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
It’s great to be able to share a blog from another member of the TDFC team… I simply asked our squad “Who would like to write something for the site?” and Jon came forward without too much persuasion to share his story with the condition! It’s a great read so I won’t say too much more…. In his own words, please enjoy Jon’s story:
“Having been diagnosed as a diabetic at 5 years old in the mid 80s, playing sport as a non diabetic isn’t something I have ever really experienced. I remember locking myself in the hospital toilet the morning of my diagnosis, scared of the syringe that they wanted to inject me with (we’re talking the size of a 30cm ruler!!). Originally I was on one injection per day, and then soon moved to two; one 30 minutes before breakfast, and one 30 minutes before my evening meal. The dosage was dependant on the size of the meal I would be eating (obviously a bit harder when eating out!). Carb counting came from a big book in 3 sections; red (high in sugar), amber (okay) and green (good to eat).
Because I was so active as a child, it was decided to run my blood glucose levels slightly higher as running about would invariably drop it down again! If I was higher than normal in the evenings, my mum would send me on a run around the block (about 10 minutes) to get it down! When playing football, whether training or a match, I usually had a mini mars or something similar at half time. I’d probably have a slice of toast or a digestive biscuit beforehand. Very rarely did I check my blood glucose levels before, during or after. As I got older, and into my teens, the mars bars went from mini, to fun size, to full size! Again, I relied more on feeling than actually testing my levels, and I wasn’t really challenged by doctors about this.
At about 15, I started seeing Dr Ian Gallen as my diabetic specialist and got moved onto pens for my insulin, injecting 4 times per day. He took an interest in the diabetes and sport, and I started to do a bit more. Mars bars turned to Lucozade, and the checking started. However, I would still run them higher through fear of going low during a match (something I experienced on my debut for my under 11s team!). I wasn’t aware at this point in my life that having glucose levels in range would equate to a better performance on the pitch. I was also playing hockey to a county standard, cricket, rugby and athletics.
However, through my late teens and early 20s, injuries set in, and playing time reduced. By 25, I’d had 3 operations on my right knee and one on my right ankle. The rehab and recovery was (and is!) awful. Being unable to play meant blood glucose levels were going higher, as well as the challenging mental state of mind. When I got back to playing, I would be back to my old ways and not testing. I’d have half a bottle of Lucozade before the game and the rest at half time. I’d have similar when training (half before, half during) and I honestly couldn’t tell you how this affected my glucose levels! Unfortunately, this lack of testing, as well as injuries, went on into my late 20s. I’d lie to the doctors, although they must have been suspicious by my HBa1C results!
In my late 20s, I met my now wife, who is a nurse. Through her nagging, and changing diabetic specialists, I started doing a lot more testing (although nothing like I do now). My pre match, half time and post match or training snacks would differ each week, dependant on the blood glucose level I presented. At 33, I finally gave in and moved onto an insulin pump, which has changed my life. I probably test 8-12 times per day, and my HBa1C is at an all time low. Unfortunately, the injuries didn’t stop. 10 operations in the past 16 years (one on my eye due to diabetic complications) meant that I had to call time on my playing career last summer. However, I have now turned to cycling as I’m still recovering from a condition in my pelvis and hip meaning I struggle to run. Managing my glucose levels for this can still be difficult, and no two days seem to bring the same results!
So, what would I do different, what advice would I give and what have I learnt about sport and being diabetic? I would definitely say testing is so important. In later years, I really noticed how my performance on the pitch would be better the tighter my control was. If I was too high, I would feel sluggish, slow and off the pace. However, having that tight control is important all week, not just on match or training day. If it is higher than hoped, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it can be high and I have no idea why! Testing during a game or training is also important. There’s no shame in doing it. As a sporty youngster, my only role model was Gary Mabbutt (someone I still look up to), a professional footballer living with type 1 diabetes. However, I wasn’t aware of anyone else who I played against who was diabetic, and always thought I was on my own. Having something like TDFC is amazing, as it enables so many people to share their inspiring stories. Just remember, you’re not alone in being a diabetic!“
Upon reading Jon’s story I wanted to ask him a few questions to delve a bit deeper into his life experience with the condition….
CB: So, there’s obviously a vastly different way of controlling Diabetes in 2018 compared to when you were diagnosed in the mid 1980’s what sticks out as being drastically different?
