Newman wrestler reflects on juggling college and type 1 diabetes

Mar 19, 2020
wrestling nursing diabetes Thor Balavage

Through hard work and determination, senior Thor Balavage has been able to pin down the responsibilities of being a nursing student, a student-athlete as a wrestler and a resident assistant. He juggles all these roles while also managing type 1 diabetes.

Balavage, who is from Avoca, Pennsylvania, was diagnosed when he was 19.

Thor Balavage

“It was two weeks before coming back to Newman to start my sophomore year, and I ended up getting sick. I spent four days in the hospital and finally got diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,” he said. “Living with diabetes, I think is like a lot of things. There are good days and bad, but I’m grateful to be alive.”

Director of Nursing Teresa Vetter attributes much of Balavage’s success to his attitude and his focus.

“Thor is able to put a positive light on his situation and not allow these things to overwhelm him. He stays focused on his goal of completing his nursing degree this semester and entering into professional nursing practice,” she said. “This ability to stay focused on the goal and continue with a positive attitude is what will make him successful in pretty much anything he decides to tackle in life.”

Balavage said he gives his all both in the nursing and the wrestling program.

“No pun intended, there has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears poured into both of the programs. I have spent a lot of time working on my skills for both,” he said. “I approach both of these programs with an eager heart and an open mind to learn whatever I can.”

Thor Balavage (top right) poses with his fellow nursing students in the infamous Newman blue scrubs.

When Balavage was considering colleges, he was torn between playing football and wrestling. He decided to choose whichever “had a more appetizing offer,” which he found in wrestling at Newman.

“What it boiled down to for me was deciding to chase a dream of reaching the top in wrestling — being an All-American — which is a feat I had not been able to conquer in high school,” he said. “That was the ultimate driver that helped me choose wrestling over football and pursue it.”

Thor Balavage (fifth from the left) is recognized during wrestling senior night.

Thor is not the only Balavage on the wrestling team, as his brother Ivan, a sophomore, shares a passion for the sport as well.

Wrestling with my brother has been the best thing to happen to me in my life. My last two years of college competition was done with my practice partner since we were in kindergarten and second grade. We started together and I got to finish with him,” he said. “I am so blessed that we have been able to have this opportunity to be together and grow even closer.”

Ivan and Thor Balavage

Balavage said his connection to wrestling has helped him to better understand the type of leader he is in connection with his diabetes.

“I really want to be able to use my diabetes as a teaching point on a public stage, as an NCAA Division II wrestler,” he said. “This disease is not a death sentence and not a dream crusher. It just makes life a little different.”

Balavage has been able to bring his diabetes into the classroom as a teaching moment.

Balavage with fellow presenters during Newman University’s Scholars Day.

“Nursing was the plan before I came to Kansas. Being a diabetic in the nursing program has just added more fuel to the fire,” he said. “I think it’s awesome that I can try and make classmates more aware. They can ask questions and we can learn together.”

Associate Professor of Nursing Amy Siple said Balavage has been an excellent asset in the classroom because of this.

“He is a remarkable young man who is very dedicated to his profession, peers and wrestling,” said Siple. “He maintains perfect attendance, always turns in everything on time or early and is very engaged in the classroom. Thor sat in the front of my classes and never hesitated to ask for clarification if something was not clear. He is well respected and liked by his peers and is very engaged in Newman life. Thor will be an asset to our profession and it has been an honor to accompany him on his academic journey towards nursing excellence.” 

The 2020 nursing class celebrates Christmas with an ugly Christmas sweater day.

For Balavage, though there have been ups and downs, there is no place he would rather be than Newman.

“Newman, at first, was the best fit because I had to make it work. I took a huge leap of faith moving halfway across the country, but I am so glad I took that chance and followed that leap to continue on from my private Catholic high school education. It was a great decision,” he said. “Though there have been a lot of tough times since August of 2016, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I have been made into a man here. I have learned and grown my Catholic values and beyond.”