MMA star living with diabetes inspires kids in Ottawa
A Canadian MMA star is in the capital this week to inspire young athletes living with diabetes.
Dessi Zaharieva is co-leading the off-ice education portion of a week-long program called ‘Dskate,’ where about 100 kids will receive training.
Zaharieva was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 7.
"I was a kid and I just had to grow up really quickly," said Zaharieva.
"It was one of the most difficult times for my family."
It was a struggle for the young girl, but not one too great to overcome. That same year Zaharieva enrolled in Taekwondo. She competed for 16 years, several of which she represented Team Canada at the world championships. In 2013, she won a bronze medal in sparring in Bulgaria.
"You do get doubted," said Zaharieva.
"You have to step on the sidelines and check blood sugar, and you don't have a choice in the matter."
The MMA star says it only motivated her to succeed.
"It definitely has inspired me," said Zaharieva.
"It pushed me, if anything."
Zaharieva is making an impact off the mat as well. She earned a PhD from York University, specializing in diabetes research.
"I really wanted to understand the challenges I was having with diabetes," said Zaharieva.
"I was clearly not the only one, if I was having these challenges, then so many other teens and adults were having these challenges."
For young athletes in the capital, the program teaches them perseverance while offering a safe space where kids feel like they belong.
"The first question I asked the doctor, was would I be able to play hockey again," said Jackob Macuwen.
"Sometimes you feel a little different, here, you're just one of the people."
"Just knowing how she persevered through her whole career, and then getting a PhD," said Ruby Pilatzke.
"She's a great inspiration."
Zaharieva says she wants other to be able to look up to her for support, which she didn't have, growing up with diabetes.
"It's not just a physical thing, it's not just an emotional thing" said Zaharieva.
"It's a 24-hour condition, you never shut off from diabetes."
Dskate Ottawa takes place this week from Aug 5. to Aug 9., at the Sensplex in Gloucestor.