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!
Another amazing story to share with the community brought to you by Karen Brown, the mother of Ellen, a young type 1 who’s having a fantastic time with her Football/Futsal at the moment. Ellen & Karen have been big advocates and supporters of our work at TDFC from the very early days so it’s brilliant to be able to share their story! No more words needed from us, over to you Karen…
“Our daughter Ellen was diagnosed at age 8 with type 1 diabetes. As you all know it hits like a bomb and the early days are hard. Somewhere amongst the haze of diagnosis we made a decision that when we got Ellen home we would stabilise her doing all of the sport she usually did. So the day after discharge we took her to school for a few hours and the following Monday she started back swimming. I sat on the edge of the pool chewing my nails hoping she would be fine. Strangely enough the year she was diagnosed is the only year she hasn’t played football (played 1 year of netball and hated it!). Ellen prefers to manage her diabetes with a pump (Medtronic) and we use CGM periodically.
Since then it has been buckets of football and within the last 4 years she has also played futsal in the off-season. It is amazing how different the two are to manage. Football often sends her low- particularly in the cold Canberra winters (we live in Australia) whereas futsal sends her high due to the adrenaline. As futsal isn’t as big in Canberra her futsal club (Boomerangs FS) travel to Sydney to play in a Sydney comp. So every Sydney game we travel between 2 ½ to 4 hours each way (depending on what side of Sydney the game is) to play. The weather in Canberra is quite dry whereas Sydney can be humid which can affect Ellen’s BGLs (sends her low) so at the half way stop en route to the game we reduce insulin if she has any carbs and put a reduced temp basal on. We find doing low carb on the morning prior to the Sydney trips much easier to manage. At least we are only fixing the humidity problem. Then during the games she heads high! Sydney games we nearly always use CGM to help keep an eye on things. If it’s a home game its breakfast as usual. After the game she eats what she wants.
Whilst having diabetes can be tough when you are playing football and futsal, we run at it with the attitude that if we have a tough day diabetes wise we look at why and see if we can do something different. There are days when you just can’t explain why the numbers are what they are! All of her coaches and teams have been really supportive and the boys often try and guess her Blood Glucose Level – she plays in the Boys National Premier League. Ellen also chooses to celebrate her ‘diaversary’, so the team usually hangs out for the cupcakes she takes along to celebrate another year kicking the butt of diabetes.
Having diabetes hasn’t stopped Ellen from achieving in soccer and futsal. The last 12 months have been particularly rewarding!!! 12 months ago her girls futsal team won both the premiership and championship in the Sydney comp. For outdoor her BBFC U16’s team made the Grand Final and won in a penalty shootout. She then made the ACT team (regional team) to play futsal at Nationals in January – they were runners up in the Grand Final in a penalty shootout. And a couple of weeks ago at the presentation night for Boomerangs FS, Ellen was awarded female player of the year. We are pretty proud of her. Winning isn’t everything but it is great to get some wins and they have been a while coming!! Though I must say the victories are much sweeter after the effort you put in to get the diabetes right. (excuse the pun!)
As much as it is a challenge, there have been lots of good things about having diabetes in our lives for the last 8 years. We have made a whole new bunch of friends we wouldn’t have otherwise met. Whilst it is so nice being able to converse with those who understand the challenges and learn new things from. Ellen has had the opportunity to speak at JDRF fundraisers and she was recently asked to take part in some research at ANU.
Being part of TDFC has been a huge help though. It was so nice to hear from others who play football and be able to read about their experiences. With Ellen being a girl it was so nice to read about Noel and what she has achieved. We got to meet Zac (UK DiaEuro Player) at one of Ellen’s games in Sydney and hope to see him again soon. Whilst it’s also great to see that Chris represented his country in Futsal, which gives Ellen so much hope she can achieve the same.
To any young footballer out there, chase your dreams. Ellen’s favourite saying is “I don’t live with diabetes, diabetes lives with me”.”
