Olympic swimmer Barbara Jardin, a Type 1 diabetic, on a crowdfunded comeback

Neate Sager
Jardin, 23, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in September 2014 (Scott Grant, Swimming Canada)

Barbara Jardin went through a denial stage before being checked out for diabetes, which the Olympic swimmer was diagnosed with in September 2014.

That sheds light, in part, on why the 23-year-old is sharing her story of having Type 1 diabetes whilst fundraising for a comeback that she hopes will lead her to the 2016 Rio Olympics. When she first noticed the common warning signs of diabetes — constant thirst, dehydration, oversleeping — in early 2014. Jardin believed that was a result of being overextended by balancing training with studies at the University of Montreal. Late last summer, after a confusing span where she had "trouble finishing my races" at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships and was unable to make the Canadian national team, she finally sought medical confirmation.

“I kept giving myself excuses — there's this, there's that,” says Jardin, who will compete in her first overseas meet since her diagnosis when she represents Canada and the Montreal Carabins at the 2015 Summer Universiade that is slated for July 3-14 in Gwangju, South Korea. “I should have gone to the hospital sooner ... We're athletes. We're always, 'we're okay, we're okay,' but it's better to get checked just in case."

Jardin has no family history of diabetes. Her mother, Barbara Ann, who's a biochemist, doubted her daughter's suspicions.

"I missed the [2014 Canadian] team, I was pretty upset," says Jardin, who was ninth at London 2012 in the women's 200 freestyle, a historically tough event for Canadians. "I took the longest break I've ever taken from swimming, a month, and month and a half off, I went to France. When I got back it just started to get bad. I was dehydrated all the time but drinking a lot of water. I lost 10-15 lbs, even though I was eating a lot of food. I would go out for a little 20- or 30-minute run and want to puke. I had trouble seeing. I was sleeping 14-15 hours a day. It still took 2-3 weeks before I got checked out. 

"I knew something was wrong but didn't want to admit it."

'Saying that I was going to stop swimming'

Since she'll be swimming full-time this fall and won't have a student health plan, Jardin has launched a Pumped For Rio campaign to help cover the costs of her medications, training and travel to meets for her and Tom Rushton, her coach at Swimming Canada's Intensive Training Program in Montreal. Her goal is to raise $8,000. At this writing, she's about halfway at $3,895.

“Being diagnosed with this and realizing how expensive it is, I just want to make sure I'm not worrying about the money,” Jardin says. “It's the medications, and the needles that add up to about $350 per month. I'll be swimming full-time, so I'll have to pay my own insurance, about $450 a month. Plus Tom and I want to go to some World Cup competitions in the fall and do a training camp in Thailand.”

Early in the new year, Jardin wasn't convinced she should go on with swimming and its heavy volume of training and notorious early-morning workouts. However, she remembered advice from her aunt, Ann Jardin, who was a double bronze medallist at the 1976 Olympics. The elder Jardin was on the '80 team that stayed home due to Canada joining a U.S.-led boycott prompted by the then-Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

"She told me she regretted not going for another four years," Barbara Jardin says. "That's what was in the back of my mind: 'I have to do this for me and I have to do this for other people who believe in me.' I want to inspire people. I don't want them to look at me and say 'she kind of gave up.' I want to keep going and inspire people who have had a little bump in the road, and believe in the impossible.”

For all Jardin's feats in the pool, Rushton says he has to "treat her like a new athlete" while they learn how to manage her diabetes. Jardin received an insulin pump — which costs about $1,500, even with insurance coverage — three weeks ago and says she has only had to miss two workouts since. Training means being double-plus vigilant about blood sugar and glucose levels is a challenge. For instance, Jardin needs more insulin during an anaerobic workout than an aerobic-based one since the former causes a spike in her glucose.

'Not a blessing, but at least we have the knowledge'

She works closely with the Montreal ITP's nutritionist, Alexia de Macar, and her sport doctor, Dr. Suzanne Leclerc.

“The margin of error for her is a lot slimmer,” Rushton says. “If her blood sugar and glucose levels get too low, or something goes wrong, we don't have the same elasticity that we do with other swimmers to make an adjustment in their workout.

“At least know she knows,” Rushton adds. “It's not a blessing, but at least we have the knowledge.”

The Summer Universiade is not as high-profile as the Pan Am Games or world championships, but is a vital part of Jardin's journey. It's the first meet for her since her diagnosis that involves jetting off to a far-flung locale, in the case one that's 11 time zones removed from Montreal. She had adverse results at the Canadian national team trials in April and at the CIS championships a few weeks prior.

The aim is to be in good form for next spring's Canadian Olympic trials, which will determine who goes to Rio.

"I'm really stoked," she says. "I haven't done a big international meet in a while. I'm really going to learn how to manage my diabetes while competing at the same time.

"At trials it was really bad. I had turn a race down the first day and I spiked up [in glucose levels] and I was freaking out. I'm really excited about it and can't wait to represent Canada and my school."

Reaching her previous level and returning to the Olympic stage will be a process.

“It's funny, because Barbara is such a great athlete,” Rushton says. “She's done everything you can do in the sport, She's been to the world championships, she's been in an Olympic final in a relay. Yet I'm more protective of her than I am of my other athletes. I'm almost like a protective parent with her.

“That's the big thing with the world university games, that we'll go on that trip together. We're going to spend a day in Vancouver to break up the travel. And we'll do some information collecting about how she responds.”

All the time Jardin spent with nurses last year also gave her an idea for a post-swimming career.

"The nurses were talking to me and I realized that's what I want to do – help people with diabetes, especially athletes," she says.

"If I can tell them about my story and experience, maybe it can help."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @naitSAYger.