JP: “When I was first diagnosed as a diabetic, the treatment seemed very basic. One injection per day, one appointment every 6 months to a year, basic carb counting, no real research or good information on playing sport with diabetes, it was all generic, and given to me by doctors and nurses who a) didn’t have diabetes themselves; and b) didn’t play sport!”
CB: You mentioned in your story that you lied to your healthcare professionals… Why did you feel like you had to do that?
JP: “Sadly, I felt I had to lie to the doctors and nurses I saw as I thought I’d get told off for not testing enough. I think I also felt that there wouldn’t be any problems if I could just keep them happy. Long term complications of poor control and benefits of keeping close control were never really explained to me (that I can remember) until later years. Even then, I guess I thought it’ll never happen to me”
CB: What were the difficulties you faced when injured and managing your Diabetes? Was that the hardest part or was it the mental battle with being injured as a sporty person?
JP: “My glucose levels would really rise when I was inactive. Since a young age I’ve been active and on the go, so have always used that as something to bring the levels down, meaning I didn’t have as much insulin as I would if I was inactive. Being inactive was incredibly hard both physically and mentally. Blood glucose levels would go up, so I’d increase the insulin, meaning I’d then go low, then I’d have too much to eat or drink and go back up again! This then had the knock on affect mentally. It was hard being unable to do something that I’d grown up doing (not just football, but physical activity of any sort) and feeling like a gift you’d been given was being continually taken away was tough. Then, as I would be coming back, I’d either suffer another setback, or get a small run of games before another injury. (Ironically, since stopping playing, I’ve managed to shed quite a bit of weight, which would probably have helped me a little bit years ago!). So I’d have the mental side of not playing and seeing all my team mates playing and training every week, while I was stuck waiting for my injury to heal. That combined with the glucose levels yo-yo-ing was tough to take. Better control would have helped me with my recovery. However, being injured did mean that I could spend more time with my family (that was about the only benefit, although I’m sure my wife would tell you that on a Saturday around kick off she’d rather I wasn’t moping around complaining that I wasn’t playing!!) I couldn’t go and watch my team play as it made me cross and angry I wasn’t playing!”
CB: What’s been your proudest moment with Diabetes and Sport?
JP: “I feel that just continuing to play sport for as long as I have whilst having diabetes is a triumph in itself. It should never stop you doing anything, but especially in the 80s and 90s, there wasn’t really any network or support in place if you were struggling or not sure at all. Apart from Gary Mabbutt, there were no real sporty role models with Diabetes to seek out guidance and inspiration from. I’ve now spoken to children and adults (including one family member and a best friend from my childhood who are both active) who have been newly diagnosed and managed to convince them that you can continue life normally without letting diabetes hold you back. They see that I can continue to participate in physical activity, so why can’t they! It has also helped the people around them, who don’t have any knowledge of diabetes, see that you don’t need to let it hold you back, whether in sport, or just life in general.”
CB: What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with when dealing with Diabetes around football?
JP: “Probably other people (coaches, parents etc) knowing what to do or how to act. I was never shy about telling team mates I was diabetic, but also never shouted it from the rooftops. As an adult, I made sure that there were a handful of team mates who knew, but as a child it was a bit more difficult. We had one parent who was a nurse who watched her son most games, so I think that put my parents mind to rest (I didn’t like them watching me for some reason!!). My manager from u11 to u16 asked my parents about what he needed to do, and my best mate’s Dad would quite often be there (although he did go and sit in the car with my supplies because it was cold one game – typically when I needed them!!)
Managing the control in general can be difficult; it can also be easy, but as no two days ever seem the exact same, it just adds to the fun! I could be absolutely fine one game, do exactly the same the next, and it all be completely different. Sometimes I‘d go too high before a game, sometimes after. I’d always make sure my bag was on the side in the dugout fully stocked, and sometimes give a bottle of Lucozade to our keeper to put in his goal.”
CB: What would you like to influence in the future around Diabetes? What was your reason for joining TDFC?
JP: “I’d like diabetics and their families to have as much support as possible and to encourage them to keep active. There’s no reason to let diabetes hold you back. If I can make a difference to one person who is struggling with their diabetes, or even if they’re not struggling, I’ll be a happy man! I’d also like to make sure that people are educated so diabetics can always have the same opportunities as others.
I discovered TDFC through social media. I think I clicked with it straight away, wishing I’d had something like this when I was younger. I want to be able to help and inspire future generations of diabetics, of all abilities, so that they may go on one day to inspire others!”