A really great blog written by Karen Brown and a huge thank you from us for putting it together. If there’s anyone out there reading this who’d like to contribute in a similar way get in touch! We’re always on the look out for blogs and stories to share…
In our fourth instalment we feature Zak Brown… Zak is currently living and working in Australia but has been heavily involved in all things TDFC throughout 2018 as a pivotal member of the UK DiaEuro squad, whilst also heading out to Ireland with Chris to observe the Diabetes Junior Cup… Zak’s passion for the project is evident and in this post he shares his thoughts on how being involved has helped him! No more words from us, over to you Zak:
“I think firstly and foremost, the opportunity to meet several other T1D’s with a passion for football was amazing in itself! To then be able to discuss our condition as we went through very similar schedules during DiaEuro was great – having a diabetes discussion with your team-mates was like having 10 nurses beside us, as they added great value through personal stories and specialist advice.
The access to technology was a huge thing for me personally. I was a bit skeptical of the Dexcom G6 initially, as I have been on the same insulin and blood sugar testing strategy for a number of years and been relatively consistent (HbA1c usually between 50 and 61). It took a couple of days to adapt but several months later and I wish I still had the G6. I regularly see T1D’s on social media posting about how much the Dexcom has improved their control in recent times.
The other thing which was highlighted for me was the carb counting. I have generally just guessed my insulin based on what I am eating and knowing how it has affected my sugars in the past, but to see plenty of my UK team-mates measuring the carbs on their packets of food and calculating their dinner plate in the their head was a good insight for me; and pushed me to start making more calculated guesses with my own carb intake as life and diabetes continued after the tournament.
Whilst I wouldn’t say the experience has directly improved my control yet, I think it has acted as a gateway for me to access more information, attend diabetes meet-ups and possibly gain access to modern technology, which I expect will have a direct improvement on my Type 1 Diabetes control moving forward! Only time will tell…
UK DiaEuro 2018 Player”
If you want to follow Zak’s journey on social media head to his twitter @mrzakbrown or his instagram @zakbtown
On one of the most important days in the calendar for people with Diabetes, I wanted to share a small snippet of my story represented by these 2 photos. I was at very different stages of my life with Type 1 Diabetes in both images and they both really help me reflect on what it’s been like to live with a chronic medical condition.
The photo on the left: A scared kid (10 years old) one year after diagnosis still struggling to find his feet with it all, who was battling away to play football and compete with the other kids. Still doing well and holding trophies aloft but the management, the hypos and the worries of adjusting to this new way of life were dreadful…. My potential in what I could do in school and with my football was hindered and I remember being upset numerous times asking “Why me? Why has this happened to me?” It led me to years of never openly talking about it through fear of judgement and lack of understanding. Kids can be cruel, and at times they were, so I tried to keep my head down and didn’t tell people about it until I absolutely had to. Ultimately I didn’t really accept who I was and what I had properly….
Fast forward that to the photo on the right: 16 years later, and this is where I proved myself wrong. I think it took me until the moments when I played for my country at futsal for me to truly believe type 1 Diabetes wouldn’t hold me back. Something you battle with 24/7 will always be carried around with you like a chip on your shoulder, which I used to fuel the fire of my motivation. I put in the hard work, learning and dedication to managing my diabetes to help achieve what I had set my heart on within my sport. I’m by no means the best footballer, futsal player or example of type 1 diabetic control, but I learnt from my mistakes, persevered and never gave up believing in goals I set myself. By achieving those goals it gave me the confidence to open up about my condition and I now don’t shy away from sharing the trials and tribulations of what I live with, to help educate and advocate for greater awareness.
I’m just a normal 27 year old, who’s worked extremely hard to get the things done in my life that others may take for granted or might not think are that impressive. When you’re type 1 diabetic just going through a day without having a hypo is impressive!!!
I try to ensure I’m driving the car of my life and my chronic medical disability sits on the backseat where I know where it is, but it doesn’t affect the direction of where I’m heading.
So what’s my lasting message for World Diabetes Day ?
Don’t let it define you… be open and talk to others about what you’re going through. It changed my life opening up about it and I’ve now got better control of my condition than ever before. Be brave, be determined and use Diabetes to power your motivation to keep moving forward. Yes it can be tough, but with the right attitude it’s just an extra hurdle to jump, not a mountain to climb.
Let’s talk, educate and raise awareness this world Diabetes day.
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!
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.
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.
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.
An amazing end to the second day which was so in keeping with the purpose of our trip!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before beginning this blog post I want to dedicate it to my own support network. I’d like to give a special mention to my Mom, Dad & sister whom have had to live with Type 1 Diabetes almost as much as I have.
