“In some respects what I am about to talk about is not a day I want to remember, however TDFC founder Chris Bright made me think about the experience in a different way.
I am currently playing my first season of futsal for Bedford Futsal Club who are in the Women’s Super Series South. Our season got off to a great start with a strong win & I even bagged myself a hat-trick, however our second game of the season stepped up a level…
The day itself brought a lot of new challenges that we all as a team had to try and combat. For instance, playing a very strong opposition, having crowds back and being streamed live on TV with BT Sports.. yes BT Sports!
On Saturday 9th October I was lucky enough to be the first female type 1 diabetic to play competitive futsal live on BT Sports (as far as I am aware… definitely reach out if you know differently!!!).
The Lead Up to the Game
The day before was sensor change day, something I’ve never had problems with.
I applied my sensor as normal, however, once set up was complete I received an error notification reading ‘replace sensor, sensor not working’ – luckily, I did have another sensor with me as I get two a month. So I thought no stress I will just replace the faulty one and as I’ve never had this issue before it must be a one off. After applying the second sensor and after checking my levels once or twice I got the same error message – what are the chances both sensors didn’t work??
The panic started to kick in – I am not going to be able to control my bloods as I would want to for the big game tomorrow without my sensor. Fortunately, I was able to go and purchase an additional sensor from a local pharmacy which thankfully worked. I was however very conscious of the accuracy given my experience that day, therefore I was sense checking my sugars with a finger prick for the rest of the evening to gain confidence.
On The Day..
I hadn’t had a great night with the blood sugars, I often go to sleep with bloods in range to find them spike in the night, which is what happened the night before the game. I woke up around 2/3am by chance and had a correction dose as my blood glucose levels were rising above 15mmol’s. As you can see from the below graph this started to kick in but as my bloods dropped back into range it spiked again. I then woke up just before 6am and saw my bloods were too high yet again so I decided to do another correction dose, hoping to wake in a couple of hours with much better glucose level.
When my alarm went off around 7:30am my bloods were dipping into the low territory, which I treated with my usual carton of orange juice. I then had a decision to make as it was essential I got my levels under control for the day.
We had a 2:30pm kick off which in itself adds complications and decisions to be made around when I would need to fuel up for the game with potentially 2 meal times to squeeze in whilst also ensuring my bloods were under control from the get-go. As I had just treated my low sugars, I was conscious of them spiking if I had breakfast straight away – so I decided to hold out and just pack breakfast for the journey.
To help relax before the game and give the legs a good stretch beforehand we decided to travel up early and catch some of the earlier games. We wanted to familiarise ourselves with the settings, try to squash the external pressures and settle the nerves.
I had read a very interesting blog only days before from a type 1 who ran the London Marathon (who I now know to be Scott Burrell (what a legend and don’t miss his podcast about it by clicking here) who had experienced the negative side of adrenaline and added pressures of big events on blood sugars, leading him to not be able to bring his levels down to perform at his best.
This was playing a lot on my mind in the lead up to and on game day.
As I had held out on having breakfast my bloods started to drop during the journey up to Birmingham, so I decided to treat this again with the trusty orange juice carton and one Weetabix.
My bloods started to rise again ahead of the warm-up, so I did another couple of units as I know my bloods tend to rise once I start playing. This seemed to eventually start to work, however, the adrenaline mixed with the usual during exercise spike still managed to creep in across the second half of the game.
I didn’t feel the impact of this movement as I was very focused on the game but on reflection I probably could have benefited from another unit or so whilst I was off the court.
Overall, considering the occasion, I was fairly happy with my blood sugars, however, I wish the lead up to game day and previous night’s levels were a bit more in control as I know the middle of the night highs, and the corresponding lows, have an impact on my body throughout the following day.
After a tough game and unfortunate result, the day ended with a huge spike in sugars from the evening meal that I consumed post game to drown the sorrows.
There are definitely some learning points I can take from the day to help me move forward if we are lucky enough to be on live tv again in the new year.
When I take a step back, I am extremely proud to have had the opportunity to play live on BT Sports and will continue to work hard to have that opportunity again.
Having type 1 diabetes does add a number of extra daily considerations and decision points, but I will never let it hold me back from doing the things I work hard for. “
Louise is part of the TDFC Womens team leading the push to provide more education, support and opportunities for girls and women to get more from their Football and Futsal, whilst living with Diabetes. Get in touch if you’re interested in finding out more!
I attended my first TDFC session in July following an introduction to the project by Mo who found my Facebook profile on a Type-1 diabetes page & saw from my profile photo that I was a football fan.
I have been a Type-1 diabetic for over 30 years and could probably count the number of fellow Type-1’s who I have met during this time on one hand. However, during the challenges of the past 18 months and after experiencing some side effects caused by diabetes, the want & need to meet with people going through similar life experiences was heightened. The TDFC project provided this; the fact that everyone also had a passion for the sport I have loved for the past 35 years was a bonus!
In a strange coincidence, one of the other guys who was also planning on attending the session in July lives literally around the corner from me, a mere 7-min drive away! Buncy and me agreed to travel the 2.5hrs to Worcester (from Berkshire) together and got to know each other through an exchange that covered blood glucose levels, diabetes management, hypo symptoms and of course, football. Turns out Buncy is a Watford fan, so there was much fun to be had….
Once we arrived into Worcester, I found the meet & greet/get to know each other session really powerful. I have not before realised the benefits of such a session. They empower people to work to solve their own problems. Everyone in attendance are equals and I felt that this made people feel much more comfortable opening up about their diabetes journey and related experiences. After a very tough last 18 months with Covid & the various lockdowns, I believe that sessions like this can reduce any anxieties, whilst improving self-esteem, and providing a sense of well-being overall.
The actual training session was itself a surreal experience. Playing futsal/football with other guys who were flicking their phone across the Libre on their arms to monitor their BG levels every so often whilst having conversations about various diabetes management strategies adopted for a rigorous football/futsal session was something I hadn’t seen before. Somehow, it almost seemed ‘normal’ to take mini-breaks to take BG readings and to read them out to the group with no judgments made. I personally awoke with a BG of 12mmol so spent the whole car journey up trying to get it to a suitable level, but I did too much of a good job of this and ended up starting the session with a 3.3mmol highlighted in red flashing up on my own phone via my Libre. Thankfully, there was an assortment of glucose options supplied to support the treatment of a low BG.
I have been playing a decent standard of football for over 30 years, but futsal is a very different game; more tactical, more structured and more intense with less time to recover from a period of attacking or defending. Having put in a couple of additional pounds during the lockdowns, I’d admit that I need to better prepare myself to suitably compete for the next session! The standards were pretty high and were refined by the guidance and coaching of Brighty, culminating in a very good team goal during the actual practice match. Thankfully, the goal was scored by the team that I was on…
After a competitive and enjoyable session, I managed to join a couple of the guys for a quick ad-hoc lunch before we all departed for our return journeys home. We all shared some more stories on our diabetes journey. A couple of the guys were newly diagnosed, so it was empowering for me to share my own 30 year story of diabetes & to highlight what I had achieved, both personally & professionally to send a message that diabetes shouldn’t hold you back.
