I attended my first TDFC session in July following an introduction to the project by Mo who found my Facebook profile on a Type-1 diabetes page & saw from my profile photo that I was a football fan.
Looking forward to the next gathering….
I attended my first TDFC session in July following an introduction to the project by Mo who found my Facebook profile on a Type-1 diabetes page & saw from my profile photo that I was a football fan.
Looking forward to the next gathering….
To be honest, until I heard Stevie Ward talk about his struggles with Post-Concussion Syndrome on the Mantality podcast I hadn’t even considered talking about this….. Nor was I really ready to share what it’s been like, because to be brutally honest it’s been far from ok.
However, having heard him talk so well about the challenges and how it mimicked so much of my own experience, I felt empowered to get it off my chest as this subject hasn’t been spoken about anywhere near enough, especially within sport. As someone who’s used to dealing with an invisible condition on a daily basis, I thought I’d be relatively well equipped to cope but there was a key difference to this diagnosis from the off. This time I opened up from the off and told people what I was living with, a different approach to my type 1 diagnosis, but ultimately very quickly I was reminded why I adopted that approach before….
When people can’t see, feel or experience what you’re going through they find it hard to believe what you’re telling them. Throughout society there’s a distinct lack of empathy (in my opinion!), that ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes for just a minute. I think it’s a root cause of many many issues across the globe but this is slightly away from my point. It’s also had a huge impact on my life again coping with post-concussion syndrome ( a brain injury!).
I’ve had people almost patronise me, almost can’t believe I’m still talking about, think it’s not that serious, think I’m overdoing it and overall think I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. Another invisible condition, something else people can’t see through my eyes for a moment and here we go again, another condition with stigma attached.
For me it again just demonstrates why people with hidden conditions like type 1 diabetes, don’t talk about it much in mainstream society. You’re made to feel as though you’re constantly the problem. I hear the lip service paid to the words diversity and inclusion all over the place in 2021 but until individuals become accountable for those words to themselves, how can those things really be achieved?
I wanted to make that point clear, that empathy can make all the difference and if you catch yourself making a pre-judgement of someone, see if you can just take a minute to look at the world through their eyes….. It might change everything.
But I want to talk about what the condition has been like as well, because it’s been awful at times and it needs more people talking about it.
So, since September 2020 I’ve been dealing with symptoms of post-concussion syndrome which started with not much more than being off balance for a header which then came off the wrong part of my head and followed with a number of other knocks in the same game, contributing to an initial concussion. But the concussion wasn’t immediate….
My symptoms didn’t start until 4/5 hours later….. I was just sat in the pub with my friends that evening and I suddenly felt incredibly tired and my brain was a bit foggy, whilst struggling to engage in the conversation around me. Luckily, we all headed off pretty early that night and I got home and went straight to bed not thinking too much about it, other than the fact I was a lot more tired than usual…. Then I woke up the next morning.
The first thing I noticed was that I’d slept for 9 hours without stirring, which is unusual for me. Following that I could tell I still felt extremely tired despite sleeping that long! I felt I could’ve slept another 3 hours easily. Both of these things really struck me… Then the really obvious issues began.
I didn’t quite feel steady on my feet, I mean I wasn’t falling over or tripping but I just felt a bit off, then I had this foggy way of thinking which affected my recall and ability to properly participate in conversation. Ultimately, I was struggling to process information and provide speech as easily as I had found it 24 hours before. I was also noticing that concentration and especially on screens, such as my phone or laptop would really flare up a headache and intensify the throbbing, pressurised feeling I had in my head. Alongside this was a feeling of nausea when I concentrated too much. This was the day after the first concussion.
I then woke up on Monday morning and felt much the same, with things ever so slightly improving but I needed to speak to my GP to understand what was happening. So I managed to get through and speak to them about what I was experiencing and through a telephone triage appointment I was diagnosed with mild concussion, no tests, no examination, all via the phone. As this was my first experience of concussion in my life, the lack of urgency or need to examine me, filled me with a view that it wasn’t too serious, and I’ll be ok in a few days. The advice was to rest and not do contact sport for 2 weeks. If things got worse, I was told to go to A&E to have a scan but as things improved I didn’t feel that it was necessary to do that. The key word was REST in the GP’s advice, but rest looks different to each person and without any sort of definition of what that looked like I chilled out for a few days, took time off work, didn’t really exercise and then gradually incorporated some of that back in, towards the end of the week. The very blasé view given at the start of my diagnosis filled me with an ill-informed opinion of the gravity of the situation and no real insight as to how to approach the next 2 weeks bearing in mind my personal situation. It could’ve been read out of a textbook. I now know that this was a huge mistake but I can’t turn back the clock…. I wish I could.