So I don’t think you can start talking about a support network, without saying “Thank you!”
Without the people who have been involved in managing my Diabetes with me there’s absolutely no doubt that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy my life and my sport in the way I have.
These people are the unsung heroes of managing Diabetes. However for this blog post their impact will be celebrated!
So let’s start with probably the most pivotal people in any young Diabetic’s life, your Parents. Not only are they instrumental in understanding the condition and treatment, they will be the people who influence your mental approach to the condition, to tackle everyday life. My Mom and Dad need to take every plaudit I write about them in this post, as without them, I really don’t think I’d have been able to put myself into the position to have ticked off the life goals I have alongside the Diabetes. They’re ordinary, down to earth people that are extraordinary to me.
I’ll start by talking about the “normal” parenting required to support someone like me, crazy about my sport. I’m sure any parents reading this will know exactly what’s coming but it should never be overlooked. The trips to take me to football matches with my club, training sessions, school trips, round to friends to play football, buying my football boots & kit (ensuring you had the latest trend to!), paying to watch the team I supported and all of the moral support it requires to support children in sport. None of that is easy and that’s just the parenting around the sport!
But what about all the other things they didn’t expect to have to do with their child as a result of Diabetes? Those middle of the night hypo treatments, those regular prescription collections, giving me injections, checking my blood glucose levels, the continual worry of whether I would run into a hypo or hyper, the packing and preparation for any holidays or football matches, the hospital appointments, the diet and regime management, the list goes on… But despite all of that, they rarely let it impinge on my ability to do anything in life. In fact they probably made sure I tried things as much as possible to ensure I didn’t build up any fear towards the condition. They’re incredible people and what they’ve done for me over the years I won’t ever be able to adequately put into words, but thank you Mom and Dad for everything.
The physical support and attitude my parents forged in me, from their own approach to the condition is the single biggest contributing factor to anything I went and achieved as I moved from a teenager to becoming an adult. Having parents like mine, I believe, can really make the difference in the way a young diabetic approaches their condition and sport.
I also have a younger sister, who obviously didn’t help with the management of my condition or my attitude towards it but she helped in ways she probably doesn’t realise and maybe won’t, until she reads this! She’s an incredibly talented person, who I believe is naturally more intelligent than myself, which is good, because she pushed me to try harder in the things I was good at. Having that sibling rivalry in a household can be really healthy and can bring out the best in both children, who are fighting for the praise of their parents. Whilst I also have to thank her for putting up with Mom & Dad dragging her out in the cold as a child to come and watch me play. She didn’t ask for that life and she didn’t really enjoy it (it’s put her off football for life!), however by not kicking up a major fuss and allowing Mom & Dad to support me in the way they did, she has had a massive part to play in where I am now. Me and my sister have a pretty good relationship now as Adults, we talk all the time and we both support each other on our different paths in life. She lived around my Diabetes long enough to know when it’s going right or wrong instinctively and I think your siblings and parents will always be able to spot it. A huge thank you to my sister. Had she not been so understanding, I may not have had the opportunities to enhance my control with the support of my parents.
But what about those who haven’t lived with Diabetes around them 24/7? The people that find themselves in your inner circle, but not quite as close as your family. I think your closest friends are the people that help you normalise Diabetes and often tackle those insecurities around testing, injecting and generally showing your condition to the world. I even had friends of mine who would pinch my leg so I could inject when I was much younger (in the days when you were told to pinch the injection site!), which definitely immersed them in Diabetes with me. They bring normality into my life which sometimes allows me to forget my Diabetes, even if it’s only for 5 minutes, but it’s so important to feel like you can get some rest bite from it. My friends go some way to understanding the condition, i.e knowing what to do when it goes wrong, but I’m quite glad they don’t know much more than that as their lack of understanding definitely helps me take a break from it when I’m in their company.
