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
It’s great to be able to share stories of our community and when we asked Zak if he’d like to write for the blog he was really keen… If you’d like to write something for us please get in touch! Anyway, over to Zak…
Hi, my name is Zak. I am 26 years old and a PE Teacher from Lancashire, England but currently living in Sydney, Australia.
Football has always been a huge part of my life and being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes aged 14 did not change this one bit.
Despite my Dad’s initial fears that I may not be able to play football in the same way, we were reassured by the nurses at Blackburn Hospital that I could continue my number one hobby soon enough. Sure enough, after a few minor adjustments and some extra pre-game preparation, I lined up for my team just two weeks after diagnosis! I remember it so vividly, tucking into a couple of digestive biscuits at half time to keep my blood sugars up and cramping up towards the end of the game.
I know that many people have struggled to keep up their previous lifestyles after diagnosis, through fear of hypos/hypers or by misinformed advice, but it’s something that has never stopped me from doing anything I like… except for one thing – scuba diving.
I have tried to Scuba Dive twice in Thailand and Australia but not been accepted both times. Without a doctor’s letter of approval after taking private health exams via a registered “dive doctor”, unfortunately I had to stick to snorkeling. I’d be interested to hear about other people’s experiences with scuba diving so please get in contact if you have a story or info worth sharing!
And despite the scuba setback, I have done kayaking, bungee jumps, overnight treks, 100km bike rides and many many more adventurous activities!
Having diabetes has its obvious challenges and hurdles we face day in, day out, but it has given me some great experiences that I will cherish for a long time to come…
I have been fortunate to represent Great Britain in the Junior Diabetes Cup held in Geneva, Switzerland. In my first year (2009), we won the tournament in a nail-biting penalty shootout against Slovakia. I was due to be the next penalty taker and I can’t describe the relief I felt at not having to take one! I went back again the next year and was nominated to be captain, which was an incredible honour. Despite finishing the top scorer in the tournament, we lost 1-0 in the final to Slovakia who got their sweet revenge (excuse the pun).
Then in September 2016, I decided to move to Australia to give life a go “down under”. I have found a great football team here in Sydney and have represented Australia at the Mini Football World Cup in Tunisia, playing in front of a packed stadium of 3000 fans under the floodlights! I spent a bit of time pre-tournament learning the national anthem so that I didn’t have to mime awkwardly whilst on camera! I was also part of the UK’s first diabetic futsal team to play in DiaEuro 2018, which was an amazing experience both on and off the court. To meet so many other diabetics with a passion as big as mine for football was incredible, you can imagine how many stories were shared during that week!
A few adjustments have been made after moving to Australia, most notably with my prescriptions and dealing with heat of up to 40 degrees during summer! I have to pay for my diabetes supplies here, which makes me appreciate just how good the NHS is back home. Playing football in the heat took some trial and error too. My suncream is now just as important to pack as my insulin on a Saturday afternoon!
Two and a half years down the line and I’m still enjoying life here. I’ve met one other sporting diabetic superstar and her family in Sydney – my namesakes the Brown’s have been great at handling Ellen’s diabetes whilst she competes at the highest level of futsal in Australia at U17 and all age women’s level. I hope to meet and chat to a few other sporty diabetics in the near future, so if you’ve read this and want to add anything of your own then please step forward!
If you want to find Zak on social media head over to his Twitter @mrzakbrown or his Instagram @zakbtown
As it’s the end of #DiabetesWeek I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share a blog about the completion of my 2017/18 season… A season of complete contrasts!
July 2017… As pre – season begins for most players and clubs involved in Football, I was in a plaster cast contemplating how this had all played out. Two 5th metatarsal fractures in 6 months and an operation later and I was staring down another 2 months until I could walk again, let alone run! The worst injury I’d experienced in my sporting career.
But anyone who knows me well, knows I don’t give up in the face of a challenge… This was a hard one but I was up for it!
The season was well underway by the time I could walk again on the 1st of September but after months of crutching around the local gym and using a handbike to do cardio, I was just so pleased to be back on 2 feet again. The key with injuries like this I’ve found is to celebrate the small wins as you progress towards your old self again… If you don’t give yourself the recognition of improvement it’s going to be a really hard mental and physical battle!