Needless to say, that 2 weeks after that first concussion I went back and started an FA Vase game. Looking back, I think I knew I wasn’t quite right but with it being a biggish game for the club and me being a senior player, I wanted to get out there and play. When you’re a competitor you always want to be out there. I played the full 90 minutes, we played really well, won the game 4-1 and after initially feeling a tiny bit rough, by the end I was good as gold, or so I thought. I had played the game with no head collisions or challenges and made 6 or 7 routine headers, so I thought I’d probably be ok as a result. But after the adrenaline subsided, the symptoms came on quicker. On the car in the way home (I wasn’t driving!), I could feel that the nausea was there with the fogginess and they were getting worse. This time I obviously knew what it was, so I accepted I was going to feel awful for a few days again and hoped that maybe after a month of not playing this time it’ll go back to normal….
I was obviously wrong… I went back to square -1!
The symptoms were worse than previously and because I was having to work to bring in money, and I wanted to try and keep my mental health in a good place by exercising too, I was struggling with making any progress as I wasn’t getting enough rest. I got better to a point after 2 weeks and then after that I had lingering reoccurring symptoms which affected me on a daily basis. It was worrying, frustrating, frightening and all the other emotions mixed in between.
After continuing like this for a month to 6 weeks, my anxiety about it reached the point where I needed some advice. I rang my GP again, I reached out on Social Media and I looked for anyone who could help. Coupling that with the November Lockdown and it was a really tough place!
I got some good advice and support which has helped to move me forwards and my symptoms have gradually lessened but I’m still not able to work at a full intensity with my exercise and I struggle with continuous screen work as it brings on a throbbing pain in my head and I can feel a little skippy or unbalanced but compared to October/November it’s a world apart. I need to look after myself for a moment and forget about playing sport, this is bigger than that.
But still to this day I’ve not been scanned, examined or seen in person at all regarding my concussion and my memory/ recall is just not as sharp as it was. I hope that one day it’ll come back to something closer to where I was but my recovery is still in progress and even recently took a bit of a hit after too much time spent at a screen working. I thought I was in a place where I was ready for it but in turns out I wasn’t! I heard Stevie say it and I resonate it with so much, the recovery just isn’t linear at all, one day I’ll feel like it’s disappeared and then another I’m really reminded it hasn’t!
I look back now and I know I should have stopped myself playing. I reflect on that every single day. I wished I’d taken things far more seriously and I wish that there was less stigma surrounding talking about brain injuries or mental health conditions within sport. It might have been the difference in me taking the time out to properly rest.
We can’t change that overnight but even if me just sharing this blog post and my experience can help one other person who may be going through this, has gone through this or may unfortunately have to face this in the future, at least through the dark times I’ve been through someone else might take some comfort.
A huge thank you to Stevie for sharing his experience so publicly, which has given me the courage to put mine out there, as writing some of this hasn’t been easy, especially when I’m still going through this. I hope to one day look back at this post and say I recovered. If you have never checked out Mantality before, you should! The work that Stevie and Natalie are doing is shedding a light on concussion specifically and mental health more broadly. It’s a fantastic project and it’s certainly supported and inspired me.
With the premier league recently introducing concussion substitutions and demonstrating a step forward around these types of injuries, more stories and experiences need to be shown as to how it effects everyday lives. It needs more awareness to end the stigma and allow people to feel comfortable talking about something so dangerous.
I have no idea if my Diabetes continues to play a part in my recovery or whether it had an impact in the concussion in the first place, but like with everything I’ve faced in my life, this challenge is one I’ve accepted and will continue to embrace.
I now advocate for Type 1 Diabetes and for greater awareness around the impact of concussion.
I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this subject and thank you for reading.
A summary of some of my symptoms below:
I’m Jon Rosser, 27 years old from Bristol and have been a type 1 diabetic for 17 years. Being involved with TDFC has enabled me to link up with other diabetics of varying ages and share our experiences, however this is often very focussed on the present – what we are currently doing, learning or going through. Reading these blogs, I found gaining an insight into these people’s pasts and hearing of their journey has been really enlightening and valuable, even for someone who has already learned to an extent how to live with the condition. So the obvious next step was to try and somehow put down my story outlining the changes it has made to my life and the lessons I’ve learned in the hope that others can take something from it like I have done. So here goes…
My journey starts with diagnosis at the age of 10 and the very familiar story of the tell tale signs. I was always thirsty! I didn’t really notice this symptom but my dad whose late mother was a Type 1 noticed I was increasingly up and down to the kitchen tap, filling up pint glasses of water and knocking them back like no tomorrow. As a result of this I was back and forth to the toilet and it didn’t take long for him to step in. Looking back at it now I suppose I was quite fortunate that my dad noticed this going on and intervened pretty early as I can’t actually remember feeling too bad! He made me do a urine sample and booked me into the doctors. A quick ketone test and finger prick confirmed what my dad had feared and arrangements were made for me to forget about going back to school, pack a bag and get to the hospital. Being a 10 year old I can remember feeling a bit oblivious to what was actually going on, but I knew that something had ultimately shifted by the way my dad had reacted, he seemed gutted and spoke to me about how we were going to go about telling my mum when we got home. I had never even heard of diabetes and was still completely naive about what was to come.