As with anyone who’s ever played in a sports team, it’s important to have a coach who supports and understands you. This is even more important for a type 1 diabetic. My coach Nick was instrumental in those early years following diagnosis. Sure, he got as frustrated as I did when it let me down and affected my ability to play the game, but importantly, he understood that I wasn’t going to get it right 100% of the time but he continued to play me regardless of this fact. Yes, I’m sure it helped that I was a capable player who helped the team win trophies but my lack of consistency must’ve been difficult for any coach to watch… I can only thank him for his patience in those difficult early teenage years. I believe having a coach who can empathise in this way with your situation is so important as you learn and grow into yourself and the game throughout your adolescence. As an adult I’ve not required that level of support, but being up front with my coaches about what the condition is capable of doing to my performance is something I’ve only really talked about recently. Until this point, I concealed the true effect of Diabetes as I wanted people to judge me on my ability and not my condition. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who’s taken this approach but having a supportive coach will definitely alleviate some of this worry.
I can’t undersell the importance of a passionate healthcare professional, who just knows the right words to use when Diabetes is far from your friend. Fortunately for me the nurse that looked after me upon diagnosis and throughout my life in paediatrics was Diane Cluley. Her positive outlook for me and my life with the condition was imperative in those early years whilst adjusting to this new world. Her knowledge and empathy towards my lifestyle, condition and mindset is without doubt the biggest impact anyone from the NHS has had on me. People within the healthcare profession can really make or break lives with their attitude towards the people they care for. Had I been supported by a nurse with a strict “textbook” attitude to Diabetes, I’m not sure where I would’ve ended up with my football.
I also wanted to mention the latest addition to my support network. The Diabetes online community (#DOC) has become a big part of my life in the last year and what a group of people they are. There’s an instantaneous connection that can’t be replicated easily with people who don’t have diabetes. The members of the #DOC understand your hardships, your middle of the night hypo concerns and the small battles you face on a daily basis. I’ve made some great friends already and with the level of support they offer I’m really not sure how I managed the condition without them! I’d advise any Diabetic to get involved in the community and speak to other peers about their Diabetes. I find sharing my experience and talking to others about theirs almost like therapy! I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!
A diabetic’s support network can really be the difference between succeeding alongside the condition or finding it a tough existence. Luckily for me, I’ve had the most amazing parents, family and close friends who have never once made it “difficult” for me to manage it. Sure I’ve had people come and go in my life who haven’t helped or caused problems around the condition, but the “core” has always been there and without them I honestly think TDFC wouldn’t exist! Everyone needs support to grow and develop but those with Diabetes really do need it more than most to enable them to fulfil their potential in life and in sport.
Having been involved in a number of conversations regarding the psychological support, and the need for more of it, I wanted to put my own spin on it around Football.
It’s never an easy conversation to have, within an extremely masculine setting of the changing room or a football club, but times have changed and the emphasis on mental health has never been more important.
Well where do you start with Diabetes?
I don’t think I’ll be able to cover or adequately portray the full effects of the condition on my mental well being and approach to my life and sport, but I’ll try and deliver a snapshot which I feel is most poignant to Football.
I wasn’t born with type 1 Diabetes.
You’re probably wondering why I’ve made that statement stand alone? The significance of it is because I remember life without having the condition. Until the age of 8 I wandered through life without a care in the world, blissfully unaware of what was to come. My only focus at that age was how quickly could I get home from school and get a football out!
Then in the September of 1999, I was catapulted into a world of worry and anxiety. That care free life that I lived prior to my diagnosis was a distant memory. Diabetes teaches you to worry very quickly. What if I forget my injection? What if my glucose levels go too low? What if they go too high? What happens if I play football? What happens if I eat this meal?
That extra worry is definitely a burden I’ve had to carry growing up.I’m not sure you can properly shake it; you just learn to deal with it and adapt.
Just imagine what it’s like when you’ve “learnt” to worry more than usual and you’re greeted with a situation where you’re different to every other child in the changing room as you pull out your blood glucose monitor and insulin. When all you want to do as a child is “fit in”, this immediate difference can make it quite difficult. Most kids try to avoid situations like this where they feel alone or slightly outcast, but when you’re a diabetic in mainstream sport you have to just embrace it, otherwise you won’t do it. It takes guts.
Throw into that, those difficult teenage years and the “banter” of 16 boys at the age of 15 and you can only imagine how uncomfortable you can feel. Not to forget that if you’re trialling for a new team, or trying to make a step up or play for a representative side and you don’t know anyone in the dressing room. The levels of anxiety go through the roof! It’s an added stress trying to fit in, so hopefully with some of the work I’m doing with TDFC we can encourage diabetics to embrace their condition in this environment, and give those people who don’t have the condition some guidance on how to support children who may find this a barrier.
