When Tom Gisler was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, his doctor urged him to view the condition as an annoyance rather than a limitation. Though he would have to frequently test his blood sugar, monitor his food intake and give himself insulin injections, Gisler understood it did not have to interfere with his basketball career.
His teammates and coaches at Northwestern College (Roseville) quickly learned the same. The senior forward from Stewartville has become one of the best long-range shooters in college basketball, a skill that has helped the Eagles (21-6) to a third consecutive berth in the NCAA Division III tournament. After leading D-III in three-point accuracy the past two seasons, Gisler is hitting 49.6 percent from three-point range heading into Saturday's first-round matchup at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, ranking him third in the nation.
Coach Tim Grosz said Gisler made a number of big shots as the Eagles won the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference tournament for the third year in a row. His accuracy also forces opponents to pay special attention to him, opening up opportunities for teammates. In turn, they help Gisler manage his diabetes, watching him for signs of low blood sugar and making sure he gets a sports drink or granola bar when he needs it.
"When it's low, it's hard to focus or concentrate, and you can get shaky,'' said Gisler, who was diagnosed the summer before seventh grade. "A lot of times I can feel it, but there are times you don't know you're in that state. My teammates know when I'm not acting like myself. They've been a big help.''
Gisler said he was not a great shooter in high school until he began practicing his shot every day, something he still does. Teammate and roommate Ellis Libby said Gisler spends more time in the gym than anyone, and Grosz credits his accuracy to his unwavering form and careful shot selection.
He is just as diligent about managing his diabetes. Every day, Gisler tests his blood sugar at least five times, including during games. He can be stubborn about coming out of games, which is when his teammates take charge.
"He rooms with our three other seniors, and they can all recognize when he's low,'' Grosz said. "They'll pull him out or bring him a Powerade. And then, he gets right back in there. I think diabetes is even more of a struggle for him than I realize sometimes, but he's found a way to deal with it and excel at a really, really high level.''
In his college career, the 6-4 Gisler has made 48.3 percent of his three-point attempts, 3 percentage points shy of the Division III record. His next target is to advance in the NCAA tournament; in their two previous appearances, the Eagles have lost their opener to the eventual champion. They enter the tournament with 14 victories in their past 16 games and are on a seven-game winning streak, thanks to the same teamwork that has aided Gisler.
"Sometimes, you want to pity yourself,'' he said. "You think, 'Other people don't have to deal with this.' But I try not to do that. People have been so helpful and supportive, which has helped me deal with it. I've been fortunate.''