It wasn’t long after walking again that I was given the all clear to do some light jogging, which was a huge step in my mind, as I put some serious stress on the bone for the first time since the op. With any injury that keeps you out for this period of time the deterioration in muscle strength in your whole leg is a massive problem to also overcome as well as the concern for the injury itself. I had a LOT of rehabilitation work to do but as I was accepted onto the Sports Scholarship scheme at the University of Worcester (www.worc.ac.uk) I knew I was going to have access to great facilities and people to support me on this journey back.
After 5 – 6 weeks of strength and conditioning, constant physiotherapy and some Futsal training sessions with the university futsal club, things looked to be progressing nicely in October. I was getting used to my team mates, new surroundings at the university and the demands of the sport on my body again. I enjoyed it but things were painful… I spent a lot of the first 2/3 months in pain playing as my foot was weak and the muscles supporting it weren’t much stronger!
The first game back was towards the end of October, and when I say game, I mean 2 minutes on court just to see how things felt!! That’s the beauty of Futsal, you can roll on and roll off quickly with substitutions… It felt alright but I think it was a false sense of reality as I was still a long way off at this stage! There’s a lot of fear when you’re coming back after a torrid time which is hard to explain, naturally the body just tries to protect it so you move in a way which is not efficient or conducive of high performance. It took a good 2/3 months to get over this and I’d argue I’m still not fully there!!!
As things progressed and improved, I returned to my first national team Futsal camp in November 2018, almost a year after breaking my foot on international duty. It was a great moment for me to see the lads again after spending so much time on the sidelines… I knew it was a tough ask to compete with the boys and their levels having only been able to run for just over a month and still playing in pain. Despite this I felt I gave a good account of myself but ultimately I didn’t have the fitness and games in the tank to really challenge for a place in the Wales Home Nations squad in 2017 as I narrowly missed out. Tough to take but understandable.
But whilst the Wales boys were playing in Edinburgh, I had the opportunity to attend the England Universities Trials in London. Another great opportunity to push myself against good players and towards my ultimate goal of full fitness and playing at the levels I knew I could achieve. It was a hard session considering where I was at in terms of fitness but I was really glad I did it. It ultimately led to selection in the squad later that month which was great! The management of my glucose levels and getting them right for games/occasions was now starting to become important again as I was more involved whilst playing more and more game time. You’d think the old ways would work?! A year after the last time I played sport at that level and my body certainly didn’t play ball!! My levels were shooting up to levels I’d not seen at a Futsal game before and crashing more dramatically than I remembered. I think there’s a certain amount of trial and error in everything we do as Type 1’s but it’s about reducing the number of errors we make that will allow us to enjoy our sport. For a good couple of months I made plenty!
As the festive season approached I also took the decision to get back to playing Football. I’d missed it and it was time to use the sport to help me get fit in December and January as the Futsal season tends to go quiet at that time. My old manager Quentin Townsend had inquired about my fitness a month or two earlier and I’d put it off to ensure my body was in a good enough place to cope with Football when I finally said yes! I signed for Pershore Town FC and played my first football match in 20 months on 19th December 2017 in a friendly vs Worcester City FC.
Before I knew it I’d played in 3 games in a week and it was like I hadn’t been away! There’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end but I was just pleased to get back out there again. I’ve got to say a big thanks to the lads who made it so easy for me to fit into the squad half way through the season and enjoy the second half of it. If I’m honest the transition with my Diabetes back into Football was much easier than with Futsal… Because I’ve played Football for a lot longer it feels a little more natural in terms of the routine I go through to manage type 1, so there was only really 1 and a half games from the 16 appearances I made where I’d say things weren’t quite right!
I spent a lot of time learning about how to manage my diabetes around sport again… 12 months away is a long time and plenty of things change during that time.
But as I moved into 2018 things were looking really promising following the call up to the England Universities squad and with regular weekly game time. This was huge! I was playing a 90 minute game on a Saturday and then playing Futsal on a Sunday for about 4/5 weeks on the bounce and after that I was flying into the business end of the season.
My season was all about pushing myself in Futsal and enjoying the game time in football. I wanted to come out of the season with some silverware with the university team with both the league and cup in our grasp. As we negotiated our semi final with a really tight 9-8 win vs a well drilled Loughborough 2’s team, I had a cup final to prepare for as well as a north vs south challenge cup as part of the England Universities squad.
Unfortunately we were unable to chase down the league title after a couple of disappointing results which meant we finished up as runners up in our division but we still had the cup to play for.
