TDFC trip to Portugal: The Diary

Firstly…. I can’t believe that 7 months after the creation of TDFC, we’ve been able to jet off to Portugal to meet an all type 1 Diabetic Futsal team. Just having this opportunity has been an absolute privilege and sharing it with Noel & Karl was special. I feel immensely proud of what we’ve achieved so far and this experience has been one which has certainly highlighted and demonstrated what we can achieve together.

Some of you who are reading this that haven’t been following TDFC as closely as others, are probably thinking why have you travelled to Portugal?

Therefore, I thought I’d outline the reasons and objectives before I get into my diary of the trip…

·       It was the first time Noel and I had spent any time in person together so the trip was ideal for us to focus on the future of TDFC with each other.

·       Understanding the DiabPT United project. There is nothing like it within the U.K or USA so we wanted to understand and learn how the team operates, what their objectives are and how they raise awareness of the condition in Portugal, whilst using Futsal as the vehicle.

·       Growing our network in another country and meeting new people who share our passion for Football whilst living with Type 1 Diabetes.

·       Learning about the DiaEuro competition from a team that have been competing for several years. (It’s a futsal tournament which only diabetics compete against each other, with one team representing each European nation).

·       To video & document the experience to share with our community.

As you can see we went out to Portugal with plenty of purpose. I really wanted to make sure we had a trip which brought us closer together as a TDFC team, achieved our objectives and was a lot of fun… You’ll have to ask Noel & Karl what they thought, but I certainly felt we managed to do all of that!

Enough of the objectives now… Over to my diary of the trip. ENJOY!

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Day 1

Well it felt like we started the trip with a day which contained 36 hours following the alarm going off at 3:30 am and checking in for our flight by 5am! However the excitement in all of us was pretty evident so I didn’t complain too much about the early start. WOW was it cold though, a serious chill in the air at 4:30 in the morning which by the time we’d arrived in Portugal had seen a 20 degrees Celsius swing in the temperature!!

After a relatively smooth parking & check-in procedure at the airport we were greeted with security. A Diabetic’s nightmare is how I would describe it. You feel uncomfortable and worried about the potential of airport security confiscating or wanting to question the items you’re bringing through in hand luggage to manage your Diabetes. For me, this seemed to go without a hitch with the normal kind of questions asked and my insulin placed outside of my bag for the authorities. However when we got to Noel getting through it was another story!!! She’d first been asked to remove the liquids from her bag, as is normal, but as she was carrying Capri Suns as a hypo treatment this caused a particular problem for the officer, who despite being informed of the medical reason and documentation for carrying them, proceeded to place a couple of the drinks in the bin. Obviously this upset Noel somewhat but the ordeal wasn’t finished there! She then approached the scanners to be told she’d need to go through the fully body scanner rather than the metal detector, despite informing them that she couldn’t because of the pump she was wearing! After a couple of minutes arguing over this, she was allowed to go through the basic metal detector and endure a frisk. It wasn’t going well and we hadn’t even got through to the bag searches yet… Noel decided to leave a couple of Capri Sun’s in her bag following the encounter with the first security officer. This obviously had her bag flagged up and another search commenced. This time after some more arguing over Noel’s right to carry her liquids she was allowed to keep them and we were on our way… It was a frustrating and poor way to start our journey with little understanding, knowledge and care shown by airport security. I appreciate the job they do in these difficult times we live in, but when a Doctor is signing someone off to carry these items to ensure their own welfare it’s frustrating to say the least.    

It wasn’t the best start to the trip… However after a few obligatory selfies, some food and 40 winks to recover from the 3am wake up we were on the plane!

It was a pretty uneventful flight in which Karl & Noel, used the time to catch up on the sleep they’d lost a few hours earlier.

Upon arrival everything seemed to go fairly smoothly and it allowed us to ride the Metro into the city of Lisbon, where we grabbed some food knowing we’d be hanging around for a couple of hours until we could get into our apartment.

Knowing we had a busy weekend coming up we decided to use the remainder of Thursday to relax and enjoy each other’s company. We hopped into an Uber and hit the beach to relax after a day of travelling and carrying our cases around Lisbon. It was an awesome beach but my mind was wandering away to the reason we were there constantly. I was super excited and nervous all at the same time, which is understandable I guess.

