Dunking for Success

Stingers Guard Jonathan Mirambeau Speaks About His Life as a Diabetic Athlete

Stingers guard Jonathan Mirambeau was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 11 years old. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger
Stingers guard Jonathan Mirambeau was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 11 years old. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

It was a normal day at his grandmother’s house when an 11-year-old Jonathan Mirambeau felt ill.

He was rushed to a doctor, who diagnosed him with type 1 diabetes. The previous week, he recalled acting strangely.

“One day I just felt weird. I was going to the bathroom a lot, I was always thirsty,” said the third-year Concordia Stingers basketball guard Mirambeau. “That’s when I discovered something was maybe wrong. My mom took me to the doctor’s, and I became diabetic.”

Despite the unfortunate circumstances that Jonathan Mirambeau finds himself in, his motivation to succeed doesn’t waver.

Type 1 diabetes—formerly known as juvenile diabetes—is a condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone that helps move sugar into the cells of the body. Without it, sugar stays in the bloodstream, affecting everything from energy to vision among other symptoms. More than 300,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Mirambeau started playing basketball two years before his diagnosis, at the age of nine. Despite his worrying health concerns, he continued pursuing basketball and began playing competitively in high school when he was 12-years-old.

The constant concerns that come with being a young student-athlete with diabetes were not an issue for Mirambeau.

“I was still a kid,” Mirambeau said. “Your parents take care of you a lot.”

It wasn’t until the tail-end of high school that Mirambeau fully recognized the strains of being a diabetic athlete. The burden that diabetes imposes on his daily routine became more evident in university, where he had to balance having an active life with the fast-paced life of a student.

“You notice more the importance of being diabetic when you play basketball, because the intensity is different,” Mirambeau said. “You have to organize yourself and be more self-conscious and autonomous.”

With the demanding life of a student athlete, Mirambeau tries to test his blood sugar level every two hours, along with keeping up with meals and snacks to manage himself throughout his day.

“It’s always a question of control. That’s when I realized that being diabetic had an impact on sports,” he added.

Mirambeau admits the struggles and physical constraints he’s forced to cope with as a university basketball player are frustrating. Whether on the court, or on the bench, it’s a thought that often lingers in his mind.

“It’s always something that’s in my mind because I have to stay ready,” Mirambeau admitted. “I constantly think, ‘I have to be ready to go.’ You never know when your name is going to be called.”

Mirambeau constantly strives to improve as a basketball player, and it’s with the guidance of his coaches that he’s able to do so. He expresses his gratitude without hesitation towards the Concordia Stingers coaching staff for their understanding over his difficult situation.  

“He’s very good at managing [his diabetes]. He’s very good at telling us when he needs to take a break and that’s tough,” said current Stingers head coach, Rastko Popovic. “In practice he doesn’t use that as an excuse, he plays hard, and if he needs a break he tells me.”

Through the course of the season, Mirambeau is a player Popovic has grown fond of. His competitive attitude, combined with his terrific work ethic have left the Stingers head coach with only good things to say about him.

“I have nothing but support and respect for him for being able to do these things. A lot of people would find it very difficult and he does it day in and day out,” Popovic said. “He’s tremendous, the whole story’s tremendous. I’m very proud of him.”

When he’s not in school or playing basketball, Mirambeau actively takes part in camps with the Diabetic Children’s Foundation, where he helps motivate kids through sports.

“I’ve participated in these camps for a while. I’ve worked there with them. These events are really good to make people conscious about what it is to have diabetes,” Mirambeau said.

Many professional athletes face the same problematic health concerns that could hinder their performances, if not managed properly. The NFL’s Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, and the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes’ forward Max Domi are just two of many athletes who live with type 1 diabetes.

Professional athletes such as Cutler and Domi serve as inspiration for Mirambeau. Despite his diabetes, he hopes he can provide the same motivation he displays through his performances.

“It does motivate me, and I hope that what I do with basketball now at Concordia, as a diabetic student [will] also help motivate young kids coming into this game. You know, it is possible to do it.”