Olympic Gold Medalist Picabo Street Says Father Is 'Literally Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' When He Goes Into Hypoglycemic State
"The best way I can explain it is that he acts like a child throwing a temper tantrum or even like he's drunk," Picabo Street tells PEOPLE of her father's hypoglycemia
A physical altercation between Olympic skiing champion Picabo Street and her father, Roland “Ron” Street, was triggered by his low blood sugar levels, the athlete tells PEOPLE.
Last December 23, Picabo, 45, was charged with domestic violence and assault after she rolled her 76-year-old dad, who was diagnosed with type I diabetes 27 years ago, down the wooden stairs of their Park City, Utah, home. She claims he was in a hypoglycemic state and became verbally and physically aggressive toward her, grabbing her hair and her neck.
“He absolutely did attack me. At first I felt scared and then I felt worried. I was afraid that my children would see or hear,” Picabo, who lives with her parents and her three children in the same house, tells PEOPLE. “I tried to push him away.”
The 1998 gold medalist explains that her father had been trying to drive her car from their home to his wife’s doctor appointment in the middle of a blizzard and accidentally hit a snowbank, bumping into the house. When she subsequently tried to help him, he became combative.
They ran inside, where she then tried to get him to go downstairs to his apartment. In the struggle, her father started grabbing “fistfuls” of her hair, as they wrestled and eventually tumbled down the stairs together – bruising both of their bodies and scraping Picabo’s shins.
“That’s when I called 911, she says. “I made the decision that I wouldn’t be able to handle this on my own.
“When his blood sugar drops, she adds, “it’s literally like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
In Picabo s 911 call, her mother, Dee Street, is heard yelling in the background, saying that it was Picabo who had actually attacked Ron – and not the other way around. When authorities arrived on the scene, Ron and Dee both confirmed that s what had happened.
Picabo insisted she was only protecting herself, but PEOPLE confirms that police arrested her on three misdemeanor counts of domestic violence.
“I looked at the video from the officer’s body camera and their interviews were so hasty,” Picabo’s attorney, Joe Wrona, tells PEOPLE.
This past March, the charges were dropped after Ron and Dee voluntarily wrote affidavits explaining that they had been mistaken when they originally accused Picabo of being the aggressor.
“I felt that we had to document the truth,” Dee tells PEOPLE.
PEOPLE obtained copies of the affidavits from the prosecution, both of which unequivocally state that Ron (who declined to talk to PEOPLE) initiated the physical confrontation.
He blames his ongoing struggle with diabetes and mental health for his combative behavior – and takes full responsibility for the December incident.
Dee says that her head was “spinning” in the moment when she told police Picabo was at fault. “In the moment, I wasn’t given a chance to understand what was actually going on, she says.
“They had been in an altercation that I witnessed and I was trying to understand what was going on,” Dee tells PEOPLE. “The next thing I knew, my daughter was calling 911. I was worried that she was calling to have him arrested which I didn’t want to have happen, so I contradicted her while she was on the phone. I love my husband and I love my daughter.”
“[The affidavit] was like reading a page out of [my father’s] diary and understanding so much more about my dad s frustration and his humiliation and his resentment,” says Picabo. “He actually built a bridge in our relationship.”
Picabo says her father, a former U.S. Marine, was “in denial of his diabetes” since being diagnosed 27 years ago and, consequently, had never properly managed his caloric intake and blood sugar levels with food lists/blogs. For years he struggled with these sometimes-violent episodes which his family calls bonking caused by a drastic drop in his blood sugar.
“Bonking happens every two weeks or so,” she explains. “We know it’s coming when he puts his palms on his forehead and runs them through his hair. He does that over and over again. The best way I can explain it is that he acts like a child throwing a temper tantrum or even like he’s drunk.”
“He’s just not himself.”
Picabo believes her father’s mental health has declined because of these frequent ‘bonking episodes occurring over the last three decades.
“He could have monitored his blood sugar, insulin and food to manage the disease, with focus and discipline, but he didn t care enough to do that,” she says. “Now we have physical and mental health issues that are a part of the process, unfortunately.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, the American Diabetes Association says that “each person with diabetes has a unique diabetes treatment plan and medical history that determine whether and how the person experiences low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.”
Some of the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia listed on the American Diabetes Association website include irritability or impatience, confusion including delirium, anger, stubbornness and sadness.
“With hypoglycemia you become less and less able to think clearly. You become less yourself,” Dr. Robert Rizza, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic‘s Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Metabolism & Nutrition, tells PEOPLE. “The vast majority of people with [hypoglycemia] can live normally if they are educated about it, but for some it can become a real problem. Especially if you don’t know the best way to control it.”
“Hypoglycemia can get worse over time, especially when warning signs that indicate to an individual they have low blood sugar levels become less evident. It’s called hypoglycemic unawareness; you basically become less aware that your blood sugar is getting low. And sure, hypoglycemia can lead to a number of different issues, including, for some, mental health problems,” he adds.
After the December incident, Dee and Picabo placed Ron in an assisted living facility center where they say he was allegedly asked to leave shortly after moving in because he verbally and physically assaulting a nurse.
“It’s a struggle, but it s our life,” says Dee. “Ron’s situation with diabetes is complicated, but we manage it. We share a lot of love in our family.”
Ron, who was once the “family superman,” is now living back at home with his daughter and grandchildren and learning to control his diabetes by keeping a food and insulin blog.
Picabo says her relationship with her father is “great.”
“This whole thing has been a blessing in disguise really,” she says. “I feel like there had been a piece of denial and resistance which led to a fairly stubborn rollercoaster. This incident produced a huge amount of humility. It allowed us the opportunity to care for him more, get him help and get his life back on track.”
“I want other people to know they re not alone, there are people out there dealing with this same problem. It’s scary, but it’s important to be brave and tell people that it’s something you and your family are going through. Communication and honesty is the biggest key.”