I have just fulfilled the dream of every schoolboy and girl who loves sport. I have represented my country at an international tournament. Belting out the national anthem before each game as loud and proud as I could, wearing the union Jack on my kit – this is something I have always dreamed of, but never really thought could happen. But it has. And it has happened with an amazing bunch of team mates, all with the same thing in common. Diabetes.
Since I was diagnosed with diabetes age 5, I have had a love hate relationship with it. When I’m on top of it, and I’m winning, I love it. However, far too often it gets the better of me and I hate it. However, if it wasn’t for diabetes, I wouldn’t have met such an amazing community of people.
A year aģo, I watched on as Chris took the first ever UK team to the 2018 DiaEuros. I hadn’t kicked a ball in 3 years and had retired due to persistent injuries. 10 operations had taken their toll on my body and I’d had enough. However, this was an amazing project that he had set up, and one I wanted to be involved in. But my knowledge of futsal was incredibly limited. However, I didn’t want to be going along all the time if I wasn’t playing. So I decided to rejoin my old 11 a side team in Bristol as well as coming along to all the training sessions with TDFC. I had no intention of putting myself forward for the DiaEuro squad, but wanted to be part of the project. I was enjoying going along to the sessions, and when Chris asked for the final time who wanted to be part of the squad, I had a decision to make; did I want to put myself forward?! I’d heard so many positive things from the previous year that I thought I would. I had no expectation that I’d come close to going, but the thought of it was too good to not try out for. Fast forward a few months and I had been chosen to go to the Ukraine!
My only experience of going away with other diabetics was a kids camp I went on with my family when I was young. While I don’t remember much about it, I didn’t really enjoy it!! This was different though. Every one of us was type 1 diabetic, but we also loved sport, especially football, and in this case futsal. We were able to share stories and help each other out where necessary. Advice was always there if needed, and there was such a range in terms of years of having diabetes. We talked about levels before sporting performance, treatments, different types of insulin….In fact diabetes was quite often one of the main subjects we talked about (as well as football!)
Meals were a challenge, as it was a buffet every meal, we weren’t entirely sure of the carbohydrate content. Some managed it better than others, which was great to see. There was often talk of how much insulin people had given themselves, as well as at what point people gave their insulin.
Going in to the tournament, I thought my bloodsugar control was fairly good. However, being around other diabetics 24-7, I learnt that there is always room for improvement. People who felt 9 was too high to have our blood glucose for a game inspired me to think differently. Whereas before, I might have ignored that, I soon realised that this wasn’t okay, and starting a game with a blood glucose level of 10 might impact upon my performance. I also learnt better treatment of hypos. Too often I over eat and then end up shooting sky high. However, watching other diabetics being patient having had a couple of tablets or some of the amazing lift liquid products we’d been given helped me massively.
We were also incredibly fortunate to have the use of the dexcom G6 for the tournament, which helped my blood glucose levels no end. I started off setting the high alarm at 16, but by the end of the tournament, I had moved it to 10.5. This wasn’t necessarily to treat, but to be aware. It also helped by having arrows, single and double, showing which way my levels were going and at what rate. We have been able to keep this going since returning from Ukraine, and I’m now aware via an alarm when my levels are getting to 4.2, meaning I can treat it before I actually go low.
So after a week where I’ve been so proud to represent my country at futsal, I have also got tips and seen first hand how others also manage their diabetes. Inspired by others, not just from our team and country.
On the playing side of the tournament, sadly the results didn’t reflect the performances we put in. We were well beaten 5-1 by a very good Portugal team in our first game, but the second day was a tough one to take. We outplayed Slovakia but went down 1-0, then again outplayed Ireland, but only managed a 1-1 draw. We had chances, but just couldn’t seem to score the goals. We moved the ball around and the rotations that we’d worked on were going well, but not the results. The next day we were soundly beaten 11-3 by eventual champions Bosnia. By this point we were struggling physically having played the last game on day 2 (our 2nd game that day) and then the first game on day 3. But that’s sport, and we all love it!
The organisation and management was great. We’d get a text the night before telling us our plans, meeting times and what we had to wear or have with us the next day. We then also got one from the amazing physio, Milly, asking if anyone needed treatments, fixing or taping up the next day. As I was sharing a room with fellow old man and captain Tim, Milly spent her fair share of time in our room sorting us out so we could even get out of bed, let alone play!! We had enough kit to be able to have some taken to the laundrette whilst still having enough to wear around and about, train in and travel to and from matches.
There was also a bit of time for sightseeing. We looked around Kiev, and some of the squad were lucky enough to visit Chernobyl on the last day, which was an amazing cultural experience. Without doubt, this is my sporting highlight of my career. Representing my country at a major tournament. But with an amazing group of people who just seem to bond so well. And we all happen to have shown that diabetes can’t hold you back!