A few hours later I was at Southmead Hospital being admitted into the children’s ward. A flurry of nurses were showing me my bed, where the toilets were, where the common room was, a full on tour of the facilities and this was the point where I kind of started to realise that I was here to stay for a while and this whole situation was going to be the start of something that was going to change my life forever. I was on this ward for 5 days and during this time I had to learn the skills that would ultimately keep me alive. One event that sticks in my mind from this period was when a 16 year old boy got rushed into the booth next to me. Other kids on the ward were all chatting to their neighbours so I welcomed a new face to hopefully ease the boredom. However on admission his curtains were shut and I remember feeling that the nurses were actively discouraging me from trying to say hello, and no sooner had he arrived he was gone again. I didn’t find out until years later that this guy was also a diabetic and had not woken up one morning due to having a serious hypo during the night. Looking back now I realise it was the right call not to let a newly diagnosed 10 year old get wind of this! The ward had a classroom where I spent a few hours a day which was nice as it got me out of my bed, but I remember being pulled out at regular intervals to be finger pricked and stuck with syringes and this was another point where I started to realise this was going to be the new normal from now on, and I didn’t like it one bit. How was this going to work at my own school? What about at football? I was bang into scouts at this age so how will I go on the camps? Can I even still do all these things? The answer of course was yes, but the anxiety and worry about all of this was something I will always remember.
Fast forward a bit and I’d settled into my new routines, teachers and coaches had all been really engaged in making things as easy as possible for me. But it wasn’t all plain sailing by any means. I was initially put on the 2 injections a day regime and it wasn’t long before I felt frustrated at the restrictions of this, especially when transitioning to secondary school. Having to inject my insulin at the same time morning and evening, and knowing I HAD to also eat at these times each day meant things such as after school sports fixtures, clubs, and even just hanging out with friends would all have to be arranged around my insulin and meals. It took so much planning and at times I found it exhausting and stressful.
I want to shift the focus largely on how I’ve dealt with my diabetes within football and sport and I guess I’ve never let it stop me, but there have been times when I felt it has hindered me. At the age of 15 I joined Forest Green Rovers from just previously playing local junior football, and the training stepped up which was great! But it was a much more competitive environment and although to a certain extent I had always tried to keep my condition under wraps (which seems to be a common theme from guys writing these blogs), in this environment I found myself doing this even more. I didn’t want to show any weakness and felt an obligation to keep up with the standards being set, often not recognising that in order to do this I needed to take time out of sessions to take on sugar or test my levels. Occasionally this led me to playing on through hypos and my standards suffered as a result. Sometimes coaches and players would confuse my hypo reactions with being lazy or uninterested, and I found trying to explain what was actually going on sounded like excuses. The fact I was still on the 2 injections a day meant that I would get home from school, have to hastily eat a carby meal (to avoid going low during training) before heading straight off to train on a full stomach which personally my body did not deal well with – I’d feel heavy and slow. It was the same with the games – we played in a floodlit league so fixtures would be midweek evenings so my preparations would never be ideal. These pressures ultimately led me to change onto the basal bolus regime and immediately after I did that I saw the benefits, not just with my football but with my day to day life. The flexibility was something I’d been longing for and I continued to play for 2 more successful seasons at Forest Green, winning individual awards at presentations and I remember feeling really proud and realising at this point that I had gotten the upper hand on my diabetes and vowed to never let it beat me.
Another event that always sticks out to me as a time where I felt I overcame the urge to keep quiet and let my diabetes win was in a tennis tournament when I was about 17. Over the course of about 6 weeks I had played a match every week and got through to the final without any diabetes related issues. In this final however I struggled from the start. There were a fair few people watching and I was putting my performance down to nerves and threw away the first set in record time. On the switch around I asked the umpire for 10 minutes just to check my sugars which for me at the time took a lot of courage, I was 3.1. I remember sitting there in front of the crowd openly testing my sugars and taking on food which is something at that age I always felt really self conscious doing. My opponent was getting restless as were his supporters watching on but I stabilised my levels and got back out there… I smashed him in the next 2 sets to win the tournament. Like I said this was a real moment of realisation that I could achieve things in sport regardless of having this condition and getting dealt hypos, and it gave me confidence to keep aiming high.
