Inspired by his little brother, BYU outfielder Kelton Caldwell doesn't let diabetes slow him down
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — Over a 10-day period, BYU outfielder Kelton Caldwell lost 15 pounds.
During that time in January 2013, he found himself sleeping fitfully. He’d wake up five or six times throughout the night to go to the bathroom, and he was constantly thirsty. He was also constantly hungry, because everything he ate would go directly into his bloodstream, then right through him.
“That’s why I lost all the weight,” Caldwell said, "because I was essentially starving myself for all that time."
Caldwell recognized the troubling signs, but he didn’t want to admit that it was happening to his body.
His younger brother, Kason, who is now 14, had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes — a lifelong disease in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood — when he was 3 years old. His grandmother had Type 1 diabetes, too.
Suddenly, diabetes was stalking him.
"It was kind of gradual. I didn’t notice anything right off the bat. It all kind of lined up. It had been going on for a month, maybe,” recalled the 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior from Draper. "My mom wanted to check my blood sugar, but I didn’t want to do that. I was in denial. I told myself, ‘This isn’t happening.’ But I kind of knew. I just didn’t want to find out."
Doctors confirmed what he feared, that he had Type 1 diabetes. That required Caldwell to make some changes in his life, including giving himself insulin shots every day and regularly testing his blood sugar — sometimes during games, when necessary.
Fortunately for Caldwell, he had someone close to him that could completely empathize.
“My brother had been going through it for 10-plus years,” said Caldwell, who is BYU’s starting right fielder. "It was hard for a little bit. But my brother came up to me and said, ‘It’s not that bad, dude.’ That kind of hit me because I was like, ‘You’re right. It’ll be all right.’ And it has. It seemed pretty overwhelming at the time, especially because I don’t like needles. I can poke myself in the arm, but going to get my blood taken, I still can’t look at it. It all fell back on my brother. I knew I couldn’t be a baby about this. My brother hasn’t been."
When Caldwell was diagnosed, it was just weeks before the 2013 season. He played that year — hitting .277 — but he acknowledges it took some time to adjust to his condition.
But this year, as a senior, Caldwell is much more comfortable.
"It hasn’t been that big of a deal, honestly," he said. “I’ve been able to adjust pretty well."
In his final season as a Cougar, Caldwell is enjoying a stellar campaign. He leads the team with five home runs and four game-winning RBIs. He belted two-run homers against Texas Tech and San Diego, and he tied a school record with two triples in one game in the Cougars’ 20-3 victory over Utah. He’s started all 41 games for BYU and is hitting .305.
"Kelton’s just a solid, steady guy," said coach Mike Littlewood. "He’s the one guy that started off the season on fire at the plate. We had eight guys that weren’t hitting. He went into a bit of a lull for a couple of weeks. You almost expect him to hit the ball in the gap every time he’s up. He’s a guy that we send out there and he does his job in a blue-collar way. He’s a steadying influence in our lineup."
Caldwell’s coaches and teammates are, of course, aware of his diabetes, and they’ve supported him through it.
"Last year there were a lot of guys that reached out to me, including guys that I don’t hang out with off the field," he said. "I think that helped us with our season last year. Everyone was pulling for each other and backing each other. They were good to me. I tried to act like it wasn’t that big of a deal. I didn’t want all the attention."
"You never see Kelton without his backpack because he’s always carrying his stuff (for his diabetes),” Littlewood said. “We make fun of him once in a while because of that. It’s like a little kid with his lunchbox. You’d never know that he’s diabetic unless you asked him. He doesn’t complain about it. He just deals with it.”
These days, dealing with diabetes has simply become part of his daily routine.
"It’s pretty normal. It took probably two months or so before I figured it out. Right after, I was always calling my mom (Darla), asking what to do next because she helped my brother through it. She walked me through the basics. That really helped. Whenever I eat, I match up carbs, and shot at night before I go to bed. I check my blood sugar whenever I feel the need to. It’s usually two to three times a day. Not always during games, but before I do. If it’s set for a couple of hours before the game, it will usually stay that way the whole night.”
Littlewood remembers when Caldwell’s health began to falter prior to the 2013 season.
“I know he lost a bunch of weight. He always gave everything he had, but he looked lethargic,” he said. “When he finally figured it out, he didn’t complain about it. He kind of managed it. It took awhile, months and months, for him to figure out how to regulate it. I don’t remember a day that he missed because he didn’t feel good. He handled it fairly well.”
For his part, Littlewood takes a “hands-off” approach with Caldwell, letting the training staff monitor the situation.
“They’re on top of it. Without those guys, I’d definitely be worried about it,” he said. “I let those guys take care of it. I talk to our head trainer about it to find out how he is. We haven’t talked much about it this year. He has a good handle on it.”
Caldwell has encouraging words for others, including athletes, battling diabetes.
"I’d tell them to just to keep going. I’d tell them exactly what my brother told me. It’s really not that bad. At first, it’s like, ‘Now what?’ It hasn’t been a big deal. It’s been figuring out how my body reacts to the insulin. It was tough. But I made it. It could be worse. I tell myself that all the time."
In the last inning of last Friday's game against Loyola Marymount, 14-year-old Kason, who plays basketball and football, stood behind the fence in right field at Miller Park, cheering on his brother.
As always, Kason has Kelton’s back.
“He’s way tougher than I am,” Kelton said. “He’ll tell you that, too.”
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