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Julia Leszko - United States Women's EPEE Fencing Champion

Julia Leszko was only seven years old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, but she remembers it well.
"I was with my family at a water park. I had to go to the bathroom all day long, and no amount of water would satisfy my thirst. My parents took me to the next day, and I spent about a week in the hospital getting my blood sugar stabilized."

Having diabetess didn´t stop Julia from being very active in sports. "I played softball when I was ten, volleyball and basketball in high school, and I ran a lot when I went to the University" Julia says. But it wasn´t until her last year at Ohio State University that she took two classes in fencing, and found the sport in which she was really destined to excel.

Julia fenced women´s epee for the OSU varsity team in 1993, the first year they had women´s epee (as a exhibition sport) in the NCAA. After graduating with her degree in Pharmacy, she moved to Washington DC, where she worked as a pharmacist in community pharmacies, lon-term care, and recently as a drug information writer for the US Pharmacopeia, while she fenced at the DC Fencer´s Club. Finaly she moved to Portland, Oregon to train at the Northwest Fencing Center with Michael Marx, who she considers to be the best epee coach in the US. The Northwest Fencing Center´s training program focuses on developing athletes for Olympic level competition. She also practices Yoga and meditation. Last year her hard work paid off with a win at the US National Fencing Championships. She also competed last year for the US National Fencing Team at the Fencing World Championships in Nimes, France and is currently rank first in the US.

Julia´s goals are to qualify and medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004. But it won´t be easy even to qualify for the Olimpics. Only four women will qualify as individuals fro North and South América combiend, based on their international point standings.

Will she make it? She has a chance. Last year at Grand Prix World Cup in Germany, she wound up facing the #2 ranked woman in the world. "I tied the match in the last ten seconds", Julia says. "then I lost in overtime. Of course, I would have preferred to win. But to come that close with one of the best fencers in the world gave me a lot of confidence."

Julia´s parents inmigrated to this country from Hungary. She was raised in Cleveland, where there is a substantial Hungarian population, and she speaks the language. She frequently competes in Hungary, wich has been a strong fencing country for many years, and she gets to see relatives when she´s there. She also has a second cousin on the Hungarian National Fencing Team.

Julia was on multiple daily injections until two-and-a-half years ago when she started using an insulin pump, and she´s very enthusiastic about it. "the pump doubled my quality of life," Julia . "Both for my athletic life and my work and social life. I travel to competitions all over the world. It´s great not having to adjust the time of injections and when you´re suposed to eat. It used to take me a week to get adjusted for a meet in Europe when I was on injections. Now it takes just long enough to get over the jet lag, which is about two days. The pump makes changes much quicker."

Julia´s advice for someone newly diagnosed with diabetes? "The sooner you get on top of it, the better. There are a lot of variables involved to gain control but being prepared for changes is very important. Be prepared and flexible to possible changes that may occur."

She also recommends that people learn all they can about diabetes. In fact, wanting to know all she could was one of the reasons she choose pharmacy as a career. Julias says. "I want to know what´s going on with my health status. When I was in high school I remember my Mom came home from the pharmacy with a prescription, and she didn´t know what it was or why she was taking it. I was flabbergasted! Now, as a working pharmacist, I always ask my patients what they know about the drug they´re getting and why they´re taking it. I like the teaching component of my job."
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