Kellie Ristau has never known a life without diabetes.
She was only 2 years old when she was diagnosed with the disease, which destroys the cells in the pancreas that are responsible for creating insulin.
Kristin Ristau, Kellie’s mother, described the diagnosis as devastating.
She was scared for her daughter’s right now and for her daughter’s future.
And she was scared for her family.
"We knew it would be life changing for us," Kristin said. "Diabetes is a 24-7 disease that has to be monitored very closely. We worked very hard to learn about the disease."
Looking back, Kristin said the diagnosis came with little surprise, considering the early symptoms Kellie was showing.
"We knew right away," Kristin said. "The disease is something that runs in my husband Mike’s family. In the back of our mind, we always knew that it could be something that impacted our family at some point."
That did not make it any more emotional.
The early stages found Kristin fighting an internal struggle in her mind.
It is not easy for a mother, who wants nothing more than to see smiles on her child’s face, but be forced to give painful shots of insulin that well eyes with tears.
"Obviously, I knew we had to do it, but I could never help but feel like I was being the bad guy," Kristin said.
Fifteen years later, none of those thoughts fill Kellie’s head.
Instead, Kellie confidently calls her mother her best friend.
"I don’t think there is any high-schooler who is closer to their mom than I am with mine," she said. "She is my best friend. We do everything together."
The special friendship between mother and daughter likely would have grown innately, but in many ways, it has been diabetes that has strengthened the bond.
As Kellie has pursued multiple athletic and extracurricular endeavors throughout her youth and high school days, Kristin has been on the lookout.
First and foremost as a supportive mom, but always with the hawk eyes of a nurse making sure her daughter was not displaying any signs or symptoms of her blood sugar dropping.
And Kellie is about as active as someone can be.
She is enthusiastic about life and refuses to let diabetes define what she can and cannot do.
She plays soccer (defender) and softball (shortstop), runs track and field (sprints and relays) and is also a member of the dance line and ski club.
"Kellie has completed quite the accomplishment in her ability to find success in such a demanding sport given her disease," Crestwood girls soccer coach Domenica McClintock said. "Her story should serve as an inspiration to others, while also showing that you can do gain great things if driven and managed properly."
Ristau is also a member of the marching band, concert band, jazz band, NHS, student council, French club, is a class officer (historian) and a member of the pre-professional medical academy.
All while carrying a grade-point average of 4.0.
For some, simply reading that list could place you in a state of exhaustion. Ristau is not like most, though. Her bundle of energy and endlessly stretching smile are enough to prove that.
Hard days? Sure, they exist for Kellie just like they do for everybody else. She is able to admit that, but she dismisses the spirals and gets ahead of it all to focus on the next challenge waiting for her.
Her best friend notices and finds inspiration in it all.
"I don’t think I could ever do what she does," her mother Kristin said. "I could not be more proud of her, and I cannot wait to see what her future holds. She is just a sweet kid and has the best attitude ever."
Her perspective is special too.
"With diabetes, everything just takes an extra step and extra effort," Kellie said. "My attitude has always been that if I work hard, diabetes won’t stop me."