Heart of a Lion

by | February 23, 2015, 10:00am 0

Most folk who wander this earth will get dealt a tough hand now and again. How we react to these difficult life events often defines who we are. Such is the case for Greg Cohen, who, at the tender age of 23, already has an AUDL title with the San Jose Spiders and a WUCC gold medal with Revolver under his belt. Anyone who knows Greg will tell you that the only thing bigger than his shoulders is his smile. True to his nature, Greg’s road to owning the skies of San Francisco is a compelling story.

During his high school years, Greg was a star baseball player out of University City High School in San Diego. He brought some steez to the baseball diamonds of Southern California. When college baseball called Greg’s name, his desire to play suddenly dwindled:

“I stopped playing baseball because I lost the love for the game and didn’t have anything left after my senior year of high school. I always viewed baseball as a very selfish sport; every player seems too invested in their batting average. I never truly felt I was part of a team when I played. There are times when I think about what could have been but then I realize how happy I am with my decision.”

Leaving Southern California behind, Greg found himself at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a university steeped in the traditions of ultimate. Joining the Slugs as a freshman in 2011, he waltzed onto an exceptional team led by soon-to-be Revolver stars Cassidy Rasmussen, Russell Wynne, and Devon Anderson. That year, the overwhelming joys of Kaimana and a thrilling win at Southwest Regionals on double game point were the moments that got Greg hooked on ultimate. Like many players who attend UCSC, Greg was blessed with having Bay Area Daryl Nounnan (Jam, Revolver) as a coach:

“Daryl was the best coach I ever had. I was lucky enough to have him coach me for 3 seasons. I was even luckier to be a captain on two of the teams he coached. Daryl was not only an unbelievable coach, but also an amazing role model. He always illustrated what it takes to be successful. He made ultimate very enjoyable, but also intense. Ask any Slug that had the pleasure of being coached by Daryl and I truly believe you will not hear one bad comment.”

The Slug support network that Greg acquired at UCSC proved to be invaluable to him as his path to glory wasn’t always a smooth one. In 8th grade, Greg discovered a serious health issue when he found himself losing weight, drinking excessive amounts of water and urinating twice an hour. His family assured him that these were signs of puberty, but at a routine doctors appointment he found out the truth:

“I will never forget the day I was diagnosed. The doctor came in the room and said there was a 95% chance I had Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes. My mom immediately burst into tears. I felt numb, I didn’t know what to think. I was rushed to Children’s Hospital. I was terrified of what could happen to me. The only person I remember having Diabetes was my dentist and he had both of his legs removed. I honestly thought the disease was a death sentence. I remember laying in the hospital bed all night crying and thinking, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ I was very scared. I realized my mortality in a sense. My life changed significantly.”

Since being diagnosed, Greg has had to monitor his blood glucose closely, take about five daily insulin shots, and carefully watch his food intake. During sporting activities his blood sugar can decrease, so he counteracts this with glucose. Managing ultimate can often be a difficult challenge, going through one to seven Gatorades a tournament depending on blood sugar levels and lowering insulin intake. Playing college ultimate and Revolver affected his blood sugar differently. Playing as many points as he could in college, Greg got accustomed to the amount of insulin and sugar he needed. When playing for Revolver’s faceless D line, his game time significantly lessened, forcing him to discover a new system. His life can feel like a constant balancing act at times, but with the right management he can keep control.

Greg Cohen making a tough grab for the Slugs under the leadership of coach Daryl Nounnan.

Greg learned to live and prosper with his ailment, showing the masses that you can have diabetes and still be a baller in the world of ultimate. Nevertheless, there are more than just physical repercussions of being diabetic. Most people would avoid dropping a diabetes joke to refrain from sounding inappropriate. However, you’ll often find less social taboos in the ultimate community and that many jokes are greeted with grinning faces. Everything can be funny between friends. Greg truly believes that it has been easier handling the disease because his teammates have teased him about it, even if the jokes have the potential to go too far.

“Honestly, I think it’s important that people joke about my diabetes with me. When I was diagnosed, I was insecure about how people would treat me. The fact that it became a joking matter made it easier to deal with. I remember the first time my Slugs buddy Alex Grande teased me about it. After he made the joke everyone was quiet and no one knew how to respond. I began to laugh and then the diabetes jokes began to roll in.”

Greg has found the silver lining in his diabetes because of the person it has made him. Before playing ultimate, he was overweight and unhealthy. The sport really improved Greg’s blood sugar numbers and he is hopeful that ultimate can do the same for fellow diabetics. He is looking forward to his second season in the AUDL and is gearing up for another round of intense Revolver tryouts. Expect to see Greg Cohen making plays at major tournaments across the country this year. He is fit, focused and full of Gatorade.

Greg’s Slug fan club cheered him on at his first San Jose Spiders game.

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