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
In our second instalment of “It’s much more than just Football or Futsal” we look at the story of Scott Burrell. His journey with TDFC and type 1 Diabetes has been staggering and for those of you unaware of what Diabetes care was like without the technology that is available now, I’d urge you to read on… This is a fascinating account of how TDFC has effected and improved Scott’s life and another example of a social / community based project like ours supporting healthcare benefits and objectives for those living with the condition. No more talking from us lets hear from Scott in his own words:
“Being selected in the UK DiaEuro squad really changed my ‘diabetic life’ and that’s by no means an exaggeration! Firstly, and something a majority of the squad had said, was that they’d never met another T1 in ‘normal’ life so that was great. Like any football squad you tend to bond quite quickly with the other players but we bonded especially quickly as we all shared the condition. My knowledge of T1 has increased ten fold. It was great to share stories and bounce successes/failures off each other.
I was actually the only member on mixed insulin. I was taking Humulin M3 which was the same insulin I’d used since diagnosis in 1999! I’d been told for many years, probably close to 10, that a basal/bolus regime would be better for me, but me being a stubborn so and so I’d always thought I’d be better sticking with what I knew. Seeing all the other lads using the basal/bolus regime and many telling me how they had moved from mixed insulin and how much better it was really gave me the incentive to change.
A few months after we got back I eventually made the switch and now take Toujeo & Novo Rapid, I’m finding it much better and in hindsight wish I’d changed over many years ago. I’m certainly having less hypos which had always been a big problem for me before. As good as healthcare professionals are it was the kick from people living with the condition day in, day out which convinced me to finally change.
Finally I’m a lot more open about my Diabetes now… Growing up and even in my early 20s I’d try to hide it as much as possible, not talk about it and only tell people I was T1 if really needed. My mentality completely changed about that having been selected in the squad. I’ve now had newspaper articles written about me and appeared in a TDFC video filmed by BBC Hereford & Worcester which they shared on their social media platforms talking about the project and the condition. It actually made me feel ‘proud’ and gave me a desire to talk about diabetes for the first time…something I’d never experienced before in my time as a T1.”
Keep an eye out for more stories from some of the community and if you want to follow Scott on social media head to his twitter account @scottbufc to get in contact with him.
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!
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.
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.
It’s 2:50pm… 10 minutes until kick off and while all the other lads are concentrating on the Gaffa’s team talk, I’m in a very different place.
This isn’t unusual though, as I’ve spent the last 17 years in a world of my own in those final moments before leaving the changing room for a game. Whilst the lads all concentrate on the manager’s set piece routines, the danger men in the opposition and those last minute words of motivation, that ring in your ears as you walk down the tunnel, I’m busy ensuring I’m just able to play.
Those last 10 minutes before kick off are probably more important than the first 10 minutes of the game for me. I have to ensure I’ve got my blood glucose levels right just so I can get out there. I’ll spend those minutes setting myself up to ensure I’ve got the best possible chance of giving a good account of myself out there, for those moments define whether or not I’ll be able to perform to my ability.
I’ll have done everything I can up to this point to give me a fighting chance, following numerous blood glucose checks throughout the warm up, swigs of Lucozade sport, crunching glucose tablets and even doses of insulin to optimise my levels prior to the game. However if they’re not right at 2:50pm, I know it could be a difficult afternoon.
Rooting through my bag to find my blood glucose monitor, whilst half listening to what’s going on around me, I’ll eventually stumble across my meter, test my levels and hope that they read somewhere between 5.6 and 10 mmols. If they do, I’m flying out of the changing room knowing that diabetes won’t be holding me back this afternoon. Outside of those parameters and we might be in trouble. This is when I’m off to inject myself in a “Lovely” & “Hygienic” non-league football ground toilet to deal with a high glucose level or I’m downing half a bottle of Lucozade sport as quickly as I can to respond to the lower blood glucose level.
I normally come back to the changing room following these last minute adjustments to see the Gaffa having finished his team talk and the lads all stood up ready to go. Luckily for me I trust my ability and understanding of the game enough to know that those last 10 minutes, whatever’s been said, I’ll have it covered. I have to believe that because I’m so preoccupied with just getting things right to get on the pitch!
Whilst the other lads have all prepared for their game, with little extra worry other than their position, their direct opponent and whether they’ve eaten enough energy gels to power up 5 men running a marathon, I’ve had to spend an hour and a half prior to the game on trial & error, adjustments and my best estimations of where my blood glucose levels will end up.
Warming up, pulling on the kit & getting out there is how most people envision football. For a diabetic player the preparation starts a long time before you get to the ground and continues with even more detail when you get there.
However when 3:00pm comes around and I’m free of the preparation it’s all worth it. Football is a way of life for me and no amount of added inconvenience and preparation from my medical condition will stop me playing.