To go from that cup final and into the North vs South challenge cup just a couple of weeks later was absolutely class and well timed… I could feel I was on a roll and feeling good, so for me it was great to see the good form continue as I ended up as the top goal scorer in the tournament and with a Team South win 9-3 across the two games (6-2 & 3-1). I was finally able to show my ability as a result of the body being closer to a state which could showcase it! After this tournament and a couple of good results with Pershore, I pretty much knew the only meaningful game left in my season was the annual varsity ding dong derby between the University of Worcester and the University of Gloucestershire.
Varsity is a big deal for the students at the university you represent and winning the game you’re involved in is all that matters in the month of April! Luckily for us we entered the game in good form and were really confident that if our big players turned up we’d win the game… So it turned out to be the case. We ran out 8-3 winners and the team played a really good game in which we controlled it from the start to finish. It was a cracking way to finish the season off and undoubtedly contributed to the way we were rewarded at the end of season awards night…
The University 1st team were given the “Team of the Year” award for our cup and league exploits, whilst my individual contribution to those performances and my representation of the university with the England universities squad led to me being awarded “Male Athlete of the Year”. An award I didn’t feel worthy enough of winning but one I was extremely grateful and very lucky and proud to have received! When last year’s winner was an Olympian and former commonwealth champion Matt Hudson-Smith (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Hudson-Smith), you can see why I didn’t feel like I wasn’t worthy of this level of recognition haha! Incredible all the same though…
I honestly couldn’t be prouder to have ticked all of that off this season, despite not actually being 100% at any point. The key was that after all that time away from the sport I found my love for it again, the smile on my face was back when I played and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed playing like I did in 2017/18, since I was a kid. Sometimes the adversity can set you up for what’s next and I think the injury taught me a lot about fun and enjoyment that maybe I was missing beforehand!
I think this line sums up the approach I’ve taken over the last season and one in which I’ll try to continue for the rest of my playing career:
“Train like it’s the most important thing in the world, play like you couldn’t care less!”
However, one thing that I wanted to finish on surrounding Diabetes… After 12 months of being injured and focussing on my Diabetes more and more my Hba1c was 50 but as I returned to playing it went back up to 64… A really challenging question is…. What’s more important? I was called up to the England Universities squad, scored 5 goals in a cup final winning performance, won varsity and I won male athlete of the year at my university, yet my Diabetes control was worse. There’s no doubt my sport, the demands on my body and the responses my glucose levels have to exercise complicate overall control of the condition as my intensities of exercise differ so drastically!
I’d love to have some feedback on this… Because I honestly don’t know the answer but my choices have always involved enjoying life experiences over prioritising perfect Diabetic control but I’d love to hear what you think…
Finally I’d just like to thank a number of people who’ve supported me hugely throughout this season, my family for your continued support, to Dan Allen (https://www.instagram.com/da_training_and_performance/), Jamie Harrison and Marc Scriven for their strength and conditioning support, to Sally Smith and Lewis Miller for putting me back together each week with their sports therapy support, to the University for their providing great facility access and lastly to my teammates and coaches who’ve made me feel welcome and whom have played well so often this season! We win and lose as a team….
All in all a progressive season after one of the hardest periods of my sporting career with so much to look forward to in the 2018/19 season!
The first word that springs to my mind after my most recent experience is…… WOW. (Videos & Images courtesy of my Instagram profile: brighty08)
Opportunities to play in cup finals are special. They’re a culmination of a season’s worth of hard work, good performances and often quite a bit of luck. You have to appreciate and enjoy them, because as I know, it can be years until you play again in the next one, or you may never get the chance again! That only dawned on me after this one though…… If it is the last one, at least it was one to remember!!!
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to try and encompass everything about preparing for a Cup Final weekend from my experience living with Type 1 Diabetes. These moments matter and hopefully after a good performance in this most recent match, I can give a bit of insight about what it was like, how I prepared and the reactions to hiccups which allowed me to still get out there and enjoy the experience.
So for me it started on Friday night ( the cup final was 3pm on Sunday!) when the squad met up for Training as we do every week. This session was a little different though; the team had suffered a shock defeat a couple of days beforehand and we were keen to feel more prepared leading into the final. So we spent a good half an hour discussing preparations before doing a session that focussed on breaking down our opposition’s tactics. We knew how they played having beaten them at their venue in the league just 2 weeks before (8-6 to Worcester). It was a good session that we all wished we’d spent a bit longer on but we felt positive we could get the job done. I was slightly concerned my hamstring was tweaking but I got in and sat in an ice bath, sorted the glucose levels out (which were pretty good!) and went to bed feeling positive about the weekend.
