her body. She puts in how many carbs she eats and it tells her how much insulin she takes and she presses a button for the insulin.

While things have gone smoother in college, Jurrens said there were a couple of times in high school when she would get caught without insulin or it would run out.

“That is scary because of DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis), which is when you start to get sick,” she said. “That can come extremely quick; getting caught without it can be a life or death situation. Being 10 years old and to potentially be in that situation, I really didn’t think about it, but now I’m like, ‘I have been keeping myself alive for 12 years, on my own.’ When I was 10 I didn’t think it was that crazy but now I thinking back…”

When she is struggling, fatigue is often the culprit. She said that while doing school work, if she is not within her range, everything is 10 times harder to think logically.

That is when her numbers are high. When they are low, she said it is a bit scary as there is shaking, sweating, confusion, and memory loss.

“It can be bad, especially if you are in a bad situation like working out,” she said. “When you are lifting, you don’t want to have a 200-pound weight on you and have troubles.”

Jurrens, who also serves as the South Dakota Mines student association president, has never had a diabetes incident while competing at South Dakota Mines. Two hours before competition she starts preparing what she is going to eat and what not to eat. When it comes time to compete, she is in range and okay.

About a year and a half ago she made the decision to go vegetarian to help take care of some of her problems with the disease.

“Some Type 1 diabetics develop insulin resistance and that comes sometimes from eating animal products,” she said. “That was happening to me. I decided to cut out meat and I have never felt better. I’ve had my best A1C (hemoglobin A1C test) I ever had had, even in the range of not being a diabetic or prediabetic. But that doesn’t mean anything because with Type 1 there is no cure. It just means I am taking better care of it.”

Up and down college struggles

An all-around athlete at Avon High School, Jurrens also played basketball, volleyball, and swam. In track, she was a sprinter in junior high before struggling with muscle pulls and an ACL playing basketball her freshman year. By then in track, she just concentrated on the discus.

Transitioning from college to high school was difficult, Jurrens said, with different expectations and coaching styles. She was also just one of 18 students in her graduating class.

After a decent freshman campaign, Jurrens admits she struggled for a couple of years, first during the Covid year as a sophomore, followed by hip surgery and back trouble.

“Last year I wasn’t 100 percent, not only physically but mentally,” she said. “There were so many uncertainties. No one even knew what was going on (with Covid), it was hard to be consistent, especially struggling with an injury. Last season was pretty bad for me performance-wise. I came back this year knowing that it could not happen this year.”

Although she had only tossed the discus in high school, Jurrens has competed in all of the throwing events at South Dakota Mines.

“It is kind of rare to have a PR in five events in college,” Haakenson said. “I think when she came in I thought she was a pretty decent thrower and we’ll see what other events she could do.”

So far this season Jurrens has had a personal best in the discus (125 feet, 11 inches), as well as in the hammer throw (140-10). Her top performances of the outdoor season were in the season opener in Texas when she finished second in the discus, fifth in the hammer throw, and eighth in the shot put.

Last weekend at the South Dakota Mines home meet, the Bauer Open, she finished fifth in the hammer throw and sixth in the discus.

The South Dakota Mines track and field teams will close the season with meets at the University of Nebraska Kearney and Colorado School of Mines before the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Outdoor championships April 29-May 1 in Spearfish at Black Hills State University. Although she might have technically two years of eligibility remaining, she is just counting on one more season for now as she looks to pick up her mechanical engineering degree.

“Every athlete matures from an 18-year-old to a 22-year-old,” Haakenson said. “She is a leader on the program, for sure. I think all of the women on the team look up to her and see her as a role model.”

Jurrens said she just wants to keep improving and continue to be a team leader.

“It has been a pretty easy transition into that role (as a leader),” she said. “Coming in as a freshman, we had a lot of upperclassmen who were great leaders, so I was fortunate to have that experience. I want to make sure our freshmen have that same comfort and make sure they know it is a family here.”

Life is like working on … roller coasters?

There might be a little irony involved as Jurrens’ ultimate work goal is to design roller coasters. She said it was the sole reason she picked mechanical engineering.

“I was a pretty good student, but I couldn’t find anything that spoke to me, to tell me what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “One day I was like, ‘What do I really love? I love roller coasters.’ We had very typical Midwest summer vacations. We would drive 12 hours to an amusement park and do that for week and go home.”

Yet, when she was young she was originally scared of roller coasters. But her older sister Lexi and father Loren got her ride and it didn’t take long before she was hooked on the thrills.

“I Googled who designs roller coasters and it said mechanical engineers. So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do that,’” she said with a smile.

Jurrens has had two internships in automotive inductors and will have another internship this summer in Austin, Texas, working in MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor). She admits that working in the roller coaster field might be a little farfetched, so the semiconductor field is a good backup plan.

“Realistically I do enjoy semiconductor jobs, so that is probably what I’ll do,” she said.

Still, like her battle with Type 1 diabetes, that roller coaster is always on the horizon.

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