When Ben Dilley was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 14 years old, he never could have imagined that he'd one day end up riding in the Tour of Utah - the 22-year-old didn't even begin cycling until a couple years after his diagnosis.
But, when the Tour kicks off in Cedar City on Aug. 4, Dilley will be sporting a Team Novo Nordisk jersey and will be riding as part of a team of riders who all have type 1 diabetes.
However, team founder Phil Southerland said, don't think of Team Novo Nordisk as some sort of novelty - though the team is grateful for the opportunity to compete in the big-name race, the riders want to make some noise, too.
"It's an amazing race, couldn't be more beautiful scenery," Southerland said. "We have hopes to do well."
The team, which was called Team Type 1 when Southerland started it as a part of a class at the University of Georgia in 2005, got a big-name sponsorship a couple years ago.
"In 2012, we were given the opportunity to partner with Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company," Southerland said. "One of their main specialties is diabetes."
But, he added, there were challenges to that partnership.
"That partnership came with the contingency of having a full team comprised of people with diabetes," he said. "It was a major challenge. It's a very limited pool of people out there. It's not like we can write a big check and hire a guy that's been winning a lot of races. We have to find the talent, cultivate the talent and, as we're doing now with our junior camps and development team, create the talent.
That's why it's a big deal for Team Novo Nordisk to ride in the Tour of Utah.
"It's races like this that help funnel our pipeline," Southerland said. "There's going to be some kid in Utah that's going to see our team racing and say, 'Hey, those guys are just like me.'"
That's how guys like Dilley, from Nebraska, and Aaron Perry, from New Zealand, found out about the team.
Perry made a switch from mountain biking to road cycling to join Team Novo Nordisk.
"I found out I was diabetic when I was 16," he said.
Now in the Tour of Utah for the first time, Southerland said the team's mission is to have fun while also promoting a healthy lifestyle.
"We race with a mission to empower, inspire and educate everyone in the world affected by the disease that we live with," he said. "Sport is a platform, but empowerment is really the mission. We're competing in the top races around the world and showing people what may be possible with proper management of the disease."
"It's all about inspiring people and helping to educate," Perry added. "It's awesome to be a part of it now. It's about telling people, 'You can get out there. You can do it.'"
For Dilley, who has family members who also have diabetes, being able to inspire others is a big deal.
"It's being a part of something bigger than just competing and racing your bike," he said. "I have two other siblings with diabetes, so it really hits home for me. It's just that message of inspiration that's really personal to me."
And if they can inspire others to be active, whether or not they have diabetes, that's even better, Southerland said.
"Exercise is one of the most important tools that our athletes have to manage their disease," he said. "It's also important for people without diabetes. We've got to get healthier as a nation, and the bike is a great way to do that."
Another mission of Team Novo Nordisk is adjusting the way diabetes is talked about across the world.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people get told what they cannot do still," Southerland said. "It's really become more of a disease of things you can do, but we have to change the perceptions of people about the disease so that the next kid that gets diagnosed is told the things he can do, not the things he can't do. It's extremely important - life is not worth living if you can't have some self-confidence and belief that you can achieve something."
For fans attending the Tour of Utah, Southerland, Dilley and Perry said the entire Novo Nordisk team loves to chat with fans after races.
"It's fantastic to meet the people," Perry said. "We've got all these people who are looking up to us and following us - running alongside us, even. We're just trying to show them what's doable."
"[Meeting fans] is the highlight," Dilley added. "In cycling, you have your good days and your bad days. Being able to talk with people who also have diabetes is a great connection. That makes my day - getting to talk to fans and people who have been following the team."
For more information about Team Novo Nordisk, visit www.tnnprocycling.com .