Personally, for me, the whole experience was humbling, empowering & enlightening whilst providing a much-needed boost to my mental mindset. I also got to find out that I ‘wasn’t the only type-1 in the village’….
Guess what, it’s been a weird 18 months hasn’t it, but as the restrictions end and some form of normality returns it was great to get the message from TDFC HQ that the futsal sessions are back on and a couple of summer meet ups are in the diary. Get in!!
As many us will know (especially if you’re a parent or carer) you must wear different heads daily, nurse, best friend, coach, Darth Vader. All of which had to been worn in increasingly difficult lockdown circumstances. Having worn all of these (including the new Key stage 2 teacher head) I was driving down to Worcester for the session thinking I haven’t worn the futsal keeper/skipper one for over two years.
A light bulb moment that almost felt like imposter syndrome, as if I was stepping into someone else’s shoes. I’d felt a little like this going to the first ever meet up back in 2018 when I felt like the old guy who had come for the dads v lads’ game. Believe me that feeling disappeared almost instantly in 2018 and the same in 2021.
The reason why, it’s easy, it is the people. The strength and support of community is powerful. Something you don’t (or I didn’t at least) realise until you’re involved, meeting and listening to others, simply having a chat, a laugh or empathising with the issues they are encountering. The WhatsApp group that all who join TDFC are invited to has been fantastic in keeping in touch with everyone but meeting up with some old and new faces, getting the boots on and simply having a game, that is a life saver.
I have family down in Worcester, so we decided to make a day of the first session and catch up, so the Ward clan turned up on mass at Worcester FA HQ.
The meet up followed the usual routine the hello’s, how are you doing, nice to meet you, take the mickey out of each other and have a laugh (mostly at my lockdown barnet), yes Tob’s I know the barbers are open now but I’m going full Zlatan! 😊
There were loads of new faces and although I didn’t get to chat with everyone it was great to meet you all, apart from Bryn who megged me 3 times, you mate, can stay in Aberystwyth next session!
The presentation and discussion with Chris and Jon that opened the session was a real eye opener with the differing level of access to diabetic support across the country, be that physiological support, CGMs, pumps, and dietary & lifestyle advice offered was frighteningly varied, far from consistent and really not great to see. The tireless work Partha Kar and others are doing to remedy this is vital for people with type 1 across the country.
A special shout out to Mo Ismail, who has been an absolute legend throughout the pandemic and well ever since I’ve met him. His advice and guidance (he’s a qualified Pharmacist and T1D brother working in the NHS) on all the questions posted in the group has been a real source of inspiration and support and the recognition he received during the session is well deserved! Well done and thank you pal from us all.
After the presentation and discussion, it was down to the pitch for the futsal, but first media duties for me and Mo discussing the project with Active Herefordshire and Worcestershire, who have provided us with some great support to get back on our feet. It was great to chat about TDFC and the return to playing and training.
The training was great as usual (apart from the megs) and it’s always nice to learn as well as get chatting to Tom about Goalkeeping and his master’s Studies in the USA too!
I coach academy and grassroots football, so I am on a pitch most days of the week but being out there playing and being coached is such a release, you don’t know how much you miss it.
A nice end to the day was having my picture taken by Chris from Reaction Photography of me with Brighty and my boys all of us in TDFC kit, I think they are expecting to be on the flight to Bosnia now for the next DiaEuro.
It was great to be back to see some old and dear friends and make some new ones. I can’t wait to catch up with the rest of the lads and keep meeting new people within TDFC.
In a thousand different ways the day was a real family affair.
It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to write this, but…….. WE ARE BACK! This weekend coming, we will be resuming our Men’s Diabetes Futsal sessions at the Worcestershire FA headquarters after a gap of 15 months due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.
It’s been a tough break for us all. We know so many of the group took a lot from the sessions in the past and we’re hoping to bring back all of that positivity, engagement and support to our upcoming sessions. We know there’s a lot of excitement amongst the ranks from existing and new players to the project so we can’t wait to get back out there!
We will be starting back on the 27th of June with another session planned in for the 25th of July as well so if you want to get involved please do get in touch!
For us these sessions will be about re-engaging with our community, getting our squad back together to play as well as welcoming new faces to the pitch. We should have a good laugh and a lot of fun which is what it’s all about.
We must also say a big thank you to The Tackling Inequalities fund created by Sport England and put into practice by Active Herefordshire and Worcestershire. They’ve supported us with funding and support to help get us back off the ground after what has been a really challenging period during the pandemic.
It’s going to be a really exciting month for us as the sessions get back underway whilst we also continue to grow the women’s arm of the Diabetes Futsal squads…. However, ahead of this first session we thought we’d invite one of the newest members of the community, who will be attending his first session this weekend, to describe how he’s feeling ahead of Sunday…. Over to you Bryn:
“I’m really excited to be finally meeting up with the lads from TDFC. Ever since I watched Chris’ story I just knew it was something I would love to be Involved in. So to be invited to training with them is really special.
I was so inspired by the work of TDFC I even held an active fundraiser for the charity through my sports coaching business ‘BMO Coaching’ – we managed to raise £377.50 for TDFC and £900 in total, which we shared with other local charities.
Living in the Welsh coastal town of Aberystwyth, I have only met a total of two T1D players that are still playing senior football so It’s going to be a fantastic experience playing / meeting with other T1 diabetics in a football environment.
I’m passionate about raising awareness and passing on knowledge about diabetes, especially throughout my area of Wales. I’ve been playing football with T1D for 20 years and I’m keen to show people that it doesn’t stop me from playing sport and doing the things I love.
The lads have been really welcoming on the group chat so I’m looking forward to a session with them to break the ice. “
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bryn and isn’t it great to be back!
To be honest, until I heard Stevie Ward talk about his struggles with Post-Concussion Syndrome on the Mantality podcast I hadn’t even considered talking about this….. Nor was I really ready to share what it’s been like, because to be brutally honest it’s been far from ok.
However, having heard him talk so well about the challenges and how it mimicked so much of my own experience, I felt empowered to get it off my chest as this subject hasn’t been spoken about anywhere near enough, especially within sport. As someone who’s used to dealing with an invisible condition on a daily basis, I thought I’d be relatively well equipped to cope but there was a key difference to this diagnosis from the off. This time I opened up from the off and told people what I was living with, a different approach to my type 1 diagnosis, but ultimately very quickly I was reminded why I adopted that approach before….