That night we headed out to the Hard Rock Café and relaxed after a reasonably successful first day getting ourselves set up in Lisbon! I was content with how day one had panned out.

Day 2

We kicked the day off with a slightly slower start following a few drinks the night before, but whilst Noel headed down to the Aquarium myself and Karl headed over to the castle of Sao Jorge via the metro and a small walk. Walking through a city is the best way to see it, which Noel can vouch for after getting lost for at least an hour and a half coming to the castle from the aquarium… We found her eventually!

We then ventured up into the castle to the breathtaking views it offers across the city of Lisbon. It was pretty special. Whilst for us, and the other tourists within the castle, the novelty of Karl using his Drone to capture footage across the city was also pretty incredible with everyone completely encapsulated by it. It was the first time I’d seen it in an action and wow is it a bit of kit!!! I can’t do the scenery justice with words so please take a look at the photos below…

Throughout these first couple of days I’d been battling a YoYo of blood glucose levels whilst Noel had some awesome levels to show for it. My control had been so good leading up to the trip that I was certainly keeping an eye on this distinct change, which only started to become apparent a few days later!

After an hour of taking in the views of Lisbon from the castle, we headed down to Sao Nicolau square on the river front to record some shots of us taking in a landmark whilst kicking a ball around (after all we were there to do some work for TDFC). We had a lot of fun talking about diabetes and mucking around with a ball and we even had a few bystanders watching and commenting on some of the moves! I can’t wait to see some of the drone shots of this kick around as Karl assures me they look very cool.  

After we’d enjoyed some sunshine and ball work we wandered through the streets of Lisbon and did a little interview of how things were going whilst I was resting my foot (https://thediabetesfootballcommunity.com/2017/05/28/the-impact-of-injuries/ ). We were catching up on camera with our thoughts of the last 24 hours and the approaching weekend with DiabPT United.

Following this recorded chat amongst ourselves we then hit one of Lisbon’s renowned tourist spots the Belem Tower. It was a nice spot on the river front where the 3 of us sampled some port wine and orange juice, watched an incredible busker and tried the Lisbon famous Pastel De Nata (A Portuguese pastry they’re famous for).  All the while I was enjoying myself and having a lot of fun with Noel & Karl but in the back of mind thinking ahead to the weekend and the purpose of the trip. I was starting to get really excited about what was to come.

We went out that night hunting down some authentic Portuguese cuisine to ensure we experienced the local culture to Noel’s high standards. So we found ourselves a nice restaurant recommended by one of the many Uber drivers we interacted with on our trip. The food was great and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves but the most amazingly small world moment occurred whilst we were there.

Myself and Noel were tucking down to some food when we heard the words “Type 1 Diabetes” above the crowd in a jam packed restaurant. Both of us pricked our ears up like meerkats! It was an American accent talking at another table so the only person for the job was Noel. It turned out Casey (Our new Type 1 Diabetic friend) was on the Olympic Development Programme for Football and had more than likely played against Noel in the past!!! What were the chances of meeting someone like that thousands of miles away from home, in a restaurant in Lisbon??? I wish I’d put a bet on it!! We’re now connected on facebook and talking about TDFC. I love seeing these moments in life! They’re few and far between but they serve as a reminder of the amazing moments which can occur in our world. I’m hoping to get Casey to do a short interview for our Facebook page.

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An amazing end to the second day which was so in keeping with the purpose of our trip!

Day 3

A pretty early start by all accounts as we headed over to Benfica’s stadium for 9:50 to get ourselves into their megastore…. My glucose levels had finally given me a bit of relief and looked a little more settled, however it wouldn’t last long!

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After we’d all spent some time buying replica merchandise from the megastore (as I’ve now adopted them as my Futsal team!), we met next to the statue of Eusebio, a Benfica and Portuguese legend of football. It was at this point I felt a bit nervous & apprehensive. We were meeting with people we’d never met before and had only spoken to over social media, so I felt like this was acceptable. There was also a language barrier to potentially cross!! All of these worries were quickly alleviated when Jenifer approached and we started talking… The bond of sharing type 1 diabetes is an instant conversation starter and something which I often find puts me at ease around someone as they understand immediately the difficulties I have to contend with in life. I felt comfortable instantly.

