By Cosy Burnett
Cosy Burnett is a junior outside and opposite hitter at La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.) who also plays for Coast Volleyball Club in San Diego, Calif. Her high school team competed in the state finals for Division II last season and she has competed at nationals five times with her club teams. In the latest installment of her blog, she features a rookie sensation who is also managing diabetes.
This is my second blog on an amazing rookie athlete who turned into an elite volleyball player in just a year.
I remember playing on the other side of the net of Ashten Gooden-Smith at the MLK Tournament in January. Her athleticism and power were astounding. It was fun and hard to play against her. She is a huge outside with a strong block, big hops and even bigger kills. I was surprised that I had never seen her before because she was such a boss. Lucky for my team, we have played Club West 17-1s multiple times during our season and they have always been fun, high-intensity matches.
During one tournament, my fearlessly friendly mother introduced herself to Ashten, then waved me over. I was shocked that she was only a sophomore at Los Osos (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) and had been playing for just a year. Because of this incredible achievement, I just had to do a blog, but then while I was interviewing her, I found out something even more inspiring about Ashten. She has excelled and accomplished this feat while managing Type 1 diabetes.
Meet Ashten Gooden-Smith.
Cosy: What position do you play?
Ashten: I play outside hitter on Club West 17 National.
Cosy: When did you start playing competitive volleyball and how long after did you get your first college offer?
Ashten: This is my second year playing competitive volleyball. My first year, I played with a smaller team because I am a Type 1 diabetic, so it was more of a health sort of thing. I realized that I could handle diabetes at a higher level of play, and that’s how I ended up at Club West. I got my first college offer when I got to Club West at the beginning of this year thanks to coaches Aaron Flores, Eli Cuenca, Kurt Vlasich, and Morgan Coberly.
Cosy: When were you diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and what has been the biggest challenge?
Ashten: I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 7. My biggest challenge with diabetes would have to be managing my blood-sugar levels, especially during games. Usually before games my blood-sugars would be in normal range, but once I start playing my blood-sugar goes up because of adrenaline and a little nerves. Once my blood-sugar went up to the 400 range, which is really dangerous because my levels are supposed to stay between 70 and 150. Managing my blood-sugars is a real stress.
Cosy: Did you believe you could compete at a high level with diabetes and what do you do differently in managing it as an elite athlete?
Ashten: Yes I believed I could I could perform at a high level with diabetes. Even when I first was diagnosed, I still performed at a high level when it came to sports. Ultimately, I believe that playing at a high level is actually saving my life because it keeps my body strong and healthy at a young age. I need to be more careful in managing diabetes as a high-level athlete. In the morning I have to take a shot, which gives me my long-lasting insulin. Then before I eat breakfast, I prick my finger and check my blood-sugar and put my blood-sugar number and carbs I am consuming at the time into my insulin pump. Throughout the day I have to stay hydrated (especially game days) and check my blood-sugars during timeouts. I always have my insulin shot on the sidelines just in case my blood-sugar is too high. Yeah, it’s a lot of things I have to do; but whatever allows me to play and be healthy, I will do it.
Cosy: What would you tell other diabetics who want to compete at a high level?
Ashten: I would tell athletes with diabetes to never give up. And when you are having a hard time with diabetes, tell someone. Sometimes when I'm playing, I start to shake, which means my blood-sugar is dropping, and that feeling is the worst. I feel that sometimes I am letting my team down because of how my body is reacting to my blood-sugars, and that really makes me feel bad, and then I start debating if I should let someone know or not. But then I think, ‘Is this game really more important than my life?’ So I let someone know. I am not going to lie, diabetes and sports is the hardest thing to balance, but it’s definitely not impossible. Don't let diabetes be an excuse for not doing something you love.
Cosy: What came easiest and hardest for you when learning this game?
Ashten: Well, the jumping aspect of the game came easiest to me, if that makes sense. The hardest thing that I dealt with -- and still deal with -- is my arm swing. I just can’t quite get it yet, but once I get that down the whole game is going to change in my favor!
Cosy: Who is the most influential person who believed in you and helped you get where you are?
Ashten: There wasn’t just one main person who influenced me. My whole family influenced me to be where I am today. My mom, dad and brothers supported me from Day One. When I first started volleyball, I (stunk). My parents and my brother Anthony kept me mentally strong, while my brother Jordan (who plays basketball, by the way) taught me the basics of volleyball. Without them, I would be nowhere close to where I am right now.
Cosy: What is your favorite thing about the game?
Ashten: Winning and seeing the ball hit the ground on the opponent’s side! It’s so much fun getting kills from left to right.
Cosy: Where do you want to play for college? Already committed?
Ashten: I already committed to Cal Berkeley just a couple of weeks ago! Go Bears!
Read the previous installment of this series in Cosy's blog – on Breanna Barksdale – here.