When people can’t see, feel or experience what you’re going through they find it hard to believe what you’re telling them. Throughout society there’s a distinct lack of empathy (in my opinion!), that ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes for just a minute. I think it’s a root cause of many many issues across the globe but this is slightly away from my point. It’s also had a huge impact on my life again coping with post-concussion syndrome ( a brain injury!).
I’ve had people almost patronise me, almost can’t believe I’m still talking about, think it’s not that serious, think I’m overdoing it and overall think I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. Another invisible condition, something else people can’t see through my eyes for a moment and here we go again, another condition with stigma attached.
For me it again just demonstrates why people with hidden conditions like type 1 diabetes, don’t talk about it much in mainstream society. You’re made to feel as though you’re constantly the problem. I hear the lip service paid to the words diversity and inclusion all over the place in 2021 but until individuals become accountable for those words to themselves, how can those things really be achieved?
I wanted to make that point clear, that empathy can make all the difference and if you catch yourself making a pre-judgement of someone, see if you can just take a minute to look at the world through their eyes….. It might change everything.
But I want to talk about what the condition has been like as well, because it’s been awful at times and it needs more people talking about it.
So, since September 2020 I’ve been dealing with symptoms of post-concussion syndrome which started with not much more than being off balance for a header which then came off the wrong part of my head and followed with a number of other knocks in the same game, contributing to an initial concussion. But the concussion wasn’t immediate….
My symptoms didn’t start until 4/5 hours later….. I was just sat in the pub with my friends that evening and I suddenly felt incredibly tired and my brain was a bit foggy, whilst struggling to engage in the conversation around me. Luckily, we all headed off pretty early that night and I got home and went straight to bed not thinking too much about it, other than the fact I was a lot more tired than usual…. Then I woke up the next morning.
The first thing I noticed was that I’d slept for 9 hours without stirring, which is unusual for me. Following that I could tell I still felt extremely tired despite sleeping that long! I felt I could’ve slept another 3 hours easily. Both of these things really struck me… Then the really obvious issues began.
I didn’t quite feel steady on my feet, I mean I wasn’t falling over or tripping but I just felt a bit off, then I had this foggy way of thinking which affected my recall and ability to properly participate in conversation. Ultimately, I was struggling to process information and provide speech as easily as I had found it 24 hours before. I was also noticing that concentration and especially on screens, such as my phone or laptop would really flare up a headache and intensify the throbbing, pressurised feeling I had in my head. Alongside this was a feeling of nausea when I concentrated too much. This was the day after the first concussion.
I then woke up on Monday morning and felt much the same, with things ever so slightly improving but I needed to speak to my GP to understand what was happening. So I managed to get through and speak to them about what I was experiencing and through a telephone triage appointment I was diagnosed with mild concussion, no tests, no examination, all via the phone. As this was my first experience of concussion in my life, the lack of urgency or need to examine me, filled me with a view that it wasn’t too serious, and I’ll be ok in a few days. The advice was to rest and not do contact sport for 2 weeks. If things got worse, I was told to go to A&E to have a scan but as things improved I didn’t feel that it was necessary to do that. The key word was REST in the GP’s advice, but rest looks different to each person and without any sort of definition of what that looked like I chilled out for a few days, took time off work, didn’t really exercise and then gradually incorporated some of that back in, towards the end of the week. The very blasé view given at the start of my diagnosis filled me with an ill-informed opinion of the gravity of the situation and no real insight as to how to approach the next 2 weeks bearing in mind my personal situation. It could’ve been read out of a textbook. I now know that this was a huge mistake but I can’t turn back the clock…. I wish I could.
Needless to say, that 2 weeks after that first concussion I went back and started an FA Vase game. Looking back, I think I knew I wasn’t quite right but with it being a biggish game for the club and me being a senior player, I wanted to get out there and play. When you’re a competitor you always want to be out there. I played the full 90 minutes, we played really well, won the game 4-1 and after initially feeling a tiny bit rough, by the end I was good as gold, or so I thought. I had played the game with no head collisions or challenges and made 6 or 7 routine headers, so I thought I’d probably be ok as a result. But after the adrenaline subsided, the symptoms came on quicker. On the car in the way home (I wasn’t driving!), I could feel that the nausea was there with the fogginess and they were getting worse. This time I obviously knew what it was, so I accepted I was going to feel awful for a few days again and hoped that maybe after a month of not playing this time it’ll go back to normal….
I was obviously wrong… I went back to square -1!
The symptoms were worse than previously and because I was having to work to bring in money, and I wanted to try and keep my mental health in a good place by exercising too, I was struggling with making any progress as I wasn’t getting enough rest. I got better to a point after 2 weeks and then after that I had lingering reoccurring symptoms which affected me on a daily basis. It was worrying, frustrating, frightening and all the other emotions mixed in between.
After continuing like this for a month to 6 weeks, my anxiety about it reached the point where I needed some advice. I rang my GP again, I reached out on Social Media and I looked for anyone who could help. Coupling that with the November Lockdown and it was a really tough place!
I got some good advice and support which has helped to move me forwards and my symptoms have gradually lessened but I’m still not able to work at a full intensity with my exercise and I struggle with continuous screen work as it brings on a throbbing pain in my head and I can feel a little skippy or unbalanced but compared to October/November it’s a world apart. I need to look after myself for a moment and forget about playing sport, this is bigger than that.
But still to this day I’ve not been scanned, examined or seen in person at all regarding my concussion and my memory/ recall is just not as sharp as it was. I hope that one day it’ll come back to something closer to where I was but my recovery is still in progress and even recently took a bit of a hit after too much time spent at a screen working. I thought I was in a place where I was ready for it but in turns out I wasn’t! I heard Stevie say it and I resonate it with so much, the recovery just isn’t linear at all, one day I’ll feel like it’s disappeared and then another I’m really reminded it hasn’t!
I look back now and I know I should have stopped myself playing. I reflect on that every single day. I wished I’d taken things far more seriously and I wish that there was less stigma surrounding talking about brain injuries or mental health conditions within sport. It might have been the difference in me taking the time out to properly rest.
We can’t change that overnight but even if me just sharing this blog post and my experience can help one other person who may be going through this, has gone through this or may unfortunately have to face this in the future, at least through the dark times I’ve been through someone else might take some comfort.
A huge thank you to Stevie for sharing his experience so publicly, which has given me the courage to put mine out there, as writing some of this hasn’t been easy, especially when I’m still going through this. I hope to one day look back at this post and say I recovered. If you have never checked out Mantality before, you should! The work that Stevie and Natalie are doing is shedding a light on concussion specifically and mental health more broadly. It’s a fantastic project and it’s certainly supported and inspired me.
With the premier league recently introducing concussion substitutions and demonstrating a step forward around these types of injuries, more stories and experiences need to be shown as to how it effects everyday lives. It needs more awareness to end the stigma and allow people to feel comfortable talking about something so dangerous.
