Cooper Zent is a two-sport standout with a high school resume to envy.
He has been a stalwart on the George Washington boys tennis team, which won four straight state titles from 2013-16. He’s a two-division contestant at this week’s Charleston Public Courts tennis tournament, playing father-son doubles with his dad Scott Zent and parent-child doubles with his mother Melisa Greene-Zent.
He’ll attend West Virginia Wesleyan in the fall to play goalkeeper after helping lead GW to the 2016 Class AAA boys soccer state title, being named state keeper of the year by the West Virginia High School Soccer Coaches Association in the process.
For him to maintain that level, it takes an extra level of vigilance and care. He is reminded of that every time he looks down at his insulin pump, which he’ll wear in tennis matches and remove on the soccer pitch.
Zent deals every day with his Type 1 diabetes. Juggling the rigors of sport and the management of the disease hasn’t always been easy, but Zent wants to be an example to other young people that diabetes is no roadblock to a fruitful athletic life.
Zent was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 2 and has worn an insulin pump since age 5. With Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, which the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. Only about five percent of diabetics have this form of the disease.
Zent said it took a few years of lots of help from his parents — there were a couple of times when he was younger that he suffered seizures, Scott Zent said — before he was able to handle managing his diabetes more on his own.
“Once I got to [ages] 6 and 7, I kind of just got into the routine of just doing it,” he said. “I haven’t known anything else. It’s been 16 years, so I don’t know any different.
“It’s definitely challenging, but I feel as I’ve progressed and matured — throughout sports and with my diabetes — it’s starting to get somewhat easier. It’s still hard. People don’t know the feelings I feel when my blood sugar is high or low.”
Neither extreme is fun, be it the nausea that comes with high blood sugar or the fatigue that comes with low blood sugar. Zent said sports have made him very vigilant in his care. He has to make sure his blood sugar is at an appropriate level before and after competition. And sports has been a part of his life since his toddler years.
Zent’s parents said that at 18 months there was a tennis ball hanging from the ceiling of a spare bedroom and a racquetball racquet in his hand, as he smacked the ball over and over again. The child of a pair of tennis-playing parents, it was no surprise that he entered the sport. Then he took up soccer and fell in love with that sport as well.
There was a point in seventh and eighth grades where Zent decided to focus solely on soccer, but that didn’t last long, and ended as soon as he entered GW and joined the Patriots tennis team.
“I realized how much I loved the sport,” he said. “I don’t want to stop playing it. It was the connection between my teammates. I had been around them all my childhood. As soon as I got back into it, I was treated like normal and it was a good fit.”
Zent also is happy for the chance to play in the Public Courts tournament this year. Many years, the event coincides with something else he holds dear — Camp Kno-Koma, a camp for children in and around West Virginia with diabetes. After several years as a camper, he spent two years in the camp’s Leadership in Training program and spent this summer as a counselor.
“It’s like second family,” he said. “It’s really a tight-knit organization.”
And Zent gets to show those campers that Type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to stop a child’s athletic aspirations. Greene-Zent said that idea is something she and Zent’s father have instilled in him from the beginning.
“With his dad and I, he was always a boy first, a young man now, and then he was a diabetic,” she said. “So we never stopped him and told him he couldn’t try something.”
Scott Zent said the way his son has dealt with his diabetes to become the athlete and person he is today is nothing but impressive.
“He’s a trooper,” Scott Zent said. “He’s probably my hero right now.”