All of this worry and I haven’t even referred to trying to get glucose levels in range to be able to get out there and play.Without them in a good place you immediately know you’re on the back foot. I don’t hide from the fact that during the warm up and team talk prior to a game I’m very rarely concerned with the tactics of the team (as I really should know them already!), as I concentrate all of my efforts on making sure the body is loose and the glucose levels are in a good place to play! Again it adds more pressure and anxiety to your preparation but when you’ve learnt to deal with that the playing part is a breeze!
This anxiety about getting levels right leads me very nicely into the frustration and anger it generates when it does go wrong. I will not be the only one that has experienced their glucose levels going wrong in the moments when you need them to be stable the most.I remember vividly my levels “playing up” when I had trials at pro clubs and in cup finals. Emotions always run high and invariably cause you a problem which no planning can foresee! However it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow when you’re out there struggling to perform when you know what you’re capable of. My parents and coach of my junior team felt this frustration for a long time, as they watched my ability succumb to the diabetes and it often left me infuriated.Sometimes it’s out of your control and the best way to respond is to chalk it off and go again next week. You’ll learn from what happened and try and put it right next time. It never makes the anger and frustration easier to accept, it just means you don’t give up because of it.
But what about the fear of Hypos? A topic often referred to when Diabetics refer to exercise. Anyone who’s experienced a mild Hypo (when you’ve been able to treat yourself) knows that it can be a pretty nasty feeling and pretty scary, but what about the people who have experienced one which they couldn’t treat themselves? The courage and bravery it can take to then put yourself in a situation with exercise, where they’re more likely to occur, is huge. I’ve only suffered one severe hypo like this in my lifetime and can only describe it as one of the most frightening things I’ve been put through. I think the fact I was only 13 at the time helped me respond to it. As a child you’re pretty fearless so I didn’t build up too much of a mental barrier to hypos despite experiencing that. Regardless of how I dealt with that I know situations where others have really struggled to come back from it and it can be a significant barrier I want TDFC to address. I want to ensure that no diabetic feels unable to participate in Football as a result of fearing hypos. The organisation will be campaigning hard to improve the support in Football for diabetic participants as well as the people who deliver the game that need greater awareness of the condition.
With all of the negatives it CAN have….. There is one really really big psychological benefit that I believe it’s given me. I carry Diabetes around as the “chip on my shoulder” and the one thing that makes me work harder, more determined and more passionate about defying the odds of living with a chronic medical condition. I’ve been let down by it from time to time but for the most part I honestly believe Diabetes helped me find my strength. I used it to power my motivation and to achieve my goals. It made me who I am as a person and my achievements can be attributed to the resilience it added to my character. I’ve never let it stop me and nor will I let it in the future.
I have a favourite quote which I often refer to which I think reflects the way I feel about its affect on me and my sport.
“The best view comes after the hardest climb”
When you achieve the goals you’ve set yourself, knowing all of the difficulties and setbacks you’ve gone through to get there as a result of your Diabetes, the appreciation of that peak is that much greater.
As much as I believe Diabetes has had its negative impact on my psychological welfare, there’s no doubt I’ve used it positively to power my motivation and strength. Diabetes drives my determination to defy all of the physiological effects it can have, to compete and surpass my peers who don’t have the condition.
I firmly believe that “we cannot change the cards we’re dealt, just how we play the hand.” I’ve learnt to play mine the best way I can.
I’ve seen and read a number of inspiring and emotional accounts of those difficult moments which follow the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Your life is flipped upside down, forever. The life you led before is now a distant memory and a lifetime of injections and constant concern for your own wellbeing is now the norm.
However for anyone who knows me well the following sentence won’t come as a surprise.
I was diagnosed on a Monday afternoon at 8 years old and on the Friday evening of that same week I was back out on the pitch playing again.
It epitomises everything about my approach since my diagnosis. I didn’t let it stand in my way in week 1 of being a diabetic and I haven’t let it stop me in any other week since!
Despite this attitude that I adopted very early on, there’s no doubt that it tests your resolve both mentally and physically. Never more so than in that first game post diagnosis.