Saturday comes around and inadvertently I managed to keep my thoughts around the final to a minimum all day. In typical male style, I’d left the purchase of my Mother’s day gifts until the last minute so I spent the morning getting those! I was with Alex (our TDFC sports psychology guru) grabbing lunch and consciously aware the final was coming up but the only reference I was making to it was ensuring I ate plenty of carbs and tried to stay in safe blood glucose ranges throughout the day. I spent the evening just chilling out with my mates, with my mind away from the game, having a laugh. It kept me relaxed and stress free. Something Alex keeps telling me is important to get the best from myself.
However…. I made a major mistake on Saturday. In my attempts to “Carb Up” I ate pretty late that evening and I messed up the carb counting…. This led to a middle of the night Hyperglycaemia (21mmols), requiring an injection and a disruption to my sleep! Definitely not the best preparation but if we had it all our own way it wouldn’t be so rewarding to achieve the things we do as Diabetics!
Sunday… Game day! I started off a bit later than usual following the sleep disruption. A period of stretching the muscles and foam rolling out the niggles started the day before a reasonably sized brunch. In the car on the way to the game was the first time I really started to think about the next few hours. I could feel the normal feelings associated with big games building up; the excitement, the nerves, the anticipation and general buzz of an occasion.
For me letting those feelings come into play on the way to the game was the best time for them. You have to let them do their thing but knowing how I tick, I also needed to remain calm. If I allow myself to pile pressure on my performance, I play a bit too quick and the anxiety can drive my glucose levels up, which again affects the output. I like to remind myself I’m here to enjoy it and play the game for fun. If you don’t enjoy it, why do you do it? It also keeps the glucose levels more predictable… The mind has a huge impact on the body!
Upon arrival and with the hamstring not feeling too clever, I was stretched out and massaged in the changing room before we went out onto the court. My glucose levels were looking good and as we left the changing room you could feel the buzz around the team, as for some it was the biggest game they’d played in! We rolled out into the venue and as we started the warm up you could see the focus and intensity was there, which is always a good sign early on! I was feeling sharp (apart from the hamstring tweak) as we started moving the ball around on court and the warm up went by with a smile on my face and a growing sense of excitement for the game to begin… I’m not sure whether this excitement masked what happened next though!!
Just as we started to get our shinpads and our match shirts on our back, I started to feel something wasn’t quite right. I was due to check my blood glucose levels anyway but now I was worried! Sure enough 2 minutes from Kick Off and I was 3.4 mmols… NIGHTMARE! All the prep and the consistency in my routine I tried to implement had seemingly not worked and as Diabetics we almost expect to have to overcome moments like these… In my typical style, I downed half a bottle of lucozade sport, threw my match shirt on and lined up to start the game. Almost every healthcare professional who works in Diabetes would’ve advised me not to play/start at this glucose level but knowing my body and reaction to Futsal I made the decision to carry on.
As the whistle blew to kick off, I wasn’t thinking about anything. I just wanted to react to what was going on around me and play the game as I saw it. Futsal is played at such pace I don’t think there’s much time for anything else anyway! Our starting 4 began the game with a lot of composure on the ball and making some chances. It was always going to be a tight start to the game playing against a team who were the biggest challenge in our league and in the first few minutes it looked like the game was going to pan out that way. A couple of minutes in I was lucky enough to see the ball drop at my feet with a chance to break forward, I took it, beat a couple of players and nutmegged the keeper to make it 1-0 (GOAL BELOW). A great start to the game for us and on a personal note it gave me a lot of confidence to continue effecting the game and getting myself on the ball. After my first 5 minute stint on court the score was 1-1 after we’d conceded a soft goal. Nonetheless a solid start!
I then witnessed 5 minutes where it didn’t go well at all for us. We conceded a number of soft goals and we’d lost our organisation… This summed up much of the rest of the first half until the final few minutes but the damage was done. We were 5-1 down at half time. That kind of score isn’t quite as dramatic as it would be playing Football, but it did give us a very big mountain to climb in the second half. I was feeling pretty good out on court but there was no doubt I was concerned we had a little bit too much to do to get back into it! The glucose levels had recovered and now sat at 8.4mmols going into the second half so I didn’t make any adjustments over the half time break.