I have no idea if my Diabetes continues to play a part in my recovery or whether it had an impact in the concussion in the first place, but like with everything I’ve faced in my life, this challenge is one I’ve accepted and will continue to embrace.
I now advocate for Type 1 Diabetes and for greater awareness around the impact of concussion.
I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this subject and thank you for reading.
A summary of some of my symptoms below:
Immediate symptom: tired much earlier in the evening than I’d ever been before.
On and off symptom: Felt a little bit off balance.
Continued symptom: Working with screens would really upset my head. Whilst looking at them in the mornings before I’d got going would cause a headache which lasted for hours.
An immediate symptom and when I’ve done too much: Felt skippy, turning too quickly would set me off.
An early symptom and when I’ve done too much: Pressure in my head and a headache for quite a number of days.
An early symptom: Nausea, feeling a bit like being car sick or motion sick.
An early symptom and when I’ve done far too much: Foggy, I struggled to connect my brain to the conversation around me.
I even got my eyes tested to check that I wasn’t irritating my head with my eyesight.
When I exercised or ran too quickly, I’d irritate my symptoms and go backwards.
Immediate and continuous symptom: Forgetful – Forgetting names of people I always remembered previously and getting frustrated and worried/upset about noticing this. Just forgetting what I was doing a few days ago or situations I always remember.
Another leading member of The Diabetes Football Community and a veteran of the UK Diabetes Futsal squad wanted to share his views on 2020. Zak has been living a long way from home, with the pandemic unfolding in a completely different way in the country of his birth, to the country he’s been living in…. A really interesting insight from Zak and we want to wish you all a Happy New Year wherever you are in the world and thank you for all of your support. Over to you Zak:
“It’s obvious that many people will be glad to see the back of 2020. However, reflection is an important part of every cycle or transition to a new period.
And with any reflection, it is important to acknowledge the positives of the year just passed.
Despite challenging circumstances, I have seen so many friends on social media starting up a side-business this year, whether it be selling hand-made gifts, homemade cakes, or launching a company they had been thinking about for years, and had finally been given the time to turn a vision into action.
Secondly, I have seen some seriously impressive 5km, 10km and further run times from people who had barely ran those distances before. The ability to get out in the fresh air and to explore the local environment will always be free, and for that we should be grateful. It also shows how quickly we can improve at something if we just put the time and effort in.
My situation is different to most right now, as I moved to New Zealand at the end of 2019 from Sydney, where I had been working on an overseas visa for the previous three years. The events that were about to unfold meant that it turned out to be a fortunate decision in many ways, with New Zealand containing the virus for much of 2020. However, despite the relative freedom, it still affects me in a similar way to others as I don’t know when I can next fly home to see my family and friends (I was due to see them this Christmas).
The main challenge for me this year has actually been diabetes-related. The health care system here isn’t quite as advanced as in the UK, meaning diabetes care options are much more limited. For example, only one type of long-acting insulin is government funded (Lantus) and CGM is mainly self-funded here too. Due to my current visa status, I am not eligible for any discount on prescriptions. The full price of insulin, the thing that keeps me alive on a day-to-day basis is eye-watering at times, and certainly makes me feel some empathy for our friends across the Atlantic in USA, who deal with similar battles over the cost of their diabetes.
Despite these hurdles, I have taken a positive outlook and tried to address how I can combat this challenge. To save some money, I decided to cut back on a couple of other “luxury” expenses. However, I made sure I did not cut back on my diabetes care, as health is so important, therefore I tested as much as I usually would, despite the extra costs. This yielded a positive result, with my HbA1c resulting in 42 at my last check-up; the lowest it has been since diagnosis 14 years ago. I remain hopeful that my new visa will come through soon and that I can then access my insulin, test strips etc. at a more reasonable cost.
Looking ahead to 2021, our CEO at Sport Wellington summed it up quite well by wishing for a “dull and boring” 2021! With uncertainty set to continue for a while, “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” may be a good mantra to live by. For me personally, the current situation just re-iterates how happiness and health are essential to our livelihoods. So, I would encourage everybody to think about what makes them most happy? And think of how you can achieve this in whatever circumstances are thrown at you. And when we think about health, as people with Diabetes we have that extra aspect to think about; but remember that health is holistic and not just physical – mental, emotional, social and spiritual health are all contributors to our overall wellbeing.
Take care everyone and wishing you all a Happy New Year.
The world, what we value, how we see the future, jobs, the economy, sport, social activities, health etc have all been affected this year by Covid-19.
This piece was written to focus on the positive, and is focussed on gratitude 😊
Moving on to where we are now; Diabetes month!
Throughout the years I’ve seen people post images of how many injections they’ve had to endure over their lifetime, images of libre scans, hypo treatments, Hba1cs, the DKA and diagnosis in hospital, how people have overcome their diabetes challenges and all those additional things we have to endure…..just to function everyday.
This year I’ve had a think about what’s important to me, what has helped me keep ticking, year on year, and ultimately has led me to meet up with, and work with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.
The story begins a few years back, sometime in 2017. I had a decent job, life was great on the outside, my diabetes control was awesome, but I was, at the time, not feeling good inside.There were two parts to why I wasn’t feeling great, one was diabetes related.
I was struggling with diabetes burnout. It was something I never knew existed as I’ve had t1 since the age of 2.5, and so not known what life was like otherwise. I guess when “not being okay” becomes a routine, it ends up being normal.
I’d figured out through my understanding of medicine and pharmacy, how rapid acting insulin worked. The bottom line was that I could get away with measuring my sugars less than a handful of times a day, guesstimate doses extremely well, have limited hypos and have an a1c of below 6.5. I could manage exercise well and only really struggled when I went out for a three course meal and desert at a posh curry place.
I couldn’t really see the point of bothering really, even my hospital appointments were pointless. I’d turn up, be asked for my diary (which didn’t exist), someone would have a proper go at me for a bit, then open up my record.
After this point they’d take some time to double check my hospital notes, scroll through my history and say well done. I often felt it was more out of shock than praise. That was it. No “sorry” for making me feel like the smallest thing on planet earth, no “is there anything I can do for you?”, no “how do you manage to dose”, no “how are things?”. Then I’d get an appointment a year later and rush back to work.
One time at work (I work as a hospital Pharmacist) I had a brief discussion with a dsn about care. She asked where my care was and I mentioned the hospital. She asked whether I thought about moving my care to my workplace. I didn’t know this was possible. I thought about it for a bit, and concluded that it would be hugely beneficial as I wouldn’t have to travel back to work by train, saving about 1 hour of my time, once a year.
So I worked really hard to move my care over. Contacted the GP, my DSN and after a while, I got the appointment notification in the post.
A few weeks before my appointment, I was working in a GP surgery, running a clinic that aimed at preventing blood clots. A routine patient came in, mentioned that they were really worried at the time as their sibling was unwell. They lived nearby and asked if I could do a quick blood test for their sibling, who was also part of our service. I stated that I’d do their consultation, and if I had time, would look into it as I had other patients waiting.
