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Bobby & Jens: Phil Southerland of Team Type 1

The founder of Team Novo Nordisk talks about exciting developments in glucose monitoring for endurance athletes.

“If it weren’t for the bike, I wouldn’t be alive right now.”

So says racer, entrepreneur, and diabetes ambassador Phil Southerland, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at seven months old. At the time, it was the youngest diagnosis ever recorded, and doctors predicted Southerland would be blind, dead, or both by age 25. Fortunately, Southerland’s parents assembled a crackerjack medical team that developed an insulin regime that he’s still molding and following—to the tune of 7 to 10 shots per day.

But his childhood discovery of cycling is what Southerland credits as the true game-changer. In this week’s episode of our “Bobby & Jens” podcast, he shares the story—how laps on the bike helped him control his insulin levels, how it gave him hope, and how the lifting of that death sentence gave him a purpose that’s defined his incredibly successful career.

Today’s conversation with co-hosts Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt takes listeners back to the origin story of Team Type 1, the world’s first cycling team composed entirely of diabetic athletes. Southerland recalls the moment the idea came to him—on a 500-kilometer ride home from college (he didn’t own a car)—and how challenging it was to raise funds to finance a RAAM effort for an initial team of eight cyclists.

He also remembers the skeptics and the very real challenges of managing blood sugar levels through epic days of racing. “We were going full gas for eight hours a day,” he says, “and we would’ve died” if not for the prototype continuous glucose monitors provided by Abbott Laboratories.

Southerland’s crew went on to win RAAM, of course, and set a world record, which launched Team Type 1 into the Continental and later the Pro Continental ranks. And today, it continues to be a large and successful team, nurturing talent such as Olympic hopeful and track sensation Mandy Marquardt while also leveraging its platform to educate the world about diabetes.

Fast-forward to 2021, and Southerland continues to innovate. His latest project is Supersapiens, an app that connects via Bluetooth to Abbott’s Libre Sense Biosensor to give endurance athletes a rich new vein of performance data. The sensor feeds blood glucose levels to the app, showing users a real-time graph they can use to analyze and understand energy fluctuations. It’s a beautiful example, he tells Bobby and Jens, of leveraging technology built for diabetics to benefit athletic performance for cyclists, triathletes, and runners. Eventually, he sees applications for a much broader audience, noting the potential health benefits for the 89 million Americans who currently classify as pre-diabetic.

More good reading:

Today’s episode also features analysis of a busy week of racing on the Pro Tour as riders prepare for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, plus the winner of this week’s “Shut Up, Legs!” winner (and your chance to vote on next week’s contenders).

“Bobby & Jens” is a weekly podcast from VeloNews starring former pros Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt, and featuring conversations with top athletes, coaches, emerging stars, and other newsmakers from the wide world of cycling. A new episode drops every Friday. Subscribe now wherever you get your podcasts.

Send your questions and “Shut Up, Legs!” votes to BobbyandJens@VeloNews.com or @bobbyandjens.