The next major milestone for me was gaining a place at Plymouth University. Leaving the family home to move to a new city with new people, new surroundings and new routines was pretty daunting, and when you throw diabetes into the mix it was quite a challenge. I was having to shop and cook for myself and it took a while for me to get used to having full responsibility for what I put into my body in order to maintain good control of my condition. Students’ diets are notoriously not the best so resisting the urge to follow examples of quick, convenient, often high sugar and high carb meals set by my new found friends was important and something I’m glad I focussed on, as it set me up well to continue to control my diabetes successfully. I quickly got involved with the Uni football club and was playing regularly, although the routines and rituals of a university football club were much different to what I was used to. One thing I struggled with was the fact that if we’d win on a Wednesday afternoon (and often even when we lost!) after the game it was shirt and tie and straight to the bars. A lot of these guys wouldn’t take time out to eat post match, and especially after a good win, wouldn’t go home until the next morning. Being diabetic, I felt a bit of a kill joy having to temporarily leave a buzzing group of lads for a few hours to go and get some food of substance and make sure I recovered well in terms of glucose levels, especially when there was alcohol involved! This was a small price to pay though as I found if I put my diabetes first, I would have a much better time celebrating later on knowing I’d done what I needed to do in order for my sugars to behave (as well as they could) during a night out in Plymouth’s finest establishments. These were some of my best times playing football, the social side of the club was immense and winning a varsity and a cup in my 3 years at Plymouth are things I remember for the achievements and not how my diabetes hindered me!
The most recent landmark in my footballing life has most definitely been getting involved with TDFC. I remember turning up to the first session and experiencing an environment where everyone there would openly discuss the condition, openly test their sugars and inject insulin, there was an underlying bond straight away. I had been so used to dealing with diabetes in a changing room and on a pitch on my own – it was solely my problem, and to feel that problem shared by everyone else there was so refreshing. No feeling guilty for taking time out to test sugars, no strange looks for sticking a needle in my arm, just a feeling of understanding and support. I have played in both DiaEuro tournaments that the UK team has entered in Bratislava and Kiev, and both times were amazing experiences. Playing against some top nations and top players gives you that drive to improve and I feel since being introduced to Futsal (which I had never played before TDFC) I have learned and improved my game as well as my control of my diabetes. I have also found myself transitioning skills I’ve learnt from Futsal into my 11-a-side game which is great! I’ve also found my Saturday team mates have taken a real interest in what I’ve been involved with regarding TDFC, seeing it on my social media and things like that. One of the lads has even adopted a pre match ritual of eating glucose tablets with me before kick off and now swears by it!
So that’s my story (so far!) of my life, football and sport with type 1 diabetes. My message to anyone maybe struggling to adapt to life and sport with diabetes is not to hide it, be open and honest about the problems you may encounter, it’s not a weakness! Although it presents challenges I feel diabetes has made me stronger in many ways, especially with discipline and will power… so keep at it!
We were delighted to receive a message from Alfie’s Mum recently. Alfie was diagnosed with diabetes during the Corona Virus lockdown in the UK and we have been delighted to offer support to him. One of our squad, Craig, has been speaking with him and has even arranged for Alfie to speak to one of his favourite players at Notts County, who he supports. Alfie’s Mum also tells us that he’s saving up to purchase one of our training tops.
While it’s great for members of the squad to be writing their blogs, we absolutely love to receive and publish stories written by other people, such as this.
Alfie takes in everything he reads and sees. He read Rob’s diagnosis story blog, and wrote his own for his home learning this week! Here’s Alfie’s story and if you want to share yours, get in touch:
“Inspired by someone else’s diabetes journey story, I wanted to write my own.
