Lukas Rhodes remembers coming home from the hospital, walking straight up to his room and closing his door.
His world had just been turned upside down.
“I didn’t want to talk to anybody,” Lukas said. “I just wanted to sulk all day.”
Lukas’ father, Joshua Rhodes, went upstairs to speak with his son shortly after. It’s a conversation, three years later, that Lukas still carries with him.
One month before the start of his freshman basketball season at Mechanicsburg High School, in September 2018, 14-year-old Lukas Rhodes was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a disease in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin.
“My dad came upstairs into my room and said, ‘Lukas, I’m going to give you one hour right now. I’m going to let you sigh, I’m going to let you sulk, I’m going to let you feel sorry for yourself.’ He said, ‘After this hour, you’re going to come out of that room, and you’re going to kick diabetes’ butt. You’re going to never let it stop you from succeeding, and you’re going to do everything that a normal human would without diabetes,’” Lukas said, recalling the conversation.
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“That has always stuck with me, and when he said that, I’ve always kept it in the back of my mind.”
Three years and three months following his diagnosis, on the first day of the 35th Annual Carlisle Classic Tournament, Lukas stepped on the court to open his senior season, continuing to prove to himself, his family, his teammates and his peers that the life-changing diagnosis had not stopped him from attaining his goals and dreams.
In the months leading up to his 2018 diagnosis, Lukas said he couldn’t get through a class period without having to use the restroom, was consistently thirsty, felt lethargic and began to lose a significant amount of weight. The symptoms also affected his play on the basketball court. He felt he wasn’t seeing the results he expected from the work he was putting in.
Lukas said he didn’t think much of the abnormal symptoms at first, but worry started to set in during a Friday night sleepover with some of his teammates. Playing video games at his friend’s house, the group turned to Lukas and asked if he was OK. He had drank eight bottles of water and made roughly 12 trips to the bathroom without even noticing.
That same night, as he was trying to fall asleep, his entire body became riddled with cramps. He said a sharp, stinging pain followed any movement he made in bed.
“Something started to really click in my brain that something really was wrong. … It was a terrible feeling of me sitting in bed not knowing what’s going on,” Lukas said, “and what was happening to my body.”
The Rhodeses decided to wait things out to see if Lukas’ symptoms would subside. But a week later, before Lukas scurried out of the house to attend a Friday night home football game, Joshua had Lukas take a blood sugar test, which yielded a high result. Lukas’ mom, Kristine Rhodes, was driving him to meet his friends before the game when Joshua called Lukas on his cellphone and said he needed to come home immediately.
They took Lukas to the hospital where he was attached to wires and fluids in an attempt to bring his blood sugar levels down. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“At that moment, it felt like my world had collapsed,” Lukas said. “I started crying. I didn’t know what to say, my father and my mother, tears in their eyes, and at that moment, nothing was going through my mind other than my life is done. My world is done.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lukas’ diagnosis came at the peak age (around 13 or 14 years old). And in a 2018 study done by the University of Iowa, published in the British Medical Journal, 5.6% of those diagnosed with diabetes fall under the Type 1 category, in which the person’s body fails to produce insulin, while 91.6% are diagnosed with Type 2, in which the body resists the use of insulin.
“My thought was Lukas’ life had just changed for the rest of his life,” Joshua, a physician himself, said on a call alongside Kristine last Monday. “We were scared, I think at first, because we feared for our son’s health and our son’s longevity in life and happiness.”
Changes on and off the court
For the last three years, diabetes has steered Lukas to maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. Throughout his day, he actively tracks his intake of carbohydrates, and if he can, works out twice a day. From the moment he wakes up, he readily checks his phone to monitor his blood sugar glucose levels on his phone, which is linked to a continuous Dexcom G6 glucose monitor that’s on the lower portion of his back, alerting him — and his family’s phones — of his blood sugar levels.
If Lukas’ blood sugar levels spike, he administers the proper dosage of insulin to regulate them. If his levels dip, he knows to eat either more carbs or sugars to return to the targeted level. The Dexcom provides the convenience of having to forgo finger prick tests and gives his family the ability to monitor his blood sugar levels remotely.
Lukas said he continues to learn more about diabetes and himself every day. There’s not a minute that he isn’t aware of his blood sugar levels.
Type 1 diabetes takes no time off.
“Some of the positives have definitely been I’ve learned a lot about my body and about being healthy,” Lukas said. “I live a much healthier lifestyle from diabetes, I see it a lot better now, and I’m way more active than I ever was before.”
Basketball also opened other windows of education for Lukas in terms of his diagnosis. Before, Lukas said he never truly took into consideration the complications of pushing himself too hard on the court. With having to take his diagnosis into account, Lukas said he now knows his limits.
