Meet A.J.: The boy who faced down bullying about diabetes like the Super Hero he is

September 30, 2012By 39 Comments

This post is special to me, and is about a young man who took a stand. My dream is that we will get this to circulate so much and gather so many positive comments for him in the comments section that it will stand as a testament to a kid who simply did not let bullies mess with his health and happiness. So comment and share. And next time you hear of someone being bullied (even not about diabetes) share A.J.’s story. It’s wonderful.

 

A.J. at diabetes camp. A young man who is mastering life with diabetes as an athlete, a kid and in his own way, an amazing advocate

Heroes come in all sizes, ages and forms. Sometimes, they leap tall buildings in a single bound. Other times they are even more impressive, taking their stand more quietly, but with more toughness, determination and “good for us all” will than Superman and Spiderman combined.

Take young A.J.  A seventh grader, he not only does well in school and treats his mom nicely, he takes to the football field every day, an active and enthusiastic member of his 7th grade football team.

From the sidelines, he looks good out there; powerful, athletic, and a big enough boy to be a threat. And he looks happy: A.J. clearly loves football and all it entails. But what most folks cannot see is what it takes for him to be a productive team player. Since AJ has type 1 diabetes, he has to manage blood glucose, plan snacks before and after, check multiple times during games, adapt when practice sessions take on a new rhythm, and of course, lug all that diabetes gear one needs at all times along with him.

But that’s not what makes A.J. a hero. What makes this young man a hero is how he faced down bullying, prejudice and ignorance this past week with a level head and matter-of-factness that we adults could even learn from.

And we all need to know and celebrate this story. Because it matters. Here’s what happened.

A.J. was at football practice the other day, and went to his gear back to grab his meter and do a quick blood sugar check – something all athletes with T1D have to weave into their sports time as if it were nothing. But when he opened his bag, all his diabetes gear was gone. No meter. No strips. No lancet. No glucose tablets. Panicked for a moment, A.J. wondered how he could have been irresponsible enough to misplace it. But he knew he had put it there. Confused and concerned, he sat for a moment, wishing for an answer and worrying about getting back on the field.

Then another boy spoke up and told A.J. the deal. Some kids on the team thought it would be “funny” to take his diabetes supplies and hide them, the other boy told A.J. They’d gone through his bag while he was not looking and removed it all: the very tools A.J. needs to stay alive every single day.

Angry, upset and confused as to why boys would do such a thing, A.J. jumped to his feet and approached the boys in question.

Only to face a chant, harmonious as if practiced, from that very group of boys.

“Mr. Diabetic! Mr. Diabetic! Mr. Diabetic!”  They chanted it over and over, like it was some kind of insult. Like it was some kind of flaw. Like it was something A.J. should feel…. Less of a person because? Like it was a choice.

Doesn’t it break your heart? Doesn’t it make you not want to blame A.J. at all if he turned on his cleats, headed to the locker room and sought refuge in solitude? After all, AJ is just on the cusp of his teen years; a time when all kids just want to blend in; when all kids just want to get along with everyone else; when few kids want to make waves.

But that’s not what A.J. did. What he did was this: tell the boys they had no right to chant at him. Tell them they’d taken away important tools in his life; the tools he needed to stay safe, healthy and active out on that field and indeed everywhere. Then, as the boys watched, he marched over to the team coach and reported the entire incident.

Heroic, I tell you. Because how many of us adults would even be brave enough to simply embrace what is right and speak up? How many of us adults would turn, walk away, and head home to just be angry, upset and abused? Not our A.J. He’s made of strong stuff, this young man.

It’s risky to speak up for what is right. A.J. faced the possibility of more ridicule. He faced the very real chance that reporting to the coach would impact the team (with suspensions and more; and anyone with a kid in youth sports can tell you that parents are not always kind about such things). But in that instant, A.J. understood what we all need to embrace: setting people straight and calling out bullies is always the right thing to do.

His actions worked. The coach held a meeting with all the players and talked through the incident. They are asking a person from JDRF to come teach them more. They are supporting the walk. The boys in question were handed punishments, and the entire team – including parents – learned.

How about that for super hero actions? Think about it: in our lives with diabetes along we all face some kind of “bullying” or at least ignorant actions at times. The woman at the store who tells you “it’s a shame. You should have just fed your kid right.” The parent who “does you a favor” and does not invite your child to the sleepover so you “won’t have to deal with it.” The looks you get when you pull out a needle or a pump or a meter? Kids are cruel too. I know one boy who used to cringe as kids chanted “ED boy! ED Boy!” as he walked in the halls of his school (Erectile dysfunction. Stupid commercials during football games). What if we all had a little more A.J. in us and simple said “stop.”

