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Olympic swimmer defies odds against diabetes

By Kat Carney
CNN Headline News

Gary Hall Jr.
Gary Hall Jr. won two gold medals in the 2000 Olympics after being diagnosed with diabetes.

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(CNN) -- Champion swimmer Gary Hall Jr will forever have fond memories of winning medals in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

When I caught up with him in New York, he told me about another day he'll never forget. It's the day he was diagnosed with diabetes.

"I remember I was sitting down and I wanted to fall down, and the first question that came out of my mouth was, 'How is this going to affect my swimming?'"

Hall's first exposure to swimming at the elite level came at an early age. His father was an Olympian.

"He actually carried me around the pool -- I was about 2 years old -- in the '76 games, after winning a bronze medal."

Hall began competitive swimming when he was 13. By the time he was in college, thanks to performances in several key races, it became clear he was going to the 1996 Olympics, where he would be part of the team that eventually brought home the gold.

"After some time off after '96, I decided to get back in and start training for the 2000 Olympics that were going to be held in Sydney."

That would be easier said than done. In 1999, Hall was dealt a devastating blow. "One day I collapsed and the next day I was diagnosed with diabetes. It was a shock because I had considered myself a very healthy person, you know, [I] ate right and exercised. "

Hall said there were there symptoms leading up to his diagnosis. "I was thirsty all the time, I was urinating frequently and I had blurred vision."

According to the American Diabetes Association, almost 17 million Americans have diabetes. The complications associated with diabetes can include heart problems, kidney disease and blindness.

Hall's doctor also had bad news about his swimming career. "He said it doesn't look good. In order to compete and do the training that is necessary, I don't think it can be done."

Gary Hall Jr.

But Hall wasn't ready to call it quits. After consulting with several other medical experts, Hall says he was cleared to swim again, as long as he was diligent about his insulin injections and blood sugar testing.

"I was just so thrilled to be back and to not let diabetes stop me from pursuing my dream." Hall's dream came true as he went on to win two gold medals in the 2000 Olympics.

Since then, Hall has become an advocate for diabetes awareness and is also a paid spokesman for a company that manufactures diabetes-testing products.

"I realize now that I'm not gonna let diabetes stop me. I'm not gonna let diabetes stand between myself and my dream."

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