An amazing story Jon and thank you for sharing it with the community. 😀
To the TDFC followers out there who have asked me and others involved about the management of the condition around Football here are a few videos which I recorded with my friend Paul Coker at 1 Bloody Drop ( click here to check the website out ) ! Hopefully they’ll provide some useful tips around managing a complete game day situation. Remember the suggestions I make are from my own experience and should always be accompanied by the support of your healthcare professionals.
Remember what works for me might not work for you so it’s important you learn from Trial and Error and continue to adapt your own preparation and match day routines to get the best from yourself and enjoy playing!
Key Points for Before the Match:
Loading up with Carbohydrate the day before
Consistency of Routine
Good night’s sleep
Plenty of time between pre match meal insulin dose and starting the game (3 hours + ideally)
Lots of Testing
Key Points for During the Match:
Small adjustments take on glucose if required
Find a quick acting carbohydrate drink (I use Lucozade Sport)
Try to understand what effect the intensity of exercise has on your glucose levels
Key Points for after the match:
Watch out for Hypos especially during the night (nothing to be feared, just keep an extra eye out)
Consider how intense your involvement in the game was and how long you played… This can have a big bearing on how levels respond after. The more intense the more likely you are to dip lower after the game.
Consider reductions in your bolus doses for meals immediately after games.
Eat carbohydrates within your post game meal or snack.
Consider a reduction in basal dosage and think about a bedtime snack.
Be very careful consuming alcohol after a game as it increases the likelihood of hypoglycaemia even more. It can be done but just be careful.
I hope the advice in the videos and the key points from them are useful to many of you out there. A huge thank you again to Paul Coker at www.1bloodydrop.com for creating this amazing content.
As usual if you have any questions. Give us a shout.
First of all, I hope everyone had an amazing Christmas and is looking forward to 2018. I always see this time of year as the perfect opportunity to reflect on what has gone before and review the year’s trials and tribulations. It helps me process how I’ve dealt with what’s happened throughout the year and then focus on what I need to do in 2018 to make things successful from a personal perspective and in this case, on behalf of The Diabetes Football Community (TDFC).
For the purpose of this post I’ll steer clear from my own personal ups and downs across the year. Instead, I want to solely focus this post around the achievements of TDFC and the direction we’re taking for 2018 as it’s been a constant source of positivity within my life in 2017 and I hope it has been the same for the diabetes community.
Let’s rewind ourselves back to February and the start of the project… When I left university in 2012 I wanted to find a way of helping people with Diabetes around sport and specifically Football, knowing the experience I’d had within the game, but at that time I maybe didn’t have the experience, knowhow or the mindset to pull it off. However the continued rise of Social Media in that 4/5 year period all of a sudden gave me the platform I needed to communicate and share this experience. After a period of communicating and talking about my own personal circumstances and life within the #GBDoc the idea came to me… A free vehicle in the form of Twitter and Facebook where I could share some snippets of my own knowledge and hopefully encourage others to do the same and form a peer support community which could bridge the gap between legal disablement (Equality Act, 2010) and partaking in mainstream sport. There aren’t many conditions where this occurs and for me there hasn’t been anywhere near enough support for people living with chronic medical conditions in my sport during my life playingfootball. This is something I feel passionately about changing! This drive/passion and obvious gap I’d felt myself, created the growth platform for TDFC.
So following hundreds of posts, tweets, direct messages, blog posts, networking with others, conferences, Facebook live videos and a couple of podcasts during the 10 months since TDFC began, we now have 700+ followers on Twitter, 3000+ likes on Facebook and since the website launched at the end of May, it has received 6,500 views. To say I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done in growing the network and supporting people with diabetes would be the understatement of the century. I can only describe it as an incredible reflection of our hard work and of the gaping hole which needs addressing for this group of people.
However, you can’t achieve this all on your own…So let me say a huge, huge thank you to the team of people who have supported the development of TDFC across 2017. Firstly to James (Jim), who has completely driven the look and feel of our platforms, logos, images, T-shirts, leaflets and any collateral promoting the project. He does this whilst balancing a full time job and whilst having a young child, so his support has been incredible and I hope I can pay you back one day buddy. Secondly to Noel, whose enthusiasm for supporting people with diabetes and advocating for improvements is second to none and is truly inspiring. She continues to help push the project forward and lead TDFC in the USA. Whilst lastly I’d like to say thank you to Karl, Alex and Jon who have all recently been added to our family and have supported in three very different but extremely valuable ways. All of you have been incredible and without you there can be no doubt that the growth of TDFC would not have been as rapid. I’m very grateful to have you all on board and always will be. I look forward to you continuing on the journey and with some of the awesome things we’ve got coming up for 2018 I hope to see a few more joining the TDFC ranks, to help drive some of our ideas forward!