It was spring 2020 and we were in lockdown due to the corona virus outbreak. I started drinking a lot and weeing a lot. I got tired and just thought it was due to working hard when I was doing learning. I lost a lot of weight, mum said I looked thinner, she thought I was just growing. In the night I was going to the toilet about 5 times and began to wet the bed sometimes. Mum thought it was just a water infection. So on April 23rd we went to see the doctor. Due to corona virus we had to wear a face mask. We saw a nurse and she asked me to do a wee sample- no problem for me because I couldn’t stop weeing! She checked it and asked to do a blood glucose test. I didn’t really know at the time what it was. She got a finger pricker and said I was 29.9 and it could be a possible case of diabetes. She said we had to go to hospital. When I got there they did more tests and my sugar was 35 and I definitely had diabetes. They asked mum lots of questions. I felt a bit worried about the injections but once I had done it I realised it wasn’t that bad. When I found out I could still do football it cheered me up. In hospital I learnt loads about diabetes, but what I remember the most is how supportive my football friends and family were. My team made a video for me and it made me smile and cry happy tears at the same time. I have been at home 7 weeks now.
I’m only just starting off with diabetes but I know I can handle anything.”
I’m Rob Fletcher, and I wanted to write down some thoughts from the beginning of my diabetes journey. I see a lot of people (especially with-it being Diabetes Week recently) sharing their long-term experiences and what has changed for them in how they manage themselves and their condition, but very little from people who are just starting out on this. It may be because like I did, people think they don’t have a lot to share, but maybe that is what needs sharing sometimes. So, here’s my journey so far (I may get carried away and make this into an essay – I’ve never actually put this down anywhere).
In the summer of 2018, there were signals that I didn’t pick up, they may have been related to diabetes, they may not (and I’ll never know for sure) but they were some of the tell-tale signs. I needed the loo a little more regularly and long drives were really hard to manage due to toilet breaks. However, it was that autumn when things got a bit more serious for me.
I am a primary school teacher, and in September 2018 I started to feel exhausted after every day. This felt almost expected, autumn term is tough, and I had a few big school events I was responsible for organising and running. I was 31 – maybe it was just a sign of getting old, maybe I was working a bit hard, maybe it was working with a different group of children – I am excellent at finding excuses for things, especially if my excuses mean that ‘nothing is really the matter’. As we rolled into October my half an hour walk to work was taking between 45 minutes to an hour. I was starting to get little cramps and I needed the toilet a lot, I could rarely make it through a lesson. At this point I no longer thought it was stress but maybe a urine infection or a virus of some kind. My wife was telling me I should go to the doctor, but I guess I didn’t want to hear what they may say so I convinced myself that I would be fine, my parents wanted me to go to a doctor but I palmed them off with my self-convinced nonchalance.
My vision had become blurred, it felt like I was walking through treacle, my urine had begun to smell so bad that I believed we might have a problem with our drains. I felt awful. I had a job interview in this period, so the fact that I couldn’t stop sweating must have been down to my nerves right? On October 10th (My school was doing Book Day), dressed as Fantastic Mr Fox, I was teaching sat on some cardboard boxes at the front of my class, I couldn’t find the energy in me to stand up, and this was unlike me – I love to throw myself into my teaching and around my classroom. My TA at the time noticed all this and got the assistant head to come who quickly sent me home. Even at this point I was in denial, “I’m sure it’s nothing!” I told my wife as she went to work on Thursday morning, she told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t go to the dr that day there would be trouble! I got my appointment and off I trudged.
The dr gave me a urine test, took one look at it and told me that he normally would say that he thinks it could be this, but in my case, he was absolutely certain – “You have diabetes.” I was walking distance from the hospital so I trudged off round the corner explained who I was (the dr called ahead) to reception, called my wife, and before I could sit down they called me through.
The next part of this feels very blurry looking back. I remember my wife arriving, and I remember all the staff being very concerned, I had blood sugars of 37 and ketones of 7, I was in DKA. The hospital staff told me they hadn’t seen someone with my bloodwork conscious before. I remember my wife looking scared.
To cut the scary part of this experience short I spent 3 days in hospital getting my sugars settled and learning how to inject myself and check my levels and generally how to manage type 1 diabetes. Then I started what feels like a totally different phase of life. Genuinely nothing seems the same.
In terms of diet I changed very little, I had been a vegan for about 10 months at this point, the dietician told me I didn’t need to counter for most of my diet just processed carbs and root veg. I changed out white potato for sweet potato, white rice for brown rice (the internet said it was a good idea) and I went about managing what I knew was the rest of my life. I recall people saying they wouldn’t be able to do it, or that they were very surprised with how well I was taking it, but for me I didn’t have a choice so I may as well do it in good spirits and determination. There were times I got it wrong, big nighttime hypos, pizza (that’s a mad one! I still don’t know how to handle pizza) there were frustrations, there were sore fingers but generally I got on with it.
