BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — In two-minute intervals, the wrestlers cycled through drills. Wasted movement was not on the agenda, which also included scheduled fits of jogging around the Shenendehowa team’s practice room.
Throughout the exercises, Cody Deuel kept up with his older teammates. Wearing gray sweatpants and a white top outside a dark long-sleeved shirt, the freshman’s calm demeanor never changed as he and his teammates rolled around on the wrestling mat, leaving behind trails of sweat.
An hour into the practice, assistant coach Frank Popolizio reminded the Plainsmen why they were working so hard. Just days out from the Class A tournament at Ballston Spa, the Feb. 3 workout was the final all-out affair for Shenendehowa before it attempted to win the event’s team championship for the 11th consecutive year.
“This is where we have to go our hardest,” Popolizio called out. “This is your most important practice.”
Shortly after that, Deuel broke away from training partner Mike Dimonda. Around Deuel, practice kept humming as he headed to a corner of the room. Once there, he plopped down next to his black wrestling bag and rummaged through it for his supplies. In quick order, he pricked a finger on his right hand, swabbed some blood onto a strip, and tucked it into his glucose meter.
As he finished up the process, senior Kevin Parker walked over to him.
“Everything OK?” asked Parker, the Plainsmen’s reigning state champion.
“Yeah,” answered Deuel, his reading complete. “I’m fine.”
The number the meter displayed — 112 — brought good news, landing right in the range Deuel likes to see when he measures his blood- sugar level. A number higher than 130 would have meant he’d need to spend practice time pumping insulin into his system; anything lower than 100 would have caused him to need to slurp down one of the lemonade-flavored Capri Sun juice boxes he takes with him everywhere he goes.
Instead, this time, he headed right back into the fray, finishing off the remaining 40 minutes of practice without interruption.
Every day, Deuel contends with Type 1 diabetes. The ailment, which the American Diabetes Association says affects 1.25 million people in the United States, deters his body from producing the insulin it needs to manage his blood-sugar level.
Now 15 years old, Deuel was diagnosed with the condition when he was 9. His parents — Jeff and Jennifer — had noticed changes in their son. He had become lethargic, lighter and struggled to concentrate at school. The amount of water he drank, they remember, was astounding.
A trip to the doctor’s office revealed what was wrong. His blood-sugar level was through the roof — one reading put his level over 700, leading to an immediate two-day stay in intensive care — causing his body to struggle to function and to call out to him to put as many fluids as possible into his system.
When properly treated, Type 1 diabetes is manageable. Deuel receives insulin from a pump that attaches into his body, and he needs to pause at least five times each day from what he’s doing to test his blood.
Additionally, he has to check himself whenever he feels off. The adults in his life regularly check with him to make sure he is keeping up his regimen, but the responsibility to keep himself running correctly is up to Deuel.
“Wrestling’s like that,” his mother said. “You have your teammates and your coaches for support, but it’s just you when you’re out on the mat.”
Deuel is in his third season wrestling with Shenendehowa. His coaches and teammates have known about his condition since he started with the team, and they help to make sure the freshman — who they like to say resembles the title character from the “Johnny Bravo” cartoons — feels OK throughout the sport’s demanding practices and meets.
“I’ve probably asked him too many times,” Shenendehowa head coach Rob Weeks said.
Naturally a smaller guy, Deuel generally does not struggle to make weight for his 99-pound division. Still, Parker said that Deuel’s teammates marvel at how he handles himself off the mat to make sure he can perform for the Plainsmen.
“It’s tough enough to keep your body stable in a sport like wrestling when you’re completely healthy,” Parker said. “It’s awesome for me to see someone like Cody have such strength through such a difficult issue.”
Occasionally, Deuel’s blood- sugar level gets off at inopportune times. At one dual meet, he was late out of the locker room for warmups because he did not feel right; at another, his post-victory celebration included pumping some insulin into his body. Each time, Deuel was the one that recognized he needed to take care of himself.
“He’s got a pretty good handle on his situation,” Weeks said.
On the mat, Deuel has become more comfortable during his freshman season. As an eighth-grader, he was small for the 99-pound weight class and lost nearly 80 percent of his matches. Now physically stronger, he was 23-13 through his third-place finish at the Feb. 6 Class A tournament.
His goal, he said, is to one day compete at the state championships. At practices and meets, Deuel said he studies veteran teammates like Parker to try to better his own technique.
“He’s so good and it’s so fun to watch him,” Deuel said of Parker. “The way he wrestles, I try to reflect that — but that’s hard because he’s so advanced from everyone else.”
With his third-place finish at the Class A tournament, Deuel qualified for the Feb. 13-14 Section II Division I tournament in Glens Falls. There, bids to the state championships are up for grabs. The freshman will be a longshot to earn one of those spots, but has years ahead of him if he comes up short this season.
“He’s come a long way, and it hasn’t been easy,” Weeks said. “Wrestling is a war of attrition. He’s really persevered.”