Later on, I read through the sibling’s discharge summary and was shattered. There was a lot on there about poor compliance, complications of diabetes…….it was a mess. I took the kit I needed and headed to the home. The person was in an awful state. I took the blood test needed and they used the blood to test their sugars. I could tell this wasn’t going to be good.
They were throwing up, dehydrated and their sugars were 17. It was a bad mix. They asked for advice and I couldn’t give any, as my clinic wasn’t a diabetes one. It really broke my heart, but you have to be professional. I advised they seek medical attention, and left. As I got back to the clinic, I realised I forgot one of my monitoring devices. I headed back to the home and an ambulance was there. I got the device, wished them well, headed back to the clinic, tidied up and went home.
There are times in my job I experience these things and often ask myself many questions. Most of them are “Why not me?”, “Why does diabetes lead to so many bad outcomes?”, “Why do I find people in situations I’ll probably never find myself in?” and it usually ends up with “Why bother?”.
Afterall, it’s a lot easier hiding from a condition, not having to think about it, than grinding your way through your daily routine only to be seeing others suffering, with you not having the ability to influence or change their outcomes in a positive way. That stuff is soul destroying, but I guess at the time I couldn’t see any way to process that in a positive way. I thought, “who would understand, and who could, if they would understand, be able to do anything about it?”
I guess weeks went past, and I cared a little less, it gets better from here onwards, promise!
So I turn up to my appointment, expecting the same response. Hopefully this year, a little quicker as I won’t have to travel back to work.
So I get called up, knock on the door, open it. “Hi can I come in?”. “I haven’t had a chance to read your notes yet….do come in.”
From then onward it was quite an interesting consultation:
“Where’s your diary?”, “I don’t have one” (expecting a massive lecture/some condescending remarks at this point….).
“So how do you monitor?”, “I dose according to how I feel” (probably the first time in years someone has actually taken the time to ask the question, rather than judge straight away).
Usually I get a sarcastic smile or a brief laugh. Instead I got a look of someone who was genuinely interested, trying to take a moment to understand.
I felt bad at this point and decided to pull out my phone to show a pic of a day I had with a libre, showing a full 24 hours without a sugar over 9mmol/L.
“Not a single sugar over 9?!”, “Yeah…” (I couldn’t really be bothered about a conversation at this point).
At the time I just wanted the consultation to end and go back to work. The checks (though understandably important), were just a tick box exercise of me. Nothing ever changes, so I decided to answer all the questions with short answers. It was the quickest way back to work, and the quickest way to forget I had a chronic condition to manage.
Towards the end of conversation, doc was like “Have you ever thought of seeing a health psychologist?”
Again, I just wanted to be out as quick as possible so decided to ask for their recommendation and then say “can’t be bothered, can I go now?”
To this day I will never forget what happened next. I asked “What would you recommend?”
“I’m not going to recommend anything, here is some information.”
I was stunned into silence I guess, and didn’t know what to do next. The freedom of choice is one thing, but it’s extremely powerful for a clinician to be extremely non-judgement. To understand the dark places a chronic condition like diabetes can take you is something you can’t really learn from a book, nor pick up from experience; you have to have a personal connection with diabetes to do that.
“Do you have diabetes?” I asked, trying with all my years of having t1, to figure out how someone could pick up so much from so little information given.
“No I have a relative and growing up…….”
For the first time in years, I had a meaningful conversation about t1 with someone. I was still demotivated, and managed to negotiate a yearly appointment instead of a 6 month one. Doc was still okay with that, which was really nice. 😊
I thanked them for their time and went on my way, doc even managed to convince me to see the DSN and dietician at a later date.
After that point I thought to myself, there must be some “good” out there. Over the next few months I searched for diabetes groups online, attended some in person meetups and actively searched for some diabetes stuff.
I even went to the health psychology appointment and it did help put things into perspective.
A few months later I went to a diabetes tech event where Chris presented how the dexcom had helped him manage his sugars with sport. I caught up with him after and said “I think you should start a diabetes football team.” He was like, “There is one!.” 2 years in, it’s had a massive impact on people across the country (all the way from the Isle of Wight to Scotland!).
It’s truly changed some people’s physical and psychological health – for the better! There’s even a local London team and every day it’s growing. It’s also got so much more to offer too! This is a must watch video if you want to find out more!
I even turned up to the annual diabetes picnic in London. This is where I met Tim Street and learnt about looping. What an amazing concept I thought. This eventually led me to building a loop system, making managing diabetes slightly less of a burden. I’ve seen the #WeAreNotWaiting movement take huge strides to making t1 safer, more manageable and less psychologically draining.
I also joined loads of T1 facebook forums and have seen so much positive support, and positive change coming from them. A big shoutout to Louise Troubridge, who helps to effectively manage the “Type 1 diabetes uk” facebook page. It’s got over 8,000 members! 😮
My favourite facebook group (sorry to disappoint Louise!) is “Libre line art”. Do have a look as you don’t need to be a facebook member to appreciate it!
There’s also the amazing “GBDoc” (Great Britain diabetes online community) on twitter, who are never far away to provide help and support if you tag “#gbdoc”. They even hold insightful and entertaining “TweetChats” on Wednesdays at 9pm. Follow ”@GbdocTChost”
Furthermore, this year I’ve fasted a whole month for the first time in my life (see my 30 day graph below). A huge thank you to Dr Sarah Ali (@AliRacaniere) and Dr Sufyan Hussain (@sugarydoc) for making this an achievable reality, despite Covid and it being my first ever attempt!
I feel really good to get that off my chest.
Just remember you are not alone! Sometimes it takes a human to just listen and “try” to understand. I know this year has been extremely tough psychologically, financially and socially.
Reach out, know that you’re not alone, bounce off people, celebrate the small wins, take it one step at a time, love yourself, be grateful, there is a lot of good in this world and I’m thankful I’ve found it when I needed it most.
I dedicate this post to my awesome endocrinologist Dr Karen Anthony, and my now, unfortunately retired 😢 DSN and dietician; Susan Olive and Janice Mavroskoufis.
Sometimes you just need to take a step back, listen, be non-judgemental and “try”.
It’s always great for TDFC to link in with others who share our passion for sport, exercise and overall fitness whilst living with Type 1 Diabetes. So it’s great that we could invite Daria to share some of her insight as someone highly engaged in an active lifestyle which encourages all of those things as well as a big emphasis on nutrition through her work… So no more words from us let Daria tell you about her work, experiences and her story.
“Fitness, nutrition and medication are the 3 pillars of diabetes management. Sport and exercise can affect blood sugars in different ways, depending on what type of activity is performed. We need to adapt our management to achieve best blood sugar results and top performance in sport. We can do this by altering our nutrition and medication around training sessions.
