CRANFORD, NJ – Kelliann Keogh has dreams of going to Yale University, visiting Australia and either becoming a lawyer or a language arts teacher. After meeting with her, it’s clear that she will most likely accomplish all of those goals and many more. She’s even already been featured on the website for Sports Illustrated Kids.
The ten-year old fifth grade student at Orange Avenue School in Cranford, has already blazed a trail of her own. A very active young woman, Kelliann, plays just about every sport and made a big impression this year on the New Jersey Police Athletic Football League as she was the only girl to participate on a team.
One of four children, all athletic, Kelliann saw her brother and his friends playing football and it piqued her interest, “I never played on a team before and my brother Kevin inspired me to try out this year. He worked with me over the summer and my friend is the quarterback, so they both helped me.”
Kelliann played on the fifth grade team coached by Brian Bradford, he comments on having her as a player, “She is quite an inspiring student athlete, what she accomplished this year on the gridiron goes far beyond Xs and Os. Hardworking, conscientious, motivated--she was a joy to coach and to watch progress. I know in the future, she will accomplish anything she sets her mind to. That she was the only girl on the team was of no real consequence--the boys welcomed her and treated her with the same respect that they afforded each other.”
Her team was able to make it to the finals and play at MetLife Stadium. Although her team lost and it was exciting to play on a professional level field, she adds, her favorite memories about the season include, “The boys didn’t exclude me from anything or treat me differently after the first practice, at first they were like um, what? And then they saw that I could play and it didn’t matter. They stuck up for me when other teams mentioned that we would be a push over team because we had a girl. It was a really great experience, I’m not sure if I’ll play again or do soccer or maybe gymnastics, we’ll see.”
If charting her own course playing football wasn’t enough, Kelliann does so with type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed at the age of four after her Mother Shannon recognized the symptoms all too well after having recently gone through the same diagnosis with her older daughter Kaleigh.
Shannon shares, “It was just heartbreaking, there’s such a small percentage that you will have type 1 diabetes and a much lower chance, something like a fraction of a percent, that a sibling will have it, and both Kaleigh and Kelliann do.”
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), only 5% of people with diabetes have type 1. In type 1 cases, the body does not produce insulin. This happens when your immune system destroys cells in your pancreas called beta cells, those cells are the ones that make insulin.
Those with type 1 diabetes inherit risk factors from both parents, although Kelliann’s parents don’t have it and aren’t aware specifically who in their family does.
Type 1 diabetes is a serious autoimmune disease, because cells need insulin to fuel the body but in Kelliann’s case, that insulin is constantly in flux. Everyday occurrences like exercise, excitement, growth spurts and illness can set it off her levels into dangerous directions. So it is critically important that Kelliann and others with type 1 monitor their blood sugar levels closely all day long.
According to the ADA, exercise and physical activity are good for everyone especially for children with diabetes, but remembering to check blood sugar often before, during and after exercise is very important.
Both Kelliann and her sister are frequent visitors to the school nurse, usually dropping in at least three to five times a day, before and after snacks, lunch and recess to check their insulin levels as needed. They often have to adjust their levels with glucose tablets and juice boxes or self-administer insulin through a pump that they wear near their waist.
When asked if she ever gets bummed about having the disease and wearing the pump, Kelliann comments, “Everyday I wish I didn’t have it. I don’t like when people ask too many questions about it, or about my pump. Some kids say that I am lucky because I get to have snacks, but it’s not fun at all, I’m used to it, but it’s not fun having it.”
Kelliann’s Mother Shannon helps explain the severity of it, “We have to check the girls’ levels all night, even in the middle of the night, we wake them up twice a night to check and if they are off they have to get up and eat something.”
Kevin Sr. is in awe of his daughters dealing with type 1 diabetes, “They have a brave quiet dignity about them, they are inspiring on so many levels. They don’t let anyone stop them. My wife and I have always told them that there is no excuse, they can do anything. Our philosophy has always been that they have to fit into the world around them, they will always have this disease and they can do anything with it. That’s why when Kelliann asked if she could play football there was no way I could say no.”
When Kelliann isn’t blazing her own trail on a sports field, being interviewed by the media, playing with her siblings (Kevin, Kaleigh and Klaire), she enjoys writing in her journal, playing basketball on two teams and perfecting her pogo stick tricks, including her own 563 continuous jumping record.