So what have been my highlights across the year?
Well where do I start… Probably for me the Trip to Portugal was the single greatest highlight of the year. I still can’t believe I was able to share a Futsal Court with a group of people who all live with the same condition as me. It had a lasting effect and it’s now something I’m working hard to recreate within the UK during 2018. As much as that was incredible, some of the stories from the community that have been shared and the impact we’ve been able to share outweighs the trip to Portugal for me. We’ve also been lucky enough to visit conferences relating to Diabetes and sport to spread the message of TDFC and network with other likeminded people/organisations. Yet the only thing that really matters is continuing to provide the inspiration, help and guidance the community need or want from us.
In spreading our message of empowerment and support we’ve been lucky enough to receive some great backing from organisations that will be imperative in driving our growth in 2018. One of those leading partners is the Worcestershire FA, who have been passionate about our mission from day one and for whom I’m incredibly thankful for their motivation to do more and join us on the journey. We will be working alongside each other in 2018 to push a number of initiatives and ideas forward!
Noel & Jodie meeting at Worcestershire FA HQ
A new addition to our partnerships and a good friend of mine is the DiAthlete (Gavin Griffiths). We’ve just agreed that as part of the League of DiAthletes programme which supports worldwide education and empowerment for people with Diabetes thatTDFC and I, as the founder, will partner with the programme to push the message of education and support, for people with Diabetes from people with Diabetes. I believe this to be an extremely powerful mix which with help from our healthcare professionals is changing the way care and education around Diabetes is provided. It’s a really exciting proposition which I can’t wait for TDFC to support.
Within this post, I also wanted to highlight some of the amazing publicity we’ve had during 2017… It’s a reflection of the hard work put in to developing the project but also a representation of the need there is for projects like ours to exist. It’s been amazing to receive coverage from the English Federation of Disability Sport, On Track Magazine and The Inclusion Club to name a few, in what has been great publicity for a project so young. However as much as I believe in celebrating our successes and sharing them, I’m firmly focussed on what I can impact upon now, which is the future.
So what are we doing in 2018?
2018 is about you, the community! This is now the time for us to take it up a gear. Following a period of time where we’ve focussed on providing mainly online support via social media, we want to push it a step further and try to develop some initiatives which bring people with diabetes together, with football as the vehicle. I’ve been building bridges over the last year with the Worcestershire FA, who are supporting us with raising awareness in Football with a video campaign we want to create, whilst also helping us consider how we may improve education through workshops and resources. Alongside the improvement in education, there’s an amazing opportunity to bring people together to learn about Diabetes management whilst also enjoying involvement in the game. This opportunity starts with attempting to create the first team from the UK to compete in DiaEuro and continues into developing our own participation days/camps for people with Diabetes at home in the UK. We hope that with the support of our friends at DiabPT United we can recreate the model they’re using to bring this all to life. We will need support from sponsors, players, coaches, admin & medical professionals to pull it off but I’m hoping we will have some amazing support from our friends within the diabetes community to get this off the ground!
The most important thing about our community is the people that interact with it, who share their stories, get inspired and who continue to learn new things which help them with their everyday lives. Our developments as a project are as much about our ideas as they are about yours, so if you think there is something you’d like to see us do, or think would be a good idea, or even that you’d like to help us with in the future, all you need to do is get in contact. We’re here for you!
I’d just like to finally point towards the future and the works of 1 Bloody Drop(Paul Coker) and Chris Pennell’s type 1 Diabetes Rugby academy to demonstrate the gap and why the work of TDFC has become important in filling a void for people with Diabetes in Sport. I’ve forged promising relationships with both of these projects and I firmly believe we’re all pulling together to improve the lives of people with Diabetes in sport all over the globe. People living with chronic conditions taking part in mainstream sport don’t get enough support to compete and this is what we’re trying to address!
I hope you’ll agree that it’s been a pretty amazing 10 months for TDFC and the future looks even brighter. Keep supporting us, keep sharing your experiences with us and keep spreading the message. We can’t challenge the misconceptions and the structures in society without your support!