ELDRIDGE — Rylie Rucker was losing weight rapidly. She was getting out of bed and going to the bathroom at least five times a night. She could not make it through a two-mile middle school cross country race without walking.
Her mother, Dena, knew something was wrong.
The symptoms resulted in a visit to Trinity Hospital in the Quad-Cities before she was transported to the University of Iowa Hospital and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The date is stamped firmly in her mind: Sept. 7, 2013.
“I was so emotional that first day,” Rucker said. “After that, it sunk in that’s how life is going to be for me. You can’t do anything about it so you’ve got to make the best of it.”
It has not stopped Rucker from living an active life.
The sophomore is a starter on the Class 4A eighth-ranked North Scott girls basketball team, which opens state tournament play at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday against second-ranked Nevada at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic, lifelong disease where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, a hormone to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.
For Rucker, it is a daily struggle. She is required to monitor her blood sugar constantly and takes six insulin shots per day on average.
“We all know what she really has to go through, but a lot of people don’t realize it,” senior teammate Erica Loussaert said. “She puts on a really tough face and comes out and plays basketball every day. Nobody knows how hard that really is for her. It is just inspiring to see.”
Rucker wears a glucose monitor device, part of it clipped to her athletic shorts and a patch under her tricep, that tracks her blood sugar count every five minutes. North Scott assistant coach Devvin Rolston receives the numbers and monitors it closely during workouts and games.
If Rucker is too high or too low, she sits.
“Usually during games, I’m not low because of the adrenaline,” she said. “It really kicks into my blood sugar and pumps it up. I’m usually 300 during games which is not good.”
There have been occasions she’s been too low. She was scratched from the starting lineup in one meeting against Bettendorf this season and played sparingly because of it.
She was a spectator at the start of last Friday’s practice because of a low count.
“Every day you get to see what she goes through,” coach TJ Case said. “The girls really respect her and know what she’s battling.
“They know if Rylie can fight through some of this stuff, then some of the stuff they’re dealing with isn’t that bad. It is very inspirational to us.”
Rucker is a key component of North Scott’s success. She is the team’s second-leading scorer at 8.5 points per game, shoots almost 80 percent at the foul line and is among its best defenders.
“She would go through a brick wall for her teammates,” Case said. “She does a lot of the little things for us and cleans up things defensively. She’s always around the ball, a very smart offensive player. We lean on her a lot.”
Nobody else in Rucker’s immediate family has diabetes.
So when she was diagnosed, there was an initial shock. She spent more than two days in an Iowa City hospital room.
The details of that September Saturday are still fuzzy for Rucker. Her older sister, Karli, the team’s leading scorer, remembers it well.
Karli was a freshman and playing volleyball at the Muscatine Invitational. Afterward, she and her grandmother met the family in Iowa City.
“Everyone was emotional,” Karli said. “Just that initial time seeing her in that hospital bed, it hurt in your heart because you knew her life just got changed a lot. It is an every day thing, and it is not going to go away until maybe one day they can find a cure.”
Rucker tries to keep her blood sugar count between 120 and 180. She doesn’t recall what it was at the time of her diagnosis, but she knows it has been as high as 400 during a basketball game.
“When it gets like that, I just space out and can’t pay attention at all,” Rucker said. “My mouth gets super sticky.”
Conversely, Rucker gets fatigued when the number dips below 100.
“She’s very disciplined and a really healthy eater,” Karli said. “If her numbers are low, she has a really good mindset about it. She doesn’t get down about it.”
Rucker has learned to embrace the numbers game. Some days are better than others.
“I’ve just had a determination to not let it get the best of me,” she said. “It hasn’t just been me having to do everything on my own.
“My family has been so supportive and helped me through it. It is part of who we are now.”