The people we met were Jenifer, Carlos, Alexandre and his daughter whom are all involved with DiabPT united in some way. They were responsible for spending the day with us and provide Portuguese to English translations haha! They were absolutely brilliant and so patient with our lack of spoken Portuguese.  After the initial welcomes our first stop of the day was a tour of the Stadium of Light, Benfica’s home venue.

The first thing that struck me was what an impressive venue and a really apt venue for getting to know members of the project. It’s Lisbon’s biggest football stadium and what a place to look around. Again I’m struggling to do it justice with words so I’ll hand over to the images to do a better job…

It was pretty spectacular all in all. Watching Noel & Karl scoot round the whole Benfica away dressing room benches to make sure they’d sat in the same place as Lionel Messi was a particular highlight… 

After our stadium tour we moved onto the Museum.  I’ve never seen a trophy cabinet like it!! My team Aston Villa certainly struggle to fill a room let alone a museum. This number of trophies comes with the territory of being arguably Portugal’s biggest club side. As we meandered our way through the trophies we took time to get onto the topic of Diabetes and the differences in the methods employed to control the condition in our respective countries. Access & costs were a topic we varied in hugely despite Portugal, the U.K and USA being fairly westernised countries.

After some lunch and more chat about the project, the DiaEuro concept and how they go about sustaining & growing what they have, we had a short walk to the indoor pavilion to watch Benfica’s futsal team. This is where we got to meet Bruno (the team coach), who up until recently was coaching the Benfica Futsal U20’s team so he’s an excellent source of knowledge on the game (an ideal contact for me!)! Futsal’s top league in Portugal is almost fully professional so the standard is extremely high and certainly something I learnt from and thoroughly enjoyed watching. Benfica won the game comfortably… But going back to Bruno, the interesting thing is he’s one of the only people involved in the project who isn’t a type 1 diabetic. Not wanting to spoil upcoming video content but hearing his thoughts and knowledge about the condition from working with the team was fascinating! His commitment to the team is extending to actually wearing a Libre to next year’s DiaEuro so he can feel a part of the routine with the team.

We enjoyed an incredible day with a few members of the project who made us feel so welcome  and on the ride back to our apartment we continued talking diabetes, futsal and about our common interests. DiabPT united had treated us to some wonderful memories.

Myself, Noel & Karl had a quiet evening reflecting ahead of the day we’d all been building up to. For me this was a once in a lifetime experience we were about to have. How often can you say you’ve trained in a team made up of only Type 1 Diabetics? To say I was excited would’ve been an understatement. My glucose levels were not playing ball at all though. It started to dawn on me that the YoYo had been caused by my basal insulin not working (I think the fridge was too cold and had ruined it), so with all of it potentially ruined, I was monitoring more closely and correcting a lot with bolus injections, this continued the YoYo of hypos & highs, but I battled on with it, as I didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t ideal preparation for a training session I was desperate to be a part of, but I was determined to be involved even with this hiccup and the injury I was carrying!

Day 4

Well this was it… The day of the training session with the team. The day which I’d been looking forward to from the moment we’d organised the trip.

The day started with some pretty high glucose levels for me from the pizza we’d eaten the night before and my background insulin not working… This had me awake pretty early to correct my levels ahead of the training session, whilst I wasn’t going back to sleep due to the excitement!

After some breakfast and the normal training preparation routine, we then grabbed ourselves an Uber over to the pavilion, which was a short ride away.

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Walking into the indoor hall with a couple of the players & management team we’d just met was a surreal experience. I was just about to embark on a training session I thought I’d never ever see. Playing with a squad of players which all shared the same medical condition as myself was completely alien to me. I’d never played in the same team as another type 1 diabetic let alone 10 of them.

The training session was from 10 am to 12pm and it flew by. For me I just felt lucky enough to be able to train a little bit as it was the first time I’d played at all since breaking my foot in May! The biggest thing that struck me was that despite not knowing anyone and not speaking their language, we’d all managed to bond, become friends and feel instantly comfortable around each other. It really was a special moment as our shared love of futsal and our Type 1 Diabetes created a bond instantly. I’ve seen this happen now quite a few times and it just amazes me the bond created between people by something deemed so negatively by many, in the form of a chronic medical condition.

