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Jaguars' Collin Johnson, fiancee tackle Type 1 Diabetes head-on

Rookie wide receiver will honor those impacted by Type 1 Diabetes for "My Cause, My Cleats" week

The story of Jaguars rookie Collin Johnson and Sara Machado reads like a football fairy tale.

The two met in seventh grade, both attending Valley Christian School in San Jose, California; they began dating their senior year. Sara's father, Mike, is the Dean of Students at Valley Christian, as well as the head football coach -- Collin's high school coach. 

"If you ever got in trouble, you had to go talk to him. So I never wanted to get in trouble," Collin laughed this week.

The pair headed to Austin, Texas for college, Collin at the University of Texas and Sara at St. Edward's University. She played softball; he became a captain of the Longhorns' football team before being drafted in the fifth-round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Jaguars in April. They were engaged shortly thereafter. 

But all the while: Sara has managed Type 1 Diabetes. She's been diabetic since she was 10-years old. 

"I didn't know that she had Type 1 Diabetes until [five months after] we started dating. That's how low key she kept it, and I don't know how she did it," Collin explained. "But she just takes it like a champ."

Needles, finger pricks, glucose readings -- Sara was doing it all by herself before she was a teenager. She credits her dad, also a Type 1 Diabetic, for being her support system throughout her T1D journey. Make no mistake about it though: Machado was not going to use T1D as an excuse.

“I kinda took it like a champ. I wasn’t really afraid," she said, noting that only her tight circle of girl-friends knew about her condition. "Not many people would know [it] because I would go to the bathroom and do my insulin shots. I wouldn't just do it publicly."

So it went all through middle and high school. 

"To be honest, I used to think T1D was just no big deal until I started doing my own research about it. And like really digging in and asking her details about it. And then I learned: this is actually something that's pretty tough to deal with," Collin said. "She's like, 'oh, it's no big deal.'"

But even Sara admits: as self-sufficient as she has always been, her freshman year at St. Edward's University, more than a thousand miles away from home, was a struggle.

"That was honestly probably the most difficult time for me, because, with Type One Diabetes, I wasn't able to get my medication in Texas," she said. Sara would have to stock up on medication to bring back to Austin while home in California on breaks. 

"The first year probably was the hardest. I had kind of a rough patch with my diabetes a little bit... It was hard on my parents because they were going crazy, calling me every hour."

Yet it was during that same period of struggle that Sara began to reflect on her almost decade-long diagnosis -- and began to change her approach.

"Sometimes I do look back [at my youth], and I wish that I spoke [up] more, but I think it was because I was so alone. There was no one in my school that had Type 1 Diabetes. There was one girl that lived 30 minutes away that I knew had it, and my dad. That's it."

"I would miss out on certain things, or my blood sugar would skyrocket because I was afraid to leave at certain times to go take insulin."

That self-reflection gave way to a new-found confidence. Type 1 Diabetes was no longer an obstacle for Sara: it was an opportunity.

"Once I got over that hump of just being mad about having it, I [began to realize] that it's a blessing in a way. Because you're able to actually help other people who don't have this platform."

Credit: Sara Machado
Sara wearing her Dexcom Glucose Monitor.

Post-college and softball career, that's exactly what Sara has done. She's become a DexCom Warrior, interacting with young girls and boys learning to live with their Type 1 Diabetes. Instead of pricking, Sara now wears a Dexcom CGM monitor herself on her stomach. 

And, of course, Collin has been eager to help Sara in finding her voice and spreading awareness for T1D. 

(This story is good enough to be a fairy-tale, remember?)

"He saw me have my bad diabetes days," Sara said of their college years in Texas. "Middle of the night sometimes, I'd make him go get me like a glass of orange juice, because I was really low [on sugar]. Because I didn't have the energy to get up. Or during a game, I'd asked him to go grab food and bring it to me during my game.

"He was my rock for me."

More than just sporting special-made cleats for "My Cause, My Cleats" Week in the NFL (honoring JDRF), Collin's biggest goal is to educate others about diabetes. After all, it was only through his own research that Collin came to find just how serious this condition can be. 

"You kind of hear diabetes jokes all the time. Like, 'don't eat that! It's too much sugar! You're gonna get diabetes!' You know, stuff like that," he said. "A lot of times, [diagnosis] happens when you're younger, and you have no control. Your pancreas stops producing insulin. And you have to manually give yourself insulin -- whereas Type 2 is sometimes when you eat too much sugar over a long period of time, or what have you. So, just educate yourself on the difference."

Sara and Collin hope to build off their preliminary steps into the philanthropic world and one day start a non-profit for Type 1 Diabetes education and research, ultimately searching for a cure. 

Until then, they continue to embrace each day on both their journey's.

"I make him give me some shots sometimes," Sara smiled mid-interview.

"I just [don't] like putting a needle in my fiancee, you know? 'Cause I don't want to hurt her!" Collin responded with a laugh.

"She's definitely made me a champ, too."

(I told you this was a fairy tale)

Credit: Sara Machado
Collin and Sara Engagement (June 25th, 2020)

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To learn more about Type 1 Diabetes, visit JDRF's website.