I wanted this to be published here because A.J. did not just stick up for himself on the field that day. He stuck up for all of us. For every kid and adult out there facing cruel actions and behavior. For the kids who are not diagnosed yet but might face this. Forever on, when a kid feels alone, scared, bullied, picked on about diabetes, they can google “bullying and diabetes” and see A.J.s face and read his story. A.J.’s heroic actions will help many, now and into the future.

It reminded me of something I heard Jay Hewitt, world ironman champion and person with T1D, say recently to a room full of kids with diabetes. “You’re smarter than the other kids. Those other kids don’t know a carb from a carburetor, and they know it. They look up to you.” Which, I think, is what makes insecure kids pick on kids like A.J. They want to bring him down. They know they cannot rise to his awesomeness, so they try to pull him lower. But this time, it didn’t work. And maybe when another kid reads this one day, it won’t work when and if someone tries it on them.

Because A.J.: you bravely stood up for all of us, never considering any harm that might come your way. A.J. gave me one simple reason he took a stand: “They were messing with my life.” You, young man, are our own diabetes world super hero.

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Comments (39)

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  1. Kristin D says:

    although my daughter as never been bullied because of her diabetes, I know that sometimes kids are cruel. This is a wonderful example of maturity beyond years. Truly an inspirational young man. We can all learn a lesson from him.

  2. Gina says:

    I almost needed a bag to breathe in while reading this. What a fabulous kid he is.

  3. Katie says:

    Dear A.J. — My son is almost six and has lived with diabetes for almost 5 years. I hope he can grow into as strong a young man as you are. Congratulations on being true to yourself, and thank you for standing up for yourself and for my son. I think it’s clear you are already well on your way to becoming a fine leader in your school, and in the diabetes community at large.

    All the best,
    A T1 mama

  4. Andrea says:

    A.J. I am so proud of you for not only standing up for yourself but also going to the coach. I hope that if my daughter ever finds herself in your shoes, she will show the same bravery you did. Well done, I applaud you!

  5. Julie says:

    Thank you AJ for paving the way for my 3 year old, who have type 1 diabetes. Kids like you will make life easier for our little ones. You are a hero in many ways to me.

  6. Leslee says:

    Go AJ- you Rock! What an awesome young man. His parents should be so proud. Thank you Moira for this.

  7. Katie says:

    A.J.,

    GOOD FOR YOU! Doing the right thing is often hard, but you did the right and necessary thing. And I am glad your coach also understood, and reacted in the right way.

    Our family knows from personal experience that some coaches are almost as bad as those young men.

    Schools often have to be reminded, forcibly, that diabetes and the supplies needed are SERIOUS. Not a “joke”. Thank you for taking care of business right then, on your own.

  8. Angie says:

    I am AJ’s older cousin and I have to say that AJ has been an inspiration to the whole family. He is suck a strong boy and makes me so proud everyday. I love you very much AJ!!! And thank you Moira for taking the time to tell his story and show how the smallest act can educate and make a difference.

  9. AJ says:

    Thank you all for writing those magnificent things about me. It was very hard for me to stand up to those bullies and thank you for all of your support.

  10. Dori says:

    Way to go, AJ! You are a super hero! Great job standing up for yourself and all the other people around the world with T1D.

  11. Jen says:

    Way to go AJ. Powerful story.

  12. Marvin says:

    AJ,

    We are so proud of you! Keep it going young man.

  13. Wow. What a story. Thank you A.J.!

  14. Kathy says:

    AJ, you are a remarkable young man! I’m so sorry that those kids did this to you. My son is T1 and my biggest fear is that someone will withhold his lifesaving tools from him when he needs them most. You stood up for yourself and held your ground! YOU are an awesome young man! My very best wishes for a wonderful season of football! Maybe one day we will see YOU in the NFL!!! Best wishes!!! And congrats for being Our Hero!

  15. Jessica says:

    What an awesome person!! AJ you continue to be a shining example!!! You push and push! Victory is yours! Be blessed! U rock!!

  16. Dolores says:

    Nicely done A.J. … And nicely shared Moira … Thanks to you both!