Myself and Noel did step out of the session in order to capture some interviews with members of the team & project. We obviously wanted to take part in the session as much as possible but for us this session was much more than just playing. We wanted to get a feel for the project and the purpose of DiabPT, so we interviewed members of the management team and players to share this with our TDFC followers. The content and information we got from these chats were incredible and I can’t wait to be able to share it with the community. Karl is working on pulling this together for us to release on our social media pages as well as the website, so please keep an eye out for it!

We left the session with such a smile on our faces. A resounding success and a moment in my life I’ll always remember. It was an incredible experience and opportunity which I’m so grateful I had the chance to be a part of.

We followed the session by heading to lunch with the team where we had the entertainment and “Mischief Maker” Noel in full flow as we shared stories of Diabetes, talked about DiabPT United & generally had a lot of fun in each other’s company. I felt like we’d made lifelong friends in the space of 3-4 hours.

After our lunch and some more Portuguese sunshine I wanted to get behind the camera and film an interview which I thought would be a cracker for our followers. I wanted to showcase a chat between the only two non-diabetics sat around the table for lunch, Karl & Bruno. Karl had been following me and Noel over the course of the previous few days with a camera and was certainly getting a good feel for what life with Type 1 Diabetes was like, so I thought getting him to question and chat with Bruno on camera would be a gold dust interview. It really was!! I can’t wait for us to share their exchange.

What a morning/afternoon it was and I couldn’t thank DiabPT united enough for the experience. After we re-grouped back at our apartment we felt it only right to go out for a nice meal and to toast to the success of one of our main objectives of the trip, so we headed to a Mexican restaurant for some food and to relax after a very busy day.

We all went to bed that night extremely content with how the day had panned out, the fun we’d had, the friends we’d made and the amazing content we’d captured. A happy TDFC team!

 Day 5

On day 5 the pace of the trip caught up with everyone… We all had a lie in and I was suffering with a cold quite badly so we didn’t really get going until 12pm but after the previous day’s activities we could be forgiven for making a slow start to the day.  

Once we got going we stopped off at our local subway for a foot long and then hopped onto the metro down to the river Tagus, to then grab an Uber over to the Almada district where the sanctuary of Jesus Christ is located. The main reason we went was for the incredible views of Lisbon and we weren’t disappointed!! Yet again I won’t waste words on trying to describe it as I honestly can’t do it justice in the same way the pictures can…

We spent a couple of hours taking the views in before  heading back and relaxing, knowing we had an early start again on Tuesday.  The TDFC squad grabbed some food from an Italian restaurant and agreed that after a number of days of living on our phones and posting non-stop on social media, to ensure people could keep up with the trip, we would put them down for the duration of Dinner. It was a great idea as we discovered new things about each other and got a much needed break from the notifications.

After a busy weekend and a day of me feeling a bit rough I was glad Day 5 was fairly quiet knowing what the schedule for day 6 was! My levels were still bouncing around and just trying to keep them on a leash was quite a challenge and tiring. At this point I was just hoping to get home and get some insulin that was working on board, as the challenge of managing on just short term insulin injections was difficult to say the least.

Day 6

At this point we were getting used to early starts so this was no shock to the system as we headed back over to Benfica’s stadium to watch their Futsal first team train… However once we arrived our man behind the scenes (the coach of DiabPT united, Bruno) informed us that they’d changed the time of the practice and this now clashed with our second order of the day…

So we had to chill for an hour or so at the stadium of light… There are many worse places to be stuck haha!! Myself and Karl had a game of FIFA, we grabbed some food and walked around a bit before heading back to the metro… On our walk back to the metro we were lucky enough to bump into a couple of the Benfica Futsal players whom we managed to grab a couple of photos with, which was a positive to our mishap!! (Rafael Hemni and Andrea Correia)

After our detour we headed over to APDP, the oldest Diabetes association in the world for a tour with Jonni Tuga from DiabPT united. It was an amazing place to visit and having seen how they have all of their diabetes care under one roof within this building it made me think of how much better it would be if you could visit one place in the U.K and have your eyes, feet, bloods, dietician and consultant appointment in one day, which is how they do it in Portugal. We looked over the history of the association in their museum and chatted about how things differ in our countries in the care we receive. A frequent topic of conversation for us!!

The other reason for our visit was to get involved in another couple of interviews… Myself and Noel interviewed Jonni about his involvement in APDP & DiabPT united, whilst the association also wanted to interview myself & Noel about TDFC and the reasons for our trip so they could share it in the magazine they circulate for their members. We were happy to oblige!

