For Drew Bogdan, the path to Cornell rugby was not necessarily well-charted, but it was one that fit his background of showing grit and resilience.
Hailing from Albany, Bogdan was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when he was three years old. Despite the diagnosis, Bogdan and his mother researched the condition in the following years to formulate a plan to manage his diabetes.
“Your blood sugar is kind of like your temperature — your body has to keep it at a certain level,” the sophomore said. “In order to lower your blood sugar, your body releases insulin, and in order to bring it up, your body releases glucose, which is food.”
Diabetics like Bogdan are unable to release insulin, so they cannot naturally lower their blood sugar. Bogdan receives his supply of insulin in the form of three-day disposable pumps, which he places on his right arm.
Whenever Bogdan needs to raise his blood sugar, he is well prepared to do so by consuming simple sugars. In college, Bogdan stores up to 96 juice pouches in his room as a quick tool to raise his blood sugar. When he was younger, Bogdan’s diabetes earned him brownie points with his peers.
“During kindergarten, I had bacon in my lunchbox everyday because it has zero carbs,” Bogdan said with a chuckle. “Sometimes, I would give people little bits because I could, they liked it, and it made me more popular.”
As Bogdan became more active, he began to incorporate a greater amount of carbohydrates into his diet to fuel his athletic endeavors, particularly wrestling.
Having previously dabbled in swimming and baseball, Bogdan found his niche in wrestling starting in fifth grade. Bogdan developed his skills at the Titan Wrestling Club and began competing when he transferred to Albany Academy in seventh grade.
From seventh to 10th grade, Bogdan continued to sharpen his skills and improved from a 50 percent win rate to an 80 percent clip. A year later, he experienced a breakout season.
Named a captain, Bogdan experienced a noticeable leap in performance that coincided with the introduction of a new coach, Lenny Baker, who focused on the development of his wrestlers. Under the tutelage of Baker, Bogdan netted his highest postseason finish in sectionals in his junior year and put the bow on his high school career, finishing in eighth place at states.
Bogdan tried his hand at wrestling at Cornell, joining the club wrestling team at the beginning of his freshman year. But he soon found that the college level was far more challenging than that of the high school mat.
“They kicked my ass,” Bogdan said. “I was nowhere near good enough to be in that room — they had worked all summer to be there, and I had bussed tables.”
Moreover, Bogdan’s new fellow wrestlers possessed a significant advantage over him, especially in their ability to easily cut weight, something that Bogdan could not easily perform as a diabetic. With the environment being so much more physical, Bogdan frequently saw his insulin pumps inadvertently ripped off in the midst of the wrestling.
“In college, everything was just moving so fast,” Bogdan said. “In high school, you’re smaller, and there’s less force. But here, [my pumps] would get knocked off almost every time. It wasn’t intentional, but when you’re wrestling, it’s rough, physical and violent.”
After a few weeks with the club team, Bogdan opted for a new opportunity — rugby. Rugby did not represent an entirely uncharted territory for Bogdan, who experimented with the sport during his senior year of high school.
The transition from wrestling to rugby proved to be rather smooth for Bogdan. Both sports require a certain level of resilience and physicality — both of which Bogdan possessed.
“In rugby, you can see a lot of wrestlers,” Bogdan said. “We all know each other because we have all of the same wrestling ticks. They’ll get into more of a wrestling stance than a rugby stance and when they take someone down, they’ll always do a double leg.”
Managing his diabetes while playing rugby is more suitable for Bogdan than it was with wrestling. Whenever there is a pause in the contest, Bogdan can drink a juice box to regulate his blood sugar. And though rugby is very physical, the lack of padding combined with the rule that forbids tackling above the waist results in Bogdan taking less of a beatdown.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has halted in-person activities, including rugby. While the team still meets virtually, they have been unable to partake in any practices, though they are hopeful to start 7-on-7 practices later in the spring and potentially enter a tournament later in the semester.
In managing diabetes while excelling in wrestling, Bogdan had already developed a strong fortitude, which has only been further solidified with his participation in rugby.
“It’s now about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit,” Bogdan said. “What I like most about rugby is just the grit — yeah, you may have just leveled me, but I can get back up.”