It’s great to be able to share a blog from another member of the TDFC team… I simply asked our squad “Who would like to write something for the site?” and Jon came forward without too much persuasion to share his story with the condition! It’s a great read so I won’t say too much more…. In his own words, please enjoy Jon’s story:
“Having been diagnosed as a diabetic at 5 years old in the mid 80s, playing sport as a non diabetic isn’t something I have ever really experienced. I remember locking myself in the hospital toilet the morning of my diagnosis, scared of the syringe that they wanted to inject me with (we’re talking the size of a 30cm ruler!!). Originally I was on one injection per day, and then soon moved to two; one 30 minutes before breakfast, and one 30 minutes before my evening meal. The dosage was dependant on the size of the meal I would be eating (obviously a bit harder when eating out!). Carb counting came from a big book in 3 sections; red (high in sugar), amber (okay) and green (good to eat).
Because I was so active as a child, it was decided to run my blood glucose levels slightly higher as running about would invariably drop it down again! If I was higher than normal in the evenings, my mum would send me on a run around the block (about 10 minutes) to get it down! When playing football, whether training or a match, I usually had a mini mars or something similar at half time. I’d probably have a slice of toast or a digestive biscuit beforehand. Very rarely did I check my blood glucose levels before, during or after. As I got older, and into my teens, the mars bars went from mini, to fun size, to full size! Again, I relied more on feeling than actually testing my levels, and I wasn’t really challenged by doctors about this.
At about 15, I started seeing Dr Ian Gallen as my diabetic specialist and got moved onto pens for my insulin, injecting 4 times per day. He took an interest in the diabetes and sport, and I started to do a bit more. Mars bars turned to Lucozade, and the checking started. However, I would still run them higher through fear of going low during a match (something I experienced on my debut for my under 11s team!). I wasn’t aware at this point in my life that having glucose levels in range would equate to a better performance on the pitch. I was also playing hockey to a county standard, cricket, rugby and athletics.
However, through my late teens and early 20s, injuries set in, and playing time reduced. By 25, I’d had 3 operations on my right knee and one on my right ankle. The rehab and recovery was (and is!) awful. Being unable to play meant blood glucose levels were going higher, as well as the challenging mental state of mind. When I got back to playing, I would be back to my old ways and not testing. I’d have half a bottle of Lucozade before the game and the rest at half time. I’d have similar when training (half before, half during) and I honestly couldn’t tell you how this affected my glucose levels! Unfortunately, this lack of testing, as well as injuries, went on into my late 20s. I’d lie to the doctors, although they must have been suspicious by my HBa1C results!
In my late 20s, I met my now wife, who is a nurse. Through her nagging, and changing diabetic specialists, I started doing a lot more testing (although nothing like I do now). My pre match, half time and post match or training snacks would differ each week, dependant