There are 3 types of exercise that diabetics are to be concerned about:
Aerobic (cardiovascular exercise): Steady running, walking, cycling, non-expulsive repetitive movement. This type of exercise will make blood sugars drop quite drastically and rapidly, if not accommodated for.
Anaerobic (resistance training): heavy weight training, variations of crossfit and similar. Adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones are released as a response to resistance training, which cause the liver to release some glucose into the bloodstream, causing blood sugars to rise.
HIIT Training: any form of expulsive movement or sprint training. Fight or flight (stress hormones) are released, as well which is likely to cause blood sugars to spike during the workout and then quickly drop after the workout.
Fuelling yourself correctly for workouts is not just important for blood sugar control, but is also essential for giving your muscles enough energy to move and perform in an optimum manner. Setting up a routine for each type of workout you perform will massively reduce stress levels, help avoid highs and hypos mid-session or mid-match, and make exercise much more enjoyable.
There is no one way that will suit everyone, but as an example, I want to share my ways of managing the different workouts I do. These are long-distance running and road cycling, spin and boxing classes, as well as my all-time favourite gym weight training. I don’t play football, unfortunately, but from the experience of supporting other T1Ds, I know that matches can be stressful, and that in itself can cause a hormonal spike, which will rise blood sugars. There is no way of getting out of this, accept for using insulin to prevent the rise.
The way I prepare for my training is by keeping the timing if the workout the same: in the morning, after breakfast, as I find my performance is a lot better and I have set-up my pre-training routines for that time of day. I also eat the same old bowl of protein oats for breakfast every day to make BG response more predictable.
For long-distance running and cycling: These always cause a drop in my blood sugars, which I will prevent by either reducing the bolus for the meal prior to the workout or by having a 15-carb snack just before the training session. Most commonly, I will go for a session straight after breakfast, reduce my meal bolus by 20%, have a bowl of oats with berries and go. This will hold me stable for around 1.5 hours of cardiovascular exercise.
For spin & boxing classes: For me these classify as HIIT training, and will spike my blood sugars. Prior to the session, I will either eat a 5-10 carb protein bar piece with 0.5u of insulin or do my regular bolus for my oatmeal breakfast, if done in the morning. After the workout, I will have another 10g snack to catch the drop. Insulin sensitivity still increases during HIIT, despite the hormonal response, so be careful not to inject too much insulin prior to training.
For resistance gym workouts: I tend to need my regular bolus for my oatmeal in the morning. While I get to the gym, the food will already settle in and the insulin will still be active. This helps eliminate the spike. I also do a longer cardio warmup to make sure that I start in the lower BGs, and have some space to rise from the training.
For the last 3 and a half years The Diabetes Football Community has been doing its best to be a leader of peer support for sporty people with Diabetes and those specifically with a passion for Football….. As we’ve seen growth, an increase in engagement and increase in awareness there has been widespread acceptance that there is a need for this group to come together, to provide help for a population of people who felt under-supported before TDFC arrived. However, a big question loomed for me from the off…. Why has it taken until now for this group of people to feel supported? And why has the community continued to develop?
In the pursuit of these answers I decided I needed to expand my knowledge and investigate the issue. So, just under 3 years ago I took the decision to study for a master’s degree in Socio Cultural Studies of Sport and Exercise. By choosing this particular path it allowed me to create my own research project which followed the degree’s subject, but in a field I was passionate about. This gave me the opportunity to search for the answers in the hope that I could glean insight which may help alter the narrative that people with type 1 Diabetes have been up against in Football throughout my entire life.
So, I’m really delighted to say that I’ve now completed my degree and am awaiting the final results. It’s been an incredible 3 year journey which has taught me a lot, but in this blog post I want to give a bit of background and discuss some of the reasons why I feel it’s a hugely important step for the community, as well as the concepts and findings which have been presented within the conclusions of the study.
I wanted to provide academic foundations for why this incredible community continues to grow, support and enhance the lives of those who are involved. Academic research remains at the forefront of change globally and I felt this was the right way to try to influence leaders across the globe, into considering how the narrative for Diabetes care should not be completely focussed upon medical enhancements and technology, in improving the lives of those with T1D.
The research I conducted involved analysing some of the online content of blog posts, Facebook posts and tweets as well as interviewing several type 1 members of the community who had volunteered their time to support with the project. This allowed me to collect a substantial amount of data to analyse and compare with previously written academic literature.
What was found…
So, the really important bit…. What were the findings? What did the analysis show about our community and how stigma impacts on members of our Diabetes football Community living with Type 1.
Well… there’s plenty to choose from.
As most people would expect stigma towards Diabetes was shown again to impact the lives of those interviewed, whilst also driving the success of particular online content, as posts which were uplifting, dispelled stigma and provided education against it, were all highly viewed and extremely important to community.
I don’t think that would come to the surprise of many involved in TDFC, however the strong feelings of discontent surrounding type 2 related stigma imposed upon those living with type 1 was an area which I was a little surprised by. The feelings demonstrated were strong and it may have something to do with the particular field the study was focussed in, Football. With Football an unforgiving sport, where weakness is often exploited and ostracised you can potentially see why some of the participants felt strongly towards a stigma bestowed upon them which doesn’t actually represent what they live with. Yet, in their eyes it affects how they could go about their business on a Football pitch or Futsal court.
But it’s there on that very Football pitch or Futsal court where one of the most surprising findings from the study really comes to fruition…
As I’ve already mentioned, the show no weakness culture, masculinity and macho approach that’s embedded in Football really pushes players to hide anything that could be perceived as a weakness by fans, players, coaches or the media. This is why for example there’s not a single player in any professional Football league in England who has come out as gay for example… It’s a perceived weakness which goes against the image of masculinity and strength within the sport so therefore must be hidden. In all other parts of society that stigma is beginning to break but in Sport it still remains, and I believe that it forms the basis of why those in our community, who strongly identify themselves as a footballer, hide the fact they live with T1D. In using secrecy as a coping mechanism for avoiding stigma, academic research has demonstrated that this may increase the likelihood of poorer self-management and thus health outcomes. This is a highly significant finding because for the first time I’m suggesting, with support from the research, that the culture of the sport I’ve grown up with may have a detrimental impact on my health, as a result of the culture within Football, which depicts difference as weakness and ultimately attaches it with negative stigma.
So, with greater identification towards football, you’re more likely to hide your condition, and in hiding your condition you’re less likely to do the right things to self-manage it. With this academically evidenced throughout this study it’s a finding which really needs much more investigation to test its transferability. Nonetheless, when I consider my own experience as young person growing up with the condition, this finding resonates very closely to my experience. I love the sport I’ve played but I now question the impact that it’s had on my mental health, choices and behaviours.
