Drew Frankel dove so hard for a loose ball, he bloodied himself. His basketball coach at Rumson-Fair Haven High School (N.J.), Chris Champeau, figured he’d need a break.
“Don’t worry about it,” Frankel said. “I’ve got this.”
The junior guard went back out on the court and defended Middletown North 2,000-point scorer Rob Higgins well enough for the Bulldogs to post a one-point victory.
Impressive, for sure, but especially in full context: Frankel has type 1 diabetes. His pancreas does not produce insulin, which regulates the amount of sugar in one’s bloodstream.
“His whole life is about keeping his blood sugar level,” dad Steve Frankel said. “Go too high and it affects your eyesight, blood flow, the function of your kidneys. Go too low and you can pass out. Maintaining that is a full-time job for a 16-year-old kid.”
Drew maintains it while excelling in three sports — a rarity even among high-schoolers not facing a serious health condition. On the hardwood, his on-ball defense and floor generalship are a reason why Rumson-Fair Haven is 17-6 and hosting a first-round NJSIAA Tournament game against Raritan tonight.
Frankel also plays football and lacrosse. He’s an eight-time letterwinner and has helped the Bulldogs win six state or sectional titles.
“He may leave as the most decorated athlete in the history of the school,” Champeau said. “His nickname is Tank, which is perfect because he keeps rolling. He’s a great example of perseverance.”
That perseverance is being honored twice next month. He’s receiving the inaugural Jay Patock Unsung Hero Award March 14 at the Red Bank Rotary Club’s annual Vince Lombardi Awards in Eatontown. And the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s New Jersey Metro & Rockland County Chapter is presenting him with an Everyday Hero award at its annual Cheers to Our Heroes event March 15 in Middletown.
“It’s incredible what Drew has been able to achieve,” said Shannon Dutton, outreach manager for the JDRF. “Drew is a role model, especially to those that are newly diagnosed and are starting their journey with type 1 diabetes. They will be able to read his story and know that nothing is impossible.”
A world turned upside-down
Hunter Reid is a longtime teammate and friend of Frankel’s. A couple of years back, Drew was over his house when something strange happened.
“We were playing Madden and he got up to grab 10 bottles of water,” Reid said. “He went through a whole case of Gatorade and water in one night. We really didn’t know what was going on.”
The diagnosis came soon after. Type 1 diabetes is not caused by diet or lifestyle. There is no prevention and no cure. Of the 29 million Americans with diabetes, just over 1 million have type 1. By 2050, that number is expected to reach 5 million.
“At first, it turned our world upside-down,” Frankel said. “But for me now, it’s become muscle memory.”
On gamedays, Frankel eats an hour beforehand. He checks his blood-sugar level regularly and knows when to administer insulin.
In case he forgets, there are reminders.
“Before every practice or game, my dad especially is blowing up my phone: Make sure you test, make sure you eat. Did you take your insulin?” Frankel said.
The last line of defense — Gatorade, Sour Patch Kids and Skittles — always are nearby if his sugar plummets. Rumson-Fair Haven trainer Alex Stein keeps them right next to the water jug.
“For someone his age, he has a really good handle on how to take care of himself,” Stein said. “I give credit to all of his coaches, too. They understand that this comes first and foremost.”
‘You can do anything’
As meticulous as Frankel is, some things are beyond his control. During a lacrosse state tournament game last spring, he was clearing the ball as a midfielder and he felt things going south.
“When my blood sugar goes low I get really clammy,” he said. “I felt it coming on and I started slowing down. A bunch of attackmen were whacking at me like crazy — it was a tough spot. I threw the ball down to the other end and got off the field as fast as I could.”
After taking down some Gatorade and Skittles he was back out there in 15 minutes.
“He just makes it look so easy, when obviously it can’t be,” Reid said.
Frankel’s best sport is football. He’s receiving interest from Ivy League programs as a defensive back. But in this age of one-sport specialization, he’s a throwback who prioritizes competition and camaraderie. You can’t get that in the weight room.
“Maybe having to go through this makes him appreciate life more,” Champeau said. “He stays so positive. He’s the first one to put his arm around a teammate and say, ‘Hey, it’s alright.’”
Asked what advice he would give a young athlete with diabetes, Frankel doesn’t hesitate.
“This disease, although it has really bad things that come with it, it’s not going to stop you from doing what you love,” he said. “When I got diagnosed, both my parents and I were like, ‘No! This could ruin everything.’ I want people to know as long as you manage it, you can do anything.”
Champeau is reading a book called, “The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph,” by Ryan Holiday. He was telling his players about it recently.
“Things that get thrown in front of you, those obstacles are the way you’re actually going to achieve your goals,” Champeau told them. “Drew was nodding his head like, ‘You know what? That’s exactly right.’ They’ve thrown the obstacles in front of him and he’s still finding a way. I couldn’t be prouder of the kid.”