But luckily for the Predators winger, he had a role model in his exact situation to look up to.
Despite being diagnosed with Type 1 early in his teenage years, the support of Crombeen and numerous others in his circle have enabled Kunin to enjoy plenty of hockey success. From five gold medals in international play to being an AHL All-Star and now a full-time NHL player, Kunin never let his diagnosis stop him from achieving his goals.
After entering the NHL with the Minnesota Wild, he became an ambassador for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). And now, he has pioneered his own initiative: the Luke Kunin T1D fund.
“It’s something I’ve been really working on for a while, really happy it’s finally kind of come to this point and it’s happening,” Kunin said. “Right now, we have kids with Type 1 diabetes and their families who are able to come to games and chat with them and just help any way I can. The whole point behind it is just to be able to see someone playing in the NHL, doing what they love at the highest level with Type 1 diabetes – anything’s possible.”
The money raised via the fund all goes towards JDRF’s research efforts into Type 1 diabetes, and the kind of impact it will undoubtedly have is something Kunin has long wanted to provide during his NHL career. By being face-to-face with kids and families in a similar situation, the Missouri native hopes to show that Type 1 doesn’t have to kill dreams.
“I think as far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to [do this],” Kunin said. “As I got older, especially in college, seeing people come up to you to talk to you, just seeing the looks on [kids] faces and really seeing how much it impacts [the parents] and how excited and thankful they are to do it, and for me, it’s such an easy thing to do. I’m so passionate about it.”
In addition to the money it will raise, Kunin himself hopes to be a resource via the fund. He knows better than most that each day with Type 1 is a bit different. His health regimens require a bit more attention than most NHL players, and he’s ready to pass that knowledge on to children who are just like him.
“There’s no exact science behind it, which is probably the hardest thing – every day is different. Every game is different. As you get older, through different periods of your life it’s always kind of changing,” Kunin said. “Obviously, I had a ton of help with my parents, brother, coaches, training staffs throughout the years – you need a team. You need a full group to help you out… I wouldn’t change a thing, and I think it’s made me who I am.”
Whether it’s providing parents advice on how to properly care for their Type 1 children in sports or simply giving a bit of moral support, the forward wants to be a visible presence for afflicted children and their families.
Case in point, just days ago – while the Preds were on the road – Kunin received a text from a diabetic child’s parent. The child was injured during hockey tryouts, and Kunin was able to step in and provide advice on how to help the child maintain proper blood sugar levels when nursing an injury. That’s the kind of resource he hopes to become.
“It’s great to just see the look on the kids’ faces and just talk to the kids,” Kunin said. “It’s just unbelievable to see and talk to the parents kind of how they handle it, having to give their kids shots… It’s fun for me to be the help and do that kind of thing. I love it. I love just being able to help out the kids because I was in that situation.”
After embracing support from Crombeen all those years ago, Kunin is ready to return the favor for a new generation of youth who won’t be stopped by Type 1 diabetes.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know if I’d be sitting here if I didn’t have a guy playing in the NHL that reached out… I can’t say enough good things about him just doing that one thing for me,” Kunin said. “Really made it kind of eye opening for me like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy’s doing it, I can do it, too.’ So, I was very fortunate and lucky to have that and always remembered that, and I just want to be there for kids and families and help in any way I can.”