Editor's Note: This article is reprinted with permission from Beyond Type 2, as part of our continued alliance.
Written by T'ara Smith, MS, Nutrition Education
The mindset of a wrestler has parallels to the mindset a person with type 2 diabetes must have in order to learn how to manage it successfully. Just ask Dennis Turner, also known as Dirty Dan Denton, a former professional wrestler.
“I found out I had type 2 diabetes by accident,” said Dan. “I had no symptoms and had a lot of energy. I had a check-up with a doctor who told me I had diabetes. I said it could’ve been worse and decided to do something about it.”
It helps that he’s no stranger to diabetes. Dan’s grandmother had diabetes, though he’s not sure if it was type 1 or type 2. Watching his grandmother take insulin made it easy to adjust to taking insulin shots, specifically Humulin 70/30 and long-acting insulin.
True Life Diabetes Superhero
Now, he’s leading the charge with Diabetes Army, a website and podcast he started to share his story with Type 2 diabetes and inspire others to “win the war” against diabetes. As a diabetes advocate, he takes pride in the skills he learned as a wrestler to help him and others live with type 2.
“I was always the bad guy in wrestling,” said Dan. “I was the big talker — the big loud guy people paid to see be a heel. I think that serves me now when I defend others with type 2 diabetes.”
During his wrestling days, he used to partner in Mexico with James Arthur Harris, also known by his ring name, Kamala, from the WWE. After both wrestlers retired, Dan watched his partner struggle with managing type 2 diabetes years later, including having both of his legs below the knee amputated.
Sadly, Kamala contracted COVID-19, experienced diabetes-related complications due to the virus, and passed in early August from cardiac arrest.
In an Instagram post, Dan paid tribute to his friend:
“The first time I met him, he had a private dressing room. I asked him why and he said the guys were afraid of him, then he giggled like a little kid. This man was loved. Although he was billed as the Ugandan Giant, he was such a great guy.”
Since Kamala’s passing, another friend of Dan’s, a former Canadian wrestling referee, recently had his legs amputated due to diabetes-related complications.
The former Canadian Heavyweight Champion says he gets plenty of messages from people with Type 2 diabetes who feel they are ready to give up successfully managing the disease.
“The number of people I’ve walked off the ledge is incredible,” said Dan. “People call me an inspiration. If I can change one person, this is all worth it. I’ve already lived a charmed life performing as a wrestler. I’ve been lucky and it’s time to give back.”
If you listen to the Diabetes Army Rebuild podcast, you’ll hear Dan gives his audience straight advice on conquering diabetes. For example, in his episode about motivation to jumpstart your wellness journey, he tells the audience they need to set small goals and take the small steps.
“You have to make this the most important thing in your life,” said Dan on his podcast. “You have got to want to live a long, fun life. Once you start seeing results, it will be fun and you will love it, but take that first step. It will be worth it.”
How does Dan motivate himself each day? He makes a decision on if he’s going to have a good day or a bad day.
“I’ve had some great mentors who’ve faced adversity and can only control the controllables,” said Dan. “I have to live in the moment and knock each problem down one by one. You can win the game, even if you lost the previous quarter.”
Dan started eating a keto diet in early May. Prior to COVID-19, Dan had been doing well with managing his workouts at the gym with his busy work schedule. However, due to the pandemic, his gym closed to comply with shelter-in-place orders.
Without the gym, he watched his weight increase. After seeing different people on Instagram find success with keto and doing some research on his own, he decided it was time to give it a shot himself. At the time, he didn’t know what to expect but thought he’d drop a couple of pounds due to water weight.
Dan’s overall weight loss goal? To lose 100 pounds and improve his A1C.
As of September, about three months since starting this new chapter in his wellness journey, Dan lost over 50 pounds and dropped his A1C from 7% to 5.8%.
Bottom Line: No Shame
While he may not be in the ring anymore, the former Canadian Heavyweight Champion helps managers overcome their challenges by helping them fix their businesses. One of the first things he tells people is that he lives with type 2 diabetes. In the event Dan meets another with type 2, he explains there’s no shame in living with the disease and understands how diabetes can impact one’s work performance.
Still, Dan wants to continue to make a positive impact on people with diabetes. When the pandemic is over, he wants to talk to young people about diabetes, health, and wellness. He wants to go into inner cities, especially at schools, to talk about making the right life choices while one is still young.
Until then, Dan is continuing to raise awareness about type 2 diabetes on his podcast, website, and Instagram and help people with type 2 win their personal wars with diabetes.
Get in touch with Dan on social media @diabetesarmy and the Diabetes Army Wellness Newsletter.