I remember that game really well. After a 3 night stay in hospital I had one day at home before a Friday night friendly for my club Kingfisher Colts. I remember thinking to myself there’s no way on this planet I’m not playing. It took a lot of persuasion over those 24 hours to convince both my diabetes nurse and parents that this was the right thing to do, but in my mind there was no question that I was getting out on the pitch.
In 1999, the treatment methods weren’t quite what they are today. I was placed on 2 injections a day, which can cause you to lead a more rigid lifestyle as well as a more difficult one around sport. But this was diabetes care in the late nineties, so I just got on with it and lived like this for 4/5 years. For this first game we were really just guessing and hoping everything would go well!
As you can imagine, that Friday was full of emotion. I honestly didn’t know how to feel. I was an 8 year old who had just found out that he had to live the rest of his life on daily injections. I was drained physically and emotionally. However, the overriding feeling I felt as I left for the game was one of defiance. No matter how the condition was going to test me over the rest of my life, I knew in that moment I wasn’t going to give up, or stop playing football regardless of the trials and tribulations I faced.
As I arrived at the game with my Mom and Dad there was tension in the air. We were all stepping into the unknown and despite my defiance; I was frightened, anxious and scared. “Would my team mates look at me differently? Would they treat me differently? Would I be as good as I was before? Am I going to collapse whilst I’m running around? Can I still do this?” These were the questions I was posing to myself as I met the squad and my manager out on the pitch.
I think through the fear of the unknown and the prior planning to the game, I avoided doing the warm up that day. As a family, and with my coach’s input, we had agreed that I should come off the bench for the last 20 minutes of the game. The only problem with this plan was that I had 40 minutes to stew and worry about going onto the pitch. Watching on was torturous, knowing that usually I would start the game. This was alien to me but I understood that the world was different now. I just wanted to prove more than anything that I could still do it.
As the game reached half time, and as we had become accustomed to, my team were winning comfortably. I played for one of the most successful kid’s teams at my age group in the south Birmingham area so this was absolutely no surprise and it took the pressure off my performance, as the boys were already doing the job. This didn’t stop me feeling really nervous, as the moment I was expecting to come on was creeping up on me quickly.
My Dad tested my blood glucose levels and they were in range, so I began to warm up. The normal excitement and nerves for a game came rushing back. We were 3-0 up and surely this was going to be business as usual? I was feeling pumped up and those feelings and thoughts of defiance were right at the forefront of my mind. I ran up and down for a few minutes, stretched off & got a couple of touches of the ball. I was ready.
Nick Reddish (My Coach, whom I owe a lot to!), called for the substitution and there I was stood on the touchline waiting to shake my teammates hand as I replaced him. I can’t even imagine what my Mom and Dad were feeling watching, I was emotional enough as it was. Then it happened, I ran onto the pitch and the euphoria of being able to play again after the most frightening week of my short 8 years hit me. I ran into my position and nearly broke down as it meant that much to be back out there. I didn’t. Instead I quickly forgot the emotions and why it meant so much and got down to playing. In reality the 20 minutes I was involved in were never going to be that meaningful as it was a friendly and we were already 3-0 up, but it took on another meaning to me which no one else could see or feel.
After all of the build up, I played 20 minutes of football where nothing much happened and we saw the game out comfortably. Most importantly for me, that first experience back out on the pitch went without a hiccup and I took a lot of confidence from that. Obviously many hiccups followed in the future as we got to grips with controlling my blood glucose levels around my football, but after that scary first week there was a ray of light at the end of it. It didn’t stop me. I didn’t collapse. I didn’t play badly.
The emotional and psychological build up for this match was incredibly draining, far more so than the actual playing itself. As a family we built on that game, one day at a time and one game at a time, to learn and improve my control to the point where it rarely impacted my performance.
I strongly believe that more needs to be done to support people who live with chronic conditions such as Diabetes in mainstream sport but this is a discussion for another post….
For me this was the first day of my defiance, which I’ve followed with another 17 years of that same defiance. Diabetes will never make it easy but if you want it badly enough you’ll find a way of making it work for you.
“Never stop playing because it’s tough, stop playing when your legs give up!”
Thank you for reading this post. I found it extremely difficult to write as it took me back to some difficult memories that I haven’t visited for a long time.