So with a big task on our hands, the boys kicked off the second half. We started it well, with plenty of possession and we drew a number of fouls (6 fouls wins you a 10 metre penalty). This made it very interesting as the half progressed but without making too many chances we knew the next goal was crucial… Fortunately we got it! Sam got a poachers effort under the keeper’s nose and it was game on. Following the first 10 minutes of the half playing with the same 4 players and the goal to make it 5-2, we threw some fresh faces into the action to chase down the deficit, of which I was one. Coming back on I knew that we were one foul short of a penalty and the momentum was very much in our favour. Sure enough the persistence told! 5-3 via a 10 metre penalty from Vytas. Now we could sense the tide was turning…. With 5/6 minutes left on the clock I picked up the ball, slowed the play down, created half a yard and took the shot on, 5-4 (GOAL BELOW). The belief was growing but time was running out. We kept plugging away with chances but was the comeback all in vain? As the clock ticked down towards 1 minute, I picked the ball up for a kick in and played a firm pass across the court to Ally deep inside their half, he took a touch and dispatched the ball through a crowd of players into the bottom corner. Queue mass celebration! We’d come back to level the final with barely any time left on the clock but the job wasn’t complete… I noticed their team dropped their heads at this point as they were trying to hold out for the result. The momentum was with us and as the full time buzzer went we were full of confidence that we’d go onto complete the comeback in extra time!
The turnaround for extra time was fast and I felt good so I didn’t check my glucose levels. I was happy to just keep going… Despite the flow of the game with us, Warwick took the kick off and immediately scored to make it 6-5. Surely we couldn’t throw away all of the hard work now?
NOT TODAY! From a kick in Vytas set me back for a strike which I hit hard towards the back post and via a small deflection it ended up going in (GOAL BELOW!). 6-6 and we went into the half time interval in extra time knowing we still had every chance of completing the crazy comeback! At this point I was desperate for us to get the job done with our momentum as no one wants the lottery of penalties!
We pushed forward and controlled the second half of extra time. Just a minute in, a neat one two with Paul found me in the area on my own and I dispatched the ball into the bottom corner…. Pandemonium from our bench followed, because for the first time since the 5th minute we led the game!! Just a minute later we were 8-6 up following a nice move involving myself, Alessandro and Harry who despatched the ball at the back post. A typical Futsal goal now had us just 3 minutes from taking the cup!
We defended like trojans and shut down every Warwick move and even under the press moved the ball well and played with composure. Our positive approach allowed us to finish up with 20 seconds on the clock by making it 9-6. Vytas worked himself some room via a corner and between us we managed to get the ball home after some last gasp Warwick defending…. In scoring my 5th of the game, we’d secured the cup, 3 goals in 20 seconds was too much for us to throw away and we knew it!! After a remarkable game we’d done it (VIDEO BELOW FOR FINAL GOAL AND FINAL BUZZER).
I haven’t given Diabetes all that much air time during the game, because guess what….. It didn’t get much air time during that final. Once I sorted out the pre game hypo, I did 1 check at half time to ensure things were fine and that was all that was needed.
After such an awful 12 months with injury, and with my family watching, it was a pleasure to play like I did and help the Uni get their hands on a cup. You don’t get many chances to play in cup finals and win trophies so when you score 5 and have such a positive effect on the result it’s special. I was just so pleased for the lads after witnessing their development across the season to see them all be rewarded with a cup final win was great, after they’d supported me in coming back from my injury problems every step of the way.
To answer the title of the post… I don’t think it’s about getting it right 100% of the time, it’s about making sure Diabetes doesn’t impact the important parts! It came together when I needed it to but not without the challenges. Remain calm, react appropriately and enjoy every moment! I definitely left the Diabetes on the back seat of the car during the game and allowed myself to enjoy the occasion and express myself. Diabetes or not, nothing was holding me back on cup final day.
My Cup Final Top Tips (From my experience, not endorsed by a Healthcare Professional):
Keep your mind off the game until the hours before it. If you focus on it too early, you may put too much pressure on yourself or get over excited.
Test as regularly as possible.
Carb load the day before.
Hydrate well on the day.
Remember to take it all in… Win or Lose you’ve done amazingly well to get there and it’s a match you don’t want to forget.
Keep a consistent routine with your Diabetes. Play this match just like any other, however be prepared that levels may be erratic due to the emotions of a final having an effect.
Try and enjoy the occasion rather than get nervous about trying to perform. It’s just a game of Futsal/Football and you’ve probably played hundreds before this one! (I’ve made this mistake before!)
Smile and tell yourself you’re there because you deserve to be.