However, there are also questions that stem from this which could really open the door for some interesting exploration. For example, is this just as a result of the Football culture, a team sport surrounded by mainstream players, traditionally with a working class – middle class background? Does it differ with other team sports such as Cricket or Rugby, where the tradition of the game may encourage a different culture and demographic background? Could we also consider a difference between Men’s Football and Women’s Football? Is there a cultural difference between the genders?
But then what about individual sports? Is this an issue which disappears or lessens in individual sports because there isn’t the need to hide from teammates, coaches, referees and opposition players what you need to go through to get out and play? Would we see a different view from a T1D Tennis player, Golfer, Badminton player, runner or cyclist etc?
Although the evidence of the study suggests a significant challenge for those with T1D accessing a sporting culture where weakness is shunned, I do think we’ve seen an opportunity in the findings to help alleviate some of that strain. It’s not all bad news!
This mechanic we’ve created through TDFC has helped to bridge the gap in identification for this population. Building identity with diabetes is important, it helps psychologically, socially and with the eventual medical outcomes for the condition. The research is out there evidencing this but in what we’ve created we’ve potentially helped people identify with T1D who otherwise may not have done. Those people have been so keen to keep it secret because of their life’s interests and passion in Football specifically, that actually by linking their passion to the condition we might have helped gain their attention enough to identify themselves with T1D, seek out others with their condition and ultimately receive help which betters their self-management.
Combining this with the use of Social Media as our prominent tool for communication actually increases this likelihood too. Through Social Media you can view content, see what people are up to and get support from posts without anyone else knowing you’re looking. This ability to temporarily and intermittently identify with T1D is something I would guess has happened a lot. In these moments the individual can see the benefits they may get from associating with the community, talking to others who share their passion within it and begin to develop their identity with the condition that in the long run, I certainly believe and so does the academic literature, will impact positively on self-management.
It’s no secret the positive impact that peer support has for people with T1D, this has been evidenced for years with strong support for it in this study too. However, if you have no inclination to seek out others, or no reason to identify with your condition because your favourite thing in life actively tells you not to, how on earth would you find it? You wouldn’t. So, this study really for the first time suggests we need to create a positive affiliation to draw people to their condition and break down some of the stigma for those who find it hard to identify with T1D. Without that, peer support is not able to cut through to those who may need it the most. It has a hugely significant impact on people who partake in this kind of support but why isn’t everyone doing it if that’s the case? I think this is an area and idea which may help to uncover some of that why….
Peer support is an incredible tool that buffers against stigma but another area that comes through strongly in the study is the idea that personal experiences in life and of stigma are a key driver in identification with T1D. I think for this population of people they are more likely to experience stigma as a result of their decision to put themselves in an environment where their condition is far from embraced, actually actively shunned. Only 2 weeks ago did I experience a pretty obvious stigma related slur, and in the last year I’ve experienced stigma on 3 different occasions all of which were related to Football/ Futsal. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
This population struggles to come to terms with their condition in the face of it. Which is why TDFC has grown, expanded and continues to do the good it does. Because it tackles and dispels stigma whilst providing a positive view of our condition, which for the first time in our lives is celebrated rather than shunned. THIS is why TDFC has been successful. I knew the reasons deep down but now I’ve taken the time to research it and understand it from a social and cultural perspective, I believe my view of our direction is far clearer for the future, whilst I really hope it can help to influence decision makers within Diabetes care to look at niche populations in greater detail, and more importantly on the impact of stigma on self-management. I’d like to appeal to the Diabetes academic community to really consider this area in the future…. The below link shows a recent poll I ran to get a feel for how it’s affecting behaviour/choices and I think the results speak for themselves:
With only really the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes (ACBRD) focussing in on this area globally, it needs more. I might add they’re doing a fantastic job with it and a number of their papers heavily influenced my thinking, but they can’t be the only institution driving this.
Evidenced in my study and on the TDFC website is the impact the community has had on altering behaviour positively. We’ve achieved identification with T1D for the first time in this population. Which I firmly believe has resulted in an upturn in the psychological and Hba1c measures that have been achieved within this population. This wasn’t achieved through the traditional models of care provided by Doctors and Nurses but through a new innovation which championed a new way of looking at the condition. Now this is not to diminish the contribution of our incredible Diabetes teams but rather to say, there’s more we can achieve, if we work closer together.
The overall outcomes of a condition determined by self-management is far more holistic than looking only to the medical professionals who support us for the answers. Sometimes, the answers come from ourselves, our choices and our behaviours…. Which may have been influenced.
I hope the blog gives some real insight into what I’ve been working away on in the background to try to drive change for our community as well as raising awareness of why TDFC is a special project.
Throughout all of this it’s important to know that TDFC stands right there beside our NHS and healthcare workers across the globe in trying to make life easier for people with Diabetes. We couldn’t do it without you and I hope we can help you more greatly in the future.
I must say a huge thank you to those who have shared the last 3 years of my journey and the research, projects and teams I’ve been a part of at the University of Worcester. Whilst I can’t forget the contribution of both the University itself and my supervisor Dr. Gyozo Molnar. Without their support it would not have been possible.
If anyone would like to discuss the study with me, its findings or any future collaborations with TDFC please do get in touch via email:
I’m Jon Rosser, 27 years old from Bristol and have been a type 1 diabetic for 17 years. Being involved with TDFC has enabled me to link up with other diabetics of varying ages and share our experiences, however this is often very focussed on the present – what we arecurrentlydoing, learning or going through. Reading these blogs, I found gaining an insight into these people’s pasts and hearing of their journey has been really enlightening and valuable, even for someone who has already learned to an extent how to live with the condition. So the obvious next step was to try and somehow put down my story outlining the changes it has made to my life and the lessons I’ve learned in the hope that others can take something from it like I have done. So here goes…
My journey starts with diagnosis at the age of 10 and the very familiar story of the tell tale signs. I was always thirsty! I didn’t really notice this symptom but my dad whose late mother was a Type 1 noticed I was increasingly up and down to the kitchen tap, filling up pint glasses of water and knocking them back like no tomorrow. As a result of this I was back and forth to the toilet and it didn’t take long for him to step in. Looking back at it now I suppose I was quite fortunate that my dad noticed this going on and intervened pretty early as I can’t actually remember feeling too bad! He made me do a urine sample and booked me into the doctors. A quick ketone test and finger prick confirmed what my dad had feared and arrangements were made for me to forget about going back to school, pack a bag and get to the hospital. Being a 10 year old I can remember feeling a bit oblivious to what was actually going on, but I knew that something had ultimately shifted by the way my dad had reacted, he seemed gutted and spoke to me about how we were going to go about telling my mum when we got home. I had never even heard of diabetes and was still completely naive about what was to come.
