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Overcoming the odds

Olivia Messerly shares her journey as a student athlete with diabetes
Olivia Messerly is a freshman on Campbellsville University’s women’s wrestling team. (Photo courtesy of CU Sports Information)

In the world of collegiate wrestling, Olivia Messerly stands out, not just for her remarkable skills on the mat, but also for her resilient spirit in facing a challenge that accompanies her every single day: Type 1 diabetes. As a freshman on the Campbellsville University women’s wrestling team, Messerly fights diabetes on the mat, in life and in her classes.

Messerly’s wrestling career began more than a decade ago when she was in elementary school.

“I never wanted to wrestle in the beginning,” said Messerly.

Her father, Curt, wrestled back in his younger days and never lost his passion for it. Messerly’s twin sister, Addison, and her brother, Carter, wrestled for a school near their home in Grant County, Kentucky. Their school in Grant County didn’t have a wrestling program until Messerly’s father was inspired to start one for his children and to continue that passion he had for wrestling. Because wrestling wasn’t popular among girls, Messerly wrestled on the boys’ team. She remembers a conversation she had with her mother when she was younger.

“Since you’re going to be here every day, you have to wrestle,” her mother, Sandy, said.

Messerly told her mother she had no interest in wrestling with the boys. Her mother insisted she at least try it. Since then, Messerly has cherished the sport, grateful that her family ignited her passion for wrestling.

Olivia Messerly prepares to make a move during a match against University of Cumberlands. (Photo courtesy of CU Sports Information)

Before her wrestling career began, when she was entering the second grade, Messerly was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes before she began her wrestling career. Her diagnosis was prompted by consistent feelings of thirst and fatigue during her early childhood. With a family history of diabetes on her grandmother’s side, it was suggested that Messerly undergo testing for the disease.

“I would fall asleep all the time,” Messerly said. “I would even wake up from naps and I would want to go back to sleep. I was always tired no matter what, and I was always thirsty nonstop.”

Messerly and her family discovered that her pancreas was unable to produce the insulin necessary for her body to function properly, a condition that proved to be incurable.

From there, Messerly had to learn how to balance her sugar levels on her own by pumping insulin when her sugar is high or eating sugars to correct the lows. At a young age, she had to learn how to monitor her health by constantly checking her sugar levels. It’s been one of her hardest challenges, trying to stay at a good, consistent level throughout the day. But, Messerly’s diagnosis never hindered her as a child. Instead, it fueled her drive to excel. She clinched five state championships and earned the title of “Most Outstanding Wrestler” five times throughout her high school career. Remarkably, at just 14 years old, she secured a world title at the U15 World Championships for United World Wrestling.

Messerly finds her motivation through her unwavering support group of family and teammates. She draws her inspiration from witnessing her teammates’ dedication and improvement on the mats while she sits out checking her sugar levels or pumping insulin. Seeing her teammates never stop working hard fuels her desire to want to return to the mat and persevere. Moreover, Messerely is deeply driven by her family’s unwavering support. They attend her meets and offer valuable guidance, especially during times her sugar levels are fluctuating. If Messerly is having a bad week of being able to maintain consistent levels, she can count on her father for reassurance, advice and a calming presence. She can also rely on her family to call her out when she isn’t acting like herself. Messelry said she’s more of a happy person and doesn’t get angry at all, but when she does, it’s because her levels are off.

“Whenever I would get an attitude my mom would tell me, ‘Get your levels checked. Something’s wrong,’” Messerly said. “And that’s just how it was, and they were always right.”

Messelry’s sugar levels can be easily triggered to drop low or skyrocket high at any moment. From worrying about a test, to practicing in a hot temperature or just being still can affect her levels. When it comes to practice, Messerly checks her levels at least 15 times to maintain a constant enough level for her to wrestle.

“With practice, I will have to step away and get my levels checked,” Messerly said. “When we get a short break, I will get it checked right away. I have to check myself non-stop. I just feel like all the time I am getting checked. I might have to sit out for a little while to get my levels all balanced out. Then I have to come in and do extra work because I missed some practice, which is okay because you learn to deal with it.”

Since being diagnosed, she’s had to rely on nutrition labels to make sure she doesn’t risk affecting her sugar levels. Over time, Messerly has relied on diets consisting of eggs, chicken and rice as she cuts weight during the season. She also relies on honey and hard pieces of candy during her matches to help keep her levels from dropping. Cutting weight isn’t easy on her body, it makes her even more tired than what she already is from being diabetic.

Olivia Messerly overcomes the daily challenges of having Type 1 diabetes, and she dominates the wrestling mats at CU. (Photo courtesy of CU Sports Information)

“It’s hard but you learn how to deal with it and just do it,” Messerly said.

Messerly is one of the 38 million people on this earth who have diabetes. One out of five people don’t know or haven’t been diagnosed as being diabetic. But, Messerly not only overcomes the daily challenges her chronic disease throws at her, she also dominates the wrestling mats at CU.

“Oliva brings a positive attitude and works very hard,” said Assistant Coach Kasey Kruczek. “She knows when she needs to take her breaks with her diabetes and overcomes that. In each match, she is proactive and always brings positive team vibes. She is always ready and has her bags near her during practice and at matches. On and off the mat, she is a wonderful kid, always works hard, a great student athlete and I am very proud of her.”

A key starter at 130 pounds for the women’s wrestling team, she has set ambitious goals for herself this year. Alongside excelling in her classes and maintaining eligibility, she aims to secure a spot at nationals and achieve All-American status in her weight class as a freshman. Reflecting on her decision to join CU, Messerly credits her head coach, Lee Miracle, for drawing her to the institution.

 “When we took our first visit here, it kinda just felt like home,” she said.

CU’s resemblance to a small country town back in Grant County struck a chord with her, influencing her decision to make  Campbellsville her wrestling home.

“She is a really good wrestler,” said her twin sister, Addison. “She just deals with her diabetes without complaining. She’s definitely a role model to me.”

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About the Contributor
Hailey Shank

Hailey Shank is a writer and photographer for The Campus Times. This is her second semester working for the student-led newspaper. She’s also worked one semester with 88.7 FM The Tiger.

Shank, who is from Indian River, Michigan, will be graduating in May as a fifth-year senior. She is double majoring in art and mass communication, with an emphasis in photojournalism. She’s attending Campbellsville University on a full ride athletic scholarship for cross country and track. She currently holds several school records, including the record for the fastest indoor 5K and 1K.

Shank also plays for an intramural volleyball team at CU, and is a member of Tuesday Night Live, a ministry of Campus Ministries.

Shank completed a journalism internship during the summer of 2023, working as a writer and photographer for the Monroe County Press in Michigan. She is currently completing an art internship as a social media assistant for the art program. In her free time, Shank manages her photography business and works on her art skills whenever she can.

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