Simmons understanding the disease

<b>LATROBE -</b> It goes without saying that most NFL players have the feeling that they are 12-foot tall and bullet proof. <br><br> Of course, when you play a game as violent as football, you pretty much have to have that mentality just to get through the days.

But every once in a while, we're reminded that these modern day gladiators - as many players like to consider themselves - are human too.

So it is with Steelers guard Kendall Simmons, who has spent the past week dealing with his own mortality after being diagnosed with diabetes.

"It's something I've probably had for a while," Simmons said Saturday at the team's training camp at St. Vincent College. "I was losing a lot of weight, going to the bathroom entirely too much, every 10 or 15 minutes. I lost a lot of weight and I thought it was due to running and working out. But it was kind of coming off a little faster than it was supposed to."

So after returning to Pittsburgh in preparation for training camp, Simmons approached Steelers' trainer John Norwig with his problem. Norwig recognized the warning signs and immediately had Simmons go see team physician Dr. Tony Yates. Yates confirmed Norwig's initial fears after completing a blood test and checked Simmons into Montefiore Hospital, where he spent the next few days getting his blood sugar under control.

Simmons has Type-2 diabetes - more commonly known as adult onset diabetes - and will have to deal with it for the rest of his life. Untreated, the disease can damage blood vessels, organs and cause nerve damage.

"It was a shock to me, being a young guy," said the 24-year-old Simmons, who started 16 of 18 games last season at right guard after being the Steelers' top draft choice.

"I didn't really know it was in my family until my mom told me after I told her. She told me her sister and brother have it and my dad's got some people on his side too."

Like many people, Simmons did not understand that diabetes is something that can be treated through diet, exercise and occasional insulin shots when needed. He feared his career might be in jeopardy. I was (concerned) the first couple of days," Simmons said. "Then they told me some past Steelers players had it and made it through.

Jonathan Hayes had it and had a long career. That was kind of a bright light when they told me that. I'm going to deal with it and keep going." Hayes, now on Marvin Lewis' coaching staff with the Cincinnati Bengals, had a long career in the NFL, including three seasons with the Steelers, despite having diabetes. There have also been a number of notable stars in other sports, including NHL Hall of Fame player Bobby Clarke and Chicago Cubs' Ron Santo, who have played with the disease.

So after his initial shock, his glimpse at his own mortality, Simmons is ready to take the disease on and resume his promising career. He lost about 30 pounds because of his illness and though he has already put about 10 of that back on, he says he weighs about 307 pounds now. He feels he will be back on the practice fields with his teammates in about a week.

"It all depends. I'm going to go out tomorrow and do some lifting and work out, just to see what my blood sugar's going to do," Simmons said. "They say when you work out, it goes down, but when you eat, it goes back up. The exercise is probably going to be good for me. The faster I get back to moving around a little, the better."

The better not only for his body, but also for his psyche also.

Simmons will never be able to forget that he has diabetes. The daily pin pricks and possible insulin shots will assure that.

But he can live a normal lifestyle and continue to live out his dream of playing in the NFL.

Dale Lolley

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