It was a busy off-season for Mark Woolley.
The St. Thomas native had to prepare for his third season in the OHL and his first training camp with the Owen Sound Attack. It also happens to be the first year he is eligible for the NHL Entry Draft.
It would be more than understandable if he spent his summer focusing on hockey and only hockey.
But that’s not Mark Woolley. Knowing his platform as an OHLer, he thought there must be a way he could help others just like him.
That’s why he launched Woolley’s Warriors. The nonprofit aims to conquer diabetes and provide support and awareness for young athletes living every day with Type 1, and to raise funds to send kids to Diabetes Canada D-Camps.
Woolley was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 12 years old. His parents drove him to a hockey game in Stratford and knew something might be up after he had to stop several times for a bathroom break on the way there.
His older brother was diagnosed at birth, so his parents used his brother’s kit to test his blood when they got home and then rushed him to the doctor to get the official diagnosis.
Woolley remembers his main concern was how it would impact his ability to play the game he loved so much. He not only kept playing, but has excelled, and wants other young athletes with diabetes to know they can do the same.
“I have a little bit different routine going into games,” he said. “I’ve got to be monitoring my blood before games so I don’t crash during a game, or I’m not going up too high, because that’s the last thing you need is to be missing shifts to control that.”
He added that his blood sugar levels are top of mind for himself and for the team’s training staff.
“I always test in between periods. My trainer Andy Brown is really good, he always has a granola bar and a Gatorade, a quick little snack like that to make sure I’m not missing too much.
“They’re always double-checking it to make sure I’m on top of it.”
Even after living with diabetes for more than a decade, he says it can still be difficult to control completely.
“About three years ago — I was 14 or 15 — I woke up into the middle of the night to an ambulance arriving at my house for my older brother, who was going into a diabetic coma,” said Woolley.
“His blood sugar levels went low throughout the night and he was unconscious and wouldn’t wake up, so they had to take him to the hospital and get his blood sugars up.”
That wasn’t the last time he woke up to sirens in the middle of the night.
“Last season, I came home for a weekend to celebrate my dad’s 50th birthday and the exact same thing happened to me. I woke up in an ambulance at four in the morning.
“It was definitely one of the scariest moments of my life.”
He’s grateful the team is not only supportive but has also made his health its top priority.
“I called Dale DeGray (Owen Sound’s general manager) right away (after the incident) and said I’d be late for practice the next day and he was very understanding of it and was just glad I was okay.”
Woolley points to one of his leaders during his time in Guelph, Garrett McFadden, as inspiration for Woolley’s Warriors. McFadden launched McFadden’s Movement, a mental health initiative for athletes, while he was captaining the Storm.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I started in the league because it hits so close to me. Garret was a great captain and a great role model off the ice.
“He had his McFadden’s Movement thing going, so he showed me that anything is possible.”
Max Domi is another person who motivates Woolley. Domi also lives with Type 1 diabetes and has been a vocal supporter of young athletes who also live with it.
“He’s always been a big role model of mine, showed me that I don’t have to let my diabetes define me.”
Woolley doesn’t turn 18 until November so is eligible for the 2020 NHL draft as a late birthday, something he isn’t spending too much time dwelling on — at least not yet.
“Most of my buddies went through it the past season, and they’ve shared their experience with me. I don’t think the nerves have really kicked in yet, but once I play that first game of the regular season, they’ll definitely be there.”
This season will be Woolley’s first full season in Owen Sound after getting dealt from Guelph to the Attack at last year’s trade deadline. He was part of the blockbuster deal that saw the Storm load up ahead of their post-season run.
The trade didn’t sour him, and he says he was rooting for the team every step of the way — once the Attack were eliminated, that is.
“Coming into the deadline we knew we had to make some moves, and I had a little bit of a feeling I was one of the guys who’d be wanted by other teams, just because I’m one of the younger guys. Everything happens for a reason — I’m a strong believer in that,” said Woolley.
“I think I went to almost every one of their playoff games once we lost out. I was cheering on all my buddies in Guelph the whole way and I was happy to see them win.”
He said he wasn’t able to watch them hoist the cup when they beat Ottawa in Game 6 on the OHL finals because of his summer job. Fortunately, he was still able to follow along from his phone while working away at a local berry farm.
You can learn more about Woolley’s initiative at WoolleysWarriors.com.