A few hours later I was at Southmead Hospital being admitted into the children’s ward. A flurry of nurses were showing me my bed, where the toilets were, where the common room was, a full on tour of the facilities and this was the point where I kind of started to realise that I was here to stay for a while and this whole situation was going to be the start of something that was going to change my life forever. I was on this ward for 5 days and during this time I had to learn the skills that would ultimately keep me alive. One event that sticks in my mind from this period was when a 16 year old boy got rushed into the booth next to me. Other kids on the ward were all chatting to their neighbours so I welcomed a new face to hopefully ease the boredom. However on admission his curtains were shut and I remember feeling that the nurses were actively discouraging me from trying to say hello, and no sooner had he arrived he was gone again. I didn’t find out until years later that this guy was also a diabetic and had not woken up one morning due to having a serious hypo during the night. Looking back now I realise it was the right call not to let a newly diagnosed 10 year old get wind of this! The ward had a classroom where I spent a few hours a day which was nice as it got me out of my bed, but I remember being pulled out at regular intervals to be finger pricked and stuck with syringes and this was another point where I started to realise this was going to be the new normal from now on, and I didn’t like it one bit. How was this going to work at my own school? What about at football? I was bang into scouts at this age so how will I go on the camps? Can I even still do all these things? The answer of course was yes, but the anxiety and worry about all of this was something I will always remember.
Fast forward a bit and I’d settled into my new routines, teachers and coaches had all been really engaged in making things as easy as possible for me. But it wasn’t all plain sailing by any means. I was initially put on the 2 injections a day regime and it wasn’t long before I felt frustrated at the restrictions of this, especially when transitioning to secondary school. Having to inject my insulin at the same time morning and evening, and knowing I HAD to also eat at these times each day meant things such as after school sports fixtures, clubs, and even just hanging out with friends would all have to be arranged around my insulin and meals. It took so much planning and at times I found it exhausting and stressful.
I want to shift the focus largely on how I’ve dealt with my diabetes within football and sport and I guess I’ve never let it stop me, but there have been times when I felt it has hindered me. At the age of 15 I joined Forest Green Rovers from just previously playing local junior football, and the training stepped up which was great! But it was a much more competitive environment and although to a certain extent I had always tried to keep my condition under wraps (which seems to be a common theme from guys writing these blogs), in this environment I found myself doing this even more. I didn’t want to show any weakness and felt an obligation to keep up with the standards being set, often not recognising that in order to do this I needed to take time out of sessions to take on sugar or test my levels. Occasionally this led me to playing on through hypos and my standards suffered as a result. Sometimes coaches and players would confuse my hypo reactions with being lazy or uninterested, and I found trying to explain what was actually going on sounded like excuses. The fact I was still on the 2 injections a day meant that I would get home from school, have to hastily eat a carby meal (to avoid going low during training) before heading straight off to train on a full stomach which personally my body did not deal well with – I’d feel heavy and slow. It was the same with the games – we played in a floodlit league so fixtures would be midweek evenings so my preparations would never be ideal. These pressures ultimately led me to change onto the basal bolus regime and immediately after I did that I saw the benefits, not just with my football but with my day to day life. The flexibility was something I’d been longing for and I continued to play for 2 more successful seasons at Forest Green, winning individual awards at presentations and I remember feeling really proud and realising at this point that I had gotten the upper hand on my diabetes and vowed to never let it beat me.
Another event that always sticks out to me as a time where I felt I overcame the urge to keep quiet and let my diabetes win was in a tennis tournament when I was about 17. Over the course of about 6 weeks I had played a match every week and got through to the final without any diabetes related issues. In this final however I struggled from the start. There were a fair few people watching and I was putting my performance down to nerves and threw away the first set in record time. On the switch around I asked the umpire for 10 minutes just to check my sugars which for me at the time took a lot of courage, I was 3.1. I remember sitting there in front of the crowd openly testing my sugars and taking on food which is something at that age I always felt really self conscious doing. My opponent was getting restless as were his supporters watching on but I stabilised my levels and got back out there… I smashed him in the next 2 sets to win the tournament. Like I said this was a real moment of realisation that I could achieve things in sport regardless of having this condition and getting dealt hypos, and it gave me confidence to keep aiming high.
The next major milestone for me was gaining a place at Plymouth University. Leaving the family home to move to a new city with new people, new surroundings and new routines was pretty daunting, and when you throw diabetes into the mix it was quite a challenge. I was having to shop and cook for myself and it took a while for me to get used to having full responsibility for what I put into my body in order to maintain good control of my condition. Students’ diets are notoriously not the best so resisting the urge to follow examples of quick, convenient, often high sugar and high carb meals set by my new found friends was important and something I’m glad I focussed on, as it set me up well to continue to control my diabetes successfully. I quickly got involved with the Uni football club and was playing regularly, although the routines and rituals of a university football club were much different to what I was used to. One thing I struggled with was the fact that if we’d win on a Wednesday afternoon (and often even when we lost!) after the game it was shirt and tie and straight to the bars. A lot of these guys wouldn’t take time out to eat post match, and especially after a good win, wouldn’t go home until the next morning. Being diabetic, I felt a bit of a kill joy having to temporarily leave a buzzing group of lads for a few hours to go and get some food of substance and make sure I recovered well in terms of glucose levels, especially when there was alcohol involved! This was a small price to pay though as I found if I put my diabetes first, I would have a much better time celebrating later on knowing I’d done what I needed to do in order for my sugars to behave (as well as they could) during a night out in Plymouth’s finest establishments. These were some of my best times playing football, the social side of the club was immense and winning a varsity and a cup in my 3 years at Plymouth are things I remember for the achievements and not how my diabetes hindered me!
The most recent landmark in my footballing life has most definitely been getting involved with TDFC. I remember turning up to the first session and experiencing an environment where everyone there would openly discuss the condition, openly test their sugars and inject insulin, there was an underlying bond straight away. I had been so used to dealing with diabetes in a changing room and on a pitch on my own – it was solelymyproblem, and to feel that problem shared by everyone else there was so refreshing. No feeling guilty for taking time out to test sugars, no strange looks for sticking a needle in my arm, just a feeling of understanding and support. I have played in both DiaEuro tournaments that the UK team has entered in Bratislava and Kiev, and both times were amazing experiences. Playing against some top nations and top players gives you that drive to improve and I feel since being introduced to Futsal (which I had never played before TDFC) I have learned and improved my game as well as my control of my diabetes. I have also found myself transitioning skills I’ve learnt from Futsal into my 11-a-side game which is great! I’ve also found my Saturday team mates have taken a real interest in what I’ve been involved with regarding TDFC, seeing it on my social media and things like that. One of the lads has even adopted a pre match ritual of eating glucose tablets with me before kick off and now swears by it!
So that’s my story (so far!) of my life, football and sport with type 1 diabetes. My message to anyone maybe struggling to adapt to life and sport with diabetes is not to hide it, be open and honest about the problems you may encounter, it’s not a weakness! Although it presents challenges I feel diabetes has made me stronger in many ways, especially with discipline and will power… so keep at it!