From the stands, Joshua and Kristine can monitor Lukas’ blood sugar levels as he sprints up and down the court. For the last three seasons, then-assistant coach and now first-year skipper Kevin Rutherford communicated with Lukas’ parents from the sidelines. If Lukas’ levels began to drop, Rutherford would know when Lukas needed a break.
Lukas said he typically eats a protein or granola bar prior to each game as well, so he has an added amount of sugar in his body to help him get through each game.
“My whole life, I’ve never liked sitting out during games or during a practice,” Lukas said. “I always want to be out there playing, and sometimes you can’t do that with diabetes. If your blood sugar does go too low, you have to recognize that. So, sometimes seeing your friends out there playing and having a good time, and knowing that you can’t be out there playing right now because of diabetes, is a little hard.”
Basketball is an escape
The one constant that’s remained for Lukas since his diagnosis is his love and passion for basketball. If anything, his drive and passion have grown stronger.
Stepping on a basketball court, whether at home, during practice or in any gymnasium across the Midstate, Lukas said, gives him a place where he can erase any thought about diabetes and the challenges it has presented him.
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Lukas began playing basketball in kindergarten on a minihoop at home. The sport quickly became a hallmark of his life, and he aims to compete at the collegiate level.
“Basketball season started right after I was diagnosed with diabetes,” Lukas said, “and it really helped me take my mind off of my diagnosis. And being able to play varsity as a freshman really helped me to boost my confidence. … It really opened my eyes that, ‘Hey, I can do anything I put my mind to, whether or not diabetes stands in the way.’”
He’s stored that confidence his entire prep career. Lukas played a reserve role his freshman season. As a sophomore, he cracked the starting five and has been one of the most reliable scorers in the Wildcats’ lineup, if not in the entire Mid-Penn Conference, over the last two seasons. He capped his sophomore campaign averaging 15.2 points per game, bolstering that average to 16 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest as a junior.
Tipping off his senior season with Mechanicsburg Friday against Carlisle, Lukas shook off a rusty seven-point first half and nearly quadrupled his scoring output in the second, bucketing 27 points. Saturday, facing Freire Charter in the consolation game, Lukas nearly matched his Game 1 performance, leading all scorers with 31 points. He was the Sentinel-area’s top scorer through opening weekend.
While basketball provides Lukas the mental escape from diabetes, the physical exercise from the sport also helps him in his battle.
“He attacks every day with an energy unlike any other,” Rutherford said, “and is always coming to practice with upbeat attitude, ready to work. He doesn’t let his diabetes get in his way. He continues to amaze me.”
Lukas credits his family, friends, teammates, coaches and many others for helping him overcome diabetes. He said the last three years, they’ve been by his side for the ups and downs, the tears and happiness, supporting him every step of the way.
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Others see it differently. They’re the ones thanking Lukas.
Rutherford, someone who’s shown Lukas the ropes of high school basketball, said the impact Lukas has had on his life extends beyond the Xs and Os of basketball.
“Lukas has taught me you can be anyone regardless of your restrictions,” Rutherford said. “You can be who you want to be. You can set high goals and achieve those high goals. He showed me, life is difficult, but you can be a success.”
For Lukas’ parents, Joshua and Kristine, seeing their son’s journey firsthand and the obstacles he’s hurdled opened their eyes even more to the inspirational young man Lukas has become.
Lukas is their hero, they said.
“He taught me when life throws you a big curveball, you grieve momentarily, you pick yourself up, you move forward, never look back, never let it define and you push toward your goals,” Kristine said.
“The other thing Lukas has taught us,” Joshua said, “is that family is everything. We helped Lukas make it through as a family. Type 1 diabetes is a family disease. Every single person in the family is affected, and the stronger you are as a family, the more you’re able to deal with this horrible disease. To be honest, the biggest thing Lukas taught me is just because you’re a young adult in high school, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be the strongest person that some people have ever met in their lives. And Lukas is that person.”
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Lukas said he also inspires and surprises himself on a daily basis. When he was first diagnosed, he didn’t want anyone to know about his condition. But now, he takes pride in sharing his story and educating those around him about diabetes in hopes that he can inspire others who may be fighting the same battle.
“I hope my story’s going to open the eyes of young people,” Lukas said, “to see that diabetes doesn’t stop you from doing anything. Diabetes is just a diagnosis that you receive, and it doesn’t predict your future.”
Three years and three months ago, Lukas walked up to his room, closed his door, thinking that his entire world had just collapsed around him, that his life was over.
Moments later, Joshua walked up to his son’s room, allotted him one hour to grieve, before saying, “you’re going to come out of that room, and you’re going to kick diabetes’ butt.”
HS Boys Basketball Photos: Carlisle defeats Mechanicsburg in Carlisle Classic Tournament
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Christian Eby is a sports reporter for The Sentinel and cumberlink.com. You can contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at: @eby_sports