I think it was as New Years rolled around that I started to feel the mental health effects of a life changing illness. I felt guilty about what my wife might have to go through (I think I still do a bit), I felt lonely, but I didn’t want to go and sit in a support group. I didn’t want to feel different, but I did feel different – every little head rush, every pins and needles, if I was tired or a bit giggly all felt like ‘that’s diabetes’. I became nostalgic for times before my diagnosis. I had got to thinking about playing football again, partly as nostalgia (I did well as a kid, then had played off and on since) but also to get back my fitness – this felt like something important as a diabetic.
It was by searching for diabetic football I got put in touch with Bryn who had just set up TDFC London playing futsal (I had never heard of futsal before – but I was up for learning). It has been, without doubt, the best part of being diabetic for me. I gained a ‘support group’ in London that was actually just a group of guys playing futsal, and I got to learn how to be a goalkeeper again (which I love). I’m quite shy and not ‘a lad’ so I kept myself back a bit from the group but took on as much information as I could, then the opportunity came to train with the UK diabetic futsal squad in Worcester. The car journey up 4 of us spoke the whole way about troubles, shared experiences and advice with each other. This and all of the future journeys was another chance to get to know these brilliant men and to learn about my condition. On top of that I got to play futsal at an even higher level. Chris Bright has to take so much credit for starting TDFC and putting together this incredible team of guys who care as much about each other as we do about futsal.
It was at one of the UK camps where I realised how far I had let my fitness slip. I love to have a target, so I booked myself onto a half marathon, raised money for Diabetes UK and almost a year to the day of my diagnosis with type 1 I ran my first half marathon. I genuinely couldn’t have been prouder of where I’d got to in my first 12 months of diabetes.
There are so many things I have gained from playing with TDFC: a group of mates, a love of a new sport, better fitness, so much more knowledge of type 1 diabetes, I even got my freestyle libre based on advice from one of those car journeys. I still have frustrations, I am of course still learning – I find it hard to manage my meal spikes, but I am learning.
I have grown as a person due to this illness. I understand more about when people feel in denial, when people feel scared about the future, I feel so empowered when I meet a type 1 child who needs to talk to someone about it – I would never have had this without diabetes.
I am excited for the future: I am excited to overcome my future challenges, I am excited to play futsal (when we can again), I am excited to help other diabetics. Would I choose to have it, absolutely not. Am I scared of it, sometimes. Does it worry me everyday? Absolutely not, I am getting there slowly but surely.
I have just fulfilled the dream of every schoolboy and girl who loves sport. I have represented my country at an international tournament. Belting out the national anthem before each game as loud and proud as I could, wearing the union Jack on my kit – this is something I have always dreamed of, but never really thought could happen. But it has. And it has happened with an amazing bunch of team mates, all with the same thing in common. Diabetes.
Since I was diagnosed with diabetes age 5, I have had a love hate relationship with it. When I’m on top of it, and I’m winning, I love it. However, far too often it gets the better of me and I hate it. However, if it wasn’t for diabetes, I wouldn’t have met such an amazing community of people.
A year aģo, I watched on as Chris took the first ever UK team to the 2018 DiaEuros. I hadn’t kicked a ball in 3 years and had retired due to persistent injuries. 10 operations had taken their toll on my body and I’d had enough. However, this was an amazing project that he had set up, and one I wanted to be involved in. But my knowledge of futsal was incredibly limited. However, I didn’t want to be going along all the time if I wasn’t playing. So I decided to rejoin my old 11 a side team in Bristol as well as coming along to all the training sessions with TDFC. I had no intention of putting myself forward for the DiaEuro squad, but wanted to be part of the project. I was enjoying going along to the sessions, and when Chris asked for the final time who wanted to be part of the squad, I had a decision to make; did I want to put myself forward?! I’d heard so many positive things from the previous year that I thought I would. I had no expectation that I’d come close to going, but the thought of it was too good to not try out for. Fast forward a few months and I had been chosen to go to the Ukraine!
My only experience of going away with other diabetics was a kids camp I went on with my family when I was young. While I don’t remember much about it, I didn’t really enjoy it!! This was different though. Every one of us was type 1 diabetic, but we also loved sport, especially football, and in this case futsal. We were able to share stories and help each other out where necessary. Advice was always there if needed, and there was such a range in terms of years of having diabetes. We talked about levels before sporting performance, treatments, different types of insulin….In fact diabetes was quite often one of the main subjects we talked about (as well as football!)
Meals were a challenge, as it was a buffet every meal, we weren’t entirely sure of the carbohydrate content. Some managed it better than others, which was great to see. There was often talk of how much insulin people had given themselves, as well as at what point people gave their insulin.