  17. Sam Martin says:

    Way to go AJ!!!!!!! :D

  18. Laurel Whitt says:

    Dear A.J.,

    What courage you have shown! I am sharing this story with my daughters tonight. They both have type1. I love to share with them positive messages and how strong diabtetes can make young people!! I am glad you are educating your team mates about what diabetes really is!! Also, good luck with your football season!
    The Whitts

  19. Tara says:

    A true hero A.J.! Breaks my heart at the thought of you (as well as many others) being treated in this way. What you did was not easy and I commend you for your honesty and setting a very important example. You are an amazing young man and I pray you will continue to be used among young people and adults in a mighty way. God bless you!

  20. Serena says:

    Great job, AJ!

  21. Zach Clayton says:

    A.J.

    You handled yourself in a way that makes all of us proud. Thank you for standing up for yourself and my son, Kyle. He is in 8th grade and has had T1D since he was 18 months old.

    Glad to see how you turned it into an eduational opportunity. Thanks again for being an example.

    Zach

    P.S. Hope those guys are still running the bleachers.

  22. ML says:

    Wow, AJ, what a great example you are to all of us. So proud of how you handled this. You rock!

  23. erica henson says:

    just awesome A.J. and glad nothing happen to you due to their ignorance

  24. Dear A.J.,
    You are an amazing young man. Your voice was heard and you made a difference. You are a true superhero and what a role model you are for other children with diabetes. You can do anything you set your mind to and it is clear that nothing will get in your way! Great job!!! Good luck with the rest of your football season :)

  25. Angel Nieves says:

    My son I’m sorry that you have to deal with kids that don’t know about t1d I’m proud of you and you are my hero good job love you your daddy ps don’t let no one bully you

  26. Kris says:

    What a great life lesson AJ! My son is 11 and was diagnosed with T1D just over a year. I shared AJ’s story with him immediately, as he has dealt with bullying in sports himself and tends to not speak up about it, except at home. It’s great to be able to share with my son that positive things can happen when you stand up for yourself. Thanks to you both for sharing AJ’s experience.

  27. Jessica B. says:

    AJ, the world needs more heroes like you. Thank you for being such a strong individual. Both for yourself and for everyone living with type 1. I hope you know how many people out in the world are very proud of you.

  28. Alma says:

    Thank you AJ! I am a sister of two T1 diabetics and truly appreciate you being an advocate. And I hope that parents realize that you need to teach your children good manners and respect for others. That’s certainly something your mother taught you. You should feel very proud, I am.

  29. Charla says:

    AJ-
    What an amazing, brave thing you did standing up to those boys that took your supplies. You should be so proud of yourself! I know everyone who hears your story is proud of you too! You go AJ!!

  30. Maureen says:

    AJ, it is important to always do what’s right, just be the person with values and confidence! Maureen

  31. Sara says:

    Great job, AJ!

  32. AJ, I am 39 years old and you handled that situation with much more maturity than I would have. I would have whacked them up side the head with my cleats. But that would have not accomplished any of the things that your response did. You taught them to see you as a person dealing with a life threatening and life changing disease that takes extraordinary amounts of courage, discipline and patience to deal with not only the disease, but with uneducated/misinformed people around you. You are an amazing human being.

  33. Jennifer Burns says:

    I have tears in my eyes reading this. My 7 year old son was just diagnosed with T1 4 months ago today. I hope when he gets your age, he will be like you. Very proud of you!

  34. lisa says:

    I wish my 7th grader would have told someone when he was teased for weeks about being adopted instead of letting it build up to the point where a fight broke out and he was punished . I have to believe he won overall ~ feeling assured of how loved he is and that it is all part of God’s plan.

  35. Kristin says:

    AJ, you ROCK!!! I hope those idiots got a small idea of what hiding D supplies meant. On the upside, at a local D family camp, a panel of teens all said they had not been teased about having T1D – except for one skinny guy, who remarked drily, “Only got teased once. Never happened again after every one saw what happened to him.” Hopefully that will all be a thing of the past someday.

  36. Kristie says:

    Oddly enough, my son was the kid who told “AJ” about his teammates hiding his diabetes supplies. And then about a week later, my 8 year old daughter was admitted to the PICU in DKA. Little did my son know, that when he was sticking up for AJ, he was also sticking up for his little sister.

  37. Mary McQuillen says:

    AJ, I’m going to share your story with our school and read it to my daughters. I love your cool calm and staying focused on what matters.

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