Disclaimer – This blog post is my own opinion and from my personal experience. No advice or guidance from this post should be considered without the support of your healthcare professional.
When people look at the title of this post and relate it to Football, they’ll immediately think it’s going to be about the emotions, triumphs and heartbreaking moments you get whilst being involved in this sport.
I’ve been through winning league titles, losing in cup finals, last minute goals, winning games as an underdog and they all help to create the magic that makes football the most entertaining sport in the world (in my opinion!). But this post isn’t about those moments! It’s about the way the body feels when playing with high and low blood sugar levels.
For me, playing with blood glucose levels at either end of the spectrum is an absolute nightmare. They pose different challenges with neither being conducive of playing to the best of my ability. I think before I talk about it any further, I should really point out that I don’t think any healthcare professional would allow me to play football in some of the states I’ve been in when going out onto the pitch. They’re rare occasions but I certainly wouldn’t recommend some of the approaches I’ve used in the past. HOWEVER, this is reality and I certainly haven’t lived my life from the healthcare professional textbook. I’ve adapted my treatments to the situations I’ve been in, to ensure that I can continue to do the things I enjoy doing, knowing I’m not going to let Diabetes stop me.
But what does it feel like to play with high or low blood glucose levels? Pretty horrible to be honest but I’ll try and describe how both feel to me.
With a low blood glucose level it feels to me like someone hit the zoom out button. The ball looks smaller, the mental cognition to control the ball isn’t as easy and processing your surroundings, your next pass or touch becomes extremely difficult. These are just the mental effects! This is without the shaking, feeling of fatigue, indescribably weird sensation of hunger and general feeling of lethargy. None of these feelings are likely to support a top quality performance, however I’ve found my recovery from hypo to normal, to be faster and easier to achieve than from a hyper (+14mmols). I wouldn’t recommend it, but there’s been quite a few times in the past where I’ve played through this feeling and had my Dad throw on a packet of dextrose tablets for me to devour over the course of 15 minutes. Reading this, you’re probably thinking why don’t I just get substituted off? The answer is because as a competitor I want to keep playing and often feel capable enough to deal with the hypo, continue to play my game and try to help the team win the match. There have been a few occasions though where it’s got the better of me and I’ve requested to be brought off, but that will have been after a serious attempt at treating the hypo to try and prevent the inevitable substitution. Healthcare professionals won’t ever recommend this approach but whilst I felt in control enough of the hypo symptoms and the game I was playing, I felt I could treat it and continue. After all this is reality and not from a textbook!
In contrast, the feeling of hyperglycaemia and levels running too high is twice as bad and far more difficult to shake in my opinion. I often liken the feeling to walking in water. Metaphorically I think it represents the struggle perfectly. Just like walking in water you’re trying to move in a direction and make progress, with something you can’t control holding you back and slowing you down. Hyperglycaemia really saps the energy from my legs and it feels like I lose at least a yard of pace in the game. As a result of this I think it’s more noticeable in more performance. I will try to avoid hyperglycaemia at all costs on match day as I think it is a greater risk to my ability to perform than hypoglycaemia, as the effects for me last longer. Unlike with a hypoglycaemia I never sought a substitution when suffering with this extreme. With football renowned for often dropping levels, I expected the exercise to resolve it but my performance suffered and frustration levels increased whilst awaiting this! The reality is that both hyper and hypo levels have a knock-on effect on my performance but vary in the length of time and physical impact that they have.
Summing it up perfectly is my Dad who’s normally watching this all unfold. More often than not, following a hypo, the post game debrief with my Dad usually contains the words “You would never have known.” Whereas if I experienced a hyper I’m likely to expect “You could tell in the way you played.” In his own way my Dad summarises which extreme of blood glucose level is more difficult to produce a performance which reflects my ability.
Of course much of my playing career has gone without experiencing these hiccups. However I feel it’s important we talk about the times when it does go wrong so the players, spectators, coaches and referees can try to understand how it feels to try and tackle the extremes of type 1 diabetes whilst playing football. I’ve never looked for excuses for a bad performance, regardless of whether my glucose levels have behaved or not. It’s not my style but as someone who’s never had the use of an insulin pump or CGM to play a game, I’m hoping people will understand how important it is to be in the correct range for your football and for your health as well as how difficult it can be to achieve this.