Going in to the tournament, I thought my bloodsugar control was fairly good. However, being around other diabetics 24-7, I learnt that there is always room for improvement. People who felt 9 was too high to have our blood glucose for a game inspired me to think differently. Whereas before, I might have ignored that, I soon realised that this wasn’t okay, and starting a game with a blood glucose level of 10 might impact upon my performance. I also learnt better treatment of hypos. Too often I over eat and then end up shooting sky high. However, watching other diabetics being patient having had a couple of tablets or some of the amazing lift liquid products we’d been given helped me massively.
We were also incredibly fortunate to have the use of the dexcom G6 for the tournament, which helped my blood glucose levels no end. I started off setting the high alarm at 16, but by the end of the tournament, I had moved it to 10.5. This wasn’t necessarily to treat, but to be aware. It also helped by having arrows, single and double, showing which way my levels were going and at what rate. We have been able to keep this going since returning from Ukraine, and I’m now aware via an alarm when my levels are getting to 4.2, meaning I can treat it before I actually go low.
So after a week where I’ve been so proud to represent my country at futsal, I have also got tips and seen first hand how others also manage their diabetes. Inspired by others, not just from our team and country.
On the playing side of the tournament, sadly the results didn’t reflect the performances we put in. We were well beaten 5-1 by a very good Portugal team in our first game, but the second day was a tough one to take. We outplayed Slovakia but went down 1-0, then again outplayed Ireland, but only managed a 1-1 draw. We had chances, but just couldn’t seem to score the goals. We moved the ball around and the rotations that we’d worked on were going well, but not the results. The next day we were soundly beaten 11-3 by eventual champions Bosnia. By this point we were struggling physically having played the last game on day 2 (our 2nd game that day) and then the first game on day 3. But that’s sport, and we all love it!
The organisation and management was great. We’d get a text the night before telling us our plans, meeting times and what we had to wear or have with us the next day. We then also got one from the amazing physio, Milly, asking if anyone needed treatments, fixing or taping up the next day. As I was sharing a room with fellow old man and captain Tim, Milly spent her fair share of time in our room sorting us out so we could even get out of bed, let alone play!! We had enough kit to be able to have some taken to the laundrette whilst still having enough to wear around and about, train in and travel to and from matches.
There was also a bit of time for sightseeing. We looked around Kiev, and some of the squad were lucky enough to visit Chernobyl on the last day, which was an amazing cultural experience. Without doubt, this is my sporting highlight of my career. Representing my country at a major tournament. But with an amazing group of people who just seem to bond so well. And we all happen to have shown that diabetes can’t hold you back!
As the motto for Diabetes Week 2019 is “See Diabetes Differently” it’s great to be able to share an interview that Chris conducted with DigiBete (www.digibete.org) which focusses upon mindset and the approach to sport/exercise that he takes in the hope it may help others living with Diabetes. It’s different to the usual articles/content on the physical management of the condition for sport but we hope it proves to be useful!
A huge thank you to DigiBete for asking Chris and putting the time into creating this amazing video. If you want to check out their resources for people with type 1 diabetes surrounding sport & exercise head to the below link:
We must also thank the University of Worcester who gave Chris & DigiBete permission to shoot on their campus. Thank you!
We hope you enjoy the video and we’d love to hear your feedback on it! Please share far and wide if you enjoyed it as you never know who it may reach!
Another amazing story to share with the community brought to you by Karen Brown, the mother of Ellen, a young type 1 who’s having a fantastic time with her Football/Futsal at the moment. Ellen & Karen have been big advocates and supporters of our work at TDFC from the very early days so it’s brilliant to be able to share their story! No more words needed from us, over to you Karen…
“Our daughter Ellen was diagnosed at age 8 with type 1 diabetes. As you all know it hits like a bomb and the early days are hard. Somewhere amongst the haze of diagnosis we made a decision that when we got Ellen home we would stabilise her doing all of the sport she usually did. So the day after discharge we took her to school for a few hours and the following Monday she started back swimming. I sat on the edge of the pool chewing my nails hoping she would be fine. Strangely enough the year she was diagnosed is the only year she hasn’t played football (played 1 year of netball and hated it!). Ellen prefers to manage her diabetes with a pump (Medtronic) and we use CGM periodically.