We then parted ways with Jonni and said our goodbyes for the last time on this trip and the first twinge of sadness came over me as I knew the trip was heading towards its completion. I knew it wouldn’t be the last time we saw our friends in Portugal but I tried not to dwell on the fact we were leaving them behind, but more on the positivity of the relationships we’d developed over the time we’d spent away.

After our goodbyes we managed to take in our first football game of the trip as we visited Sporting Lisbon on our final night together… Our friends at DiabPT united weren’t too pleased as they’re mostly Benfica fans haha!  We witnessed a 0-0 draw with Maritimo but the experience of seeing one of Portugal’s biggest teams play in their home stadium was a fitting way to spend Noel’s last night with us. Leaving the stadium I felt an immense amount of pride as to what we had seen, who we had met and what the visit had achieved for us all.

We couldn’t leave Lisbon as a full team without toasting to the success of the trip. So we headed to a local cocktail bar toasting to the success of the trip. We smiled, laughed and enjoyed talking about our favourite moments, whilst catching up with some of our friends on facetime and whatsapp. I can honestly say that spending all this time with Karl (Karlita) and Noel (Noelly) was a pleasure and I’ve learnt so much about them in such a short space of time.

We enjoyed our last night together…. Until we arrived back to our apartment to be greeted by a power cut! Haha. You win some you lose some! The lights were out but the TDFC light was shining brightly.

Day 7

We all woke up feeling a bit strange as this was the day we parted ways. Noel’s journey back to the USA began at midday so we were forced to say goodbye fairly early on in the day. We all felt sad as we’d become accustomed to each other and our surroundings! A massive thank you to Noel for travelling over from the USA for the trip, without her the trip wouldn’t have been the same for me or for Karl. She’s an incredible advocate for Diabetes in sport and such a pleasure to have on board the TDFC project.

After a swift goodbye and yet another Uber for Noel to the airport, myself and Karl felt very much like the trip was over and the majority of our final day was spent lugging our suitcases and bags around Lisbon. We arranged our final resting point to be a small boat in the Lisbon Marina and we headed out for the last time to watch Benfica’s Futsal team compete in the Lisbon cup with Bruno. It was an extremely entertaining and a much closer game than the one we’d seen at the weekend. Benfica ended up winning 5-2 away from home. Whilst we were there we bumped into one of the main commentators for Futsal in Portugal and we spent time chatting about TDFC, my own Futsal and the game itself. What struck me is how incredibly approachable, friendly & welcoming everyone in Portugal had been towards us. There are some funny stories that Noel can tell about some over friendly Uber drivers but all in all as we left the game, I definitely felt I’d be coming back to visit Portugal again.

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Karl and I got back to our boat in darkness, hopped in through the hatch and literally took 5 minutes before getting into bed. We had our last early start of the trip to get to the airport and I knew it would be the last night of battling away with no basal insulin! I couldn’t wait to get home and sort my medication out on one hand and on the other I was gutted to be leaving behind an amazing trip.

 Day 8 / Reflections

As we got up, packed our bags and left our boat behind in the marina, for another Uber to the airport, I felt a mix of emotions. Despite the disappointment of leaving Lisbon to arrive in a damp and cloudy Birmingham I felt myself feeling both humbled and blessed by the whole experience.

Did the trip teach me anything? Yes.

Did we achieve the goals we’d set for the trip? Yes.

Did we raise awareness of Diabetes & TDFC? Yes.

Did we enjoy ourselves? Yes.

Everything I could’ve asked for from Portugal was achieved. Our first TDFC trip was a resounding success and the content we’re going to share, I hope will help our followers and provide some great insight.

Before signing off from my diary I have to say a massive thank you to Jenifer Duarte and Jonni Tuga (Joao) who helped us organise the trip and made us feel so welcome. I also need to thank Bruno who spent so much time with us in Portugal for which he didn’t have to. It was hugely appreciated.

An incredible opportunity, meeting incredible people, which I hope will lead to more incredible things from TDFC.  Thank you to everyone who supported our trip in Portugal and everyone that posted, liked, commented and shared our posts online and through social media. We’ll keep talking about supporting, advising, empowering and raising awareness of this condition in Football. More support is needed and we’ll keep challenging for it.

Chris

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