Since then it has been buckets of football and within the last 4 years she has also played futsal in the off-season. It is amazing how different the two are to manage. Football often sends her low- particularly in the cold Canberra winters (we live in Australia) whereas futsal sends her high due to the adrenaline. As futsal isn’t as big in Canberra her futsal club (Boomerangs FS) travel to Sydney to play in a Sydney comp. So every Sydney game we travel between 2 ½ to 4 hours each way (depending on what side of Sydney the game is) to play. The weather in Canberra is quite dry whereas Sydney can be humid which can affect Ellen’s BGLs (sends her low) so at the half way stop en route to the game we reduce insulin if she has any carbs and put a reduced temp basal on. We find doing low carb on the morning prior to the Sydney trips much easier to manage. At least we are only fixing the humidity problem. Then during the games she heads high! Sydney games we nearly always use CGM to help keep an eye on things. If it’s a home game its breakfast as usual. After the game she eats what she wants.
Whilst having diabetes can be tough when you are playing football and futsal, we run at it with the attitude that if we have a tough day diabetes wise we look at why and see if we can do something different. There are days when you just can’t explain why the numbers are what they are! All of her coaches and teams have been really supportive and the boys often try and guess her Blood Glucose Level – she plays in the Boys National Premier League. Ellen also chooses to celebrate her ‘diaversary’, so the team usually hangs out for the cupcakes she takes along to celebrate another year kicking the butt of diabetes.
Having diabetes hasn’t stopped Ellen from achieving in soccer and futsal. The last 12 months have been particularly rewarding!!! 12 months ago her girls futsal team won both the premiership and championship in the Sydney comp. For outdoor her BBFC U16’s team made the Grand Final and won in a penalty shootout. She then made the ACT team (regional team) to play futsal at Nationals in January – they were runners up in the Grand Final in a penalty shootout. And a couple of weeks ago at the presentation night for Boomerangs FS, Ellen was awarded female player of the year. We are pretty proud of her. Winning isn’t everything but it is great to get some wins and they have been a while coming!! Though I must say the victories are much sweeter after the effort you put in to get the diabetes right. (excuse the pun!)
As much as it is a challenge, there have been lots of good things about having diabetes in our lives for the last 8 years. We have made a whole new bunch of friends we wouldn’t have otherwise met. Whilst it is so nice being able to converse with those who understand the challenges and learn new things from. Ellen has had the opportunity to speak at JDRF fundraisers and she was recently asked to take part in some research at ANU.
Being part of TDFC has been a huge help though. It was so nice to hear from others who play football and be able to read about their experiences. With Ellen being a girl it was so nice to read about Noel and what she has achieved. We got to meet Zac (UK DiaEuro Player) at one of Ellen’s games in Sydney and hope to see him again soon. Whilst it’s also great to see that Chris represented his country in Futsal, which gives Ellen so much hope she can achieve the same.
To any young footballer out there, chase your dreams. Ellen’s favourite saying is “I don’t live with diabetes, diabetes lives with me”.”
A really great blog written by Karen Brown and a huge thank you from us for putting it together. If there’s anyone out there reading this who’d like to contribute in a similar way get in touch! We’re always on the look out for blogs and stories to share…
In our fourth instalment we feature Zak Brown… Zak is currently living and working in Australia but has been heavily involved in all things TDFC throughout 2018 as a pivotal member of the UK DiaEuro squad, whilst also heading out to Ireland with Chris to observe the Diabetes Junior Cup… Zak’s passion for the project is evident and in this post he shares his thoughts on how being involved has helped him! No more words from us, over to you Zak:
“I think firstly and foremost, the opportunity to meet several other T1D’s with a passion for football was amazing in itself! To then be able to discuss our condition as we went through very similar schedules during DiaEuro was great – having a diabetes discussion with your team-mates was like having 10 nurses beside us, as they added great value through personal stories and specialist advice.
The access to technology was a huge thing for me personally. I was a bit skeptical of the Dexcom G6 initially, as I have been on the same insulin and blood sugar testing strategy for a number of years and been relatively consistent (HbA1c usually between 50 and 61). It took a couple of days to adapt but several months later and I wish I still had the G6. I regularly see T1D’s on social media posting about how much the Dexcom has improved their control in recent times.
The other thing which was highlighted for me was the carb counting. I have generally just guessed my insulin based on what I am eating and knowing how it has affected my sugars in the past, but to see plenty of my UK team-mates measuring the carbs on their packets of food and calculating their dinner plate in the their head was a good insight for me; and pushed me to start making more calculated guesses with my own carb intake as life and diabetes continued after the tournament.
Whilst I wouldn’t say the experience has directly improved my control yet, I think it has acted as a gateway for me to access more information, attend diabetes meet-ups and possibly gain access to modern technology, which I expect will have a direct improvement on my Type 1 Diabetes control moving forward! Only time will tell…
UK DiaEuro 2018 Player”
If you want to follow Zak’s journey on social media head to his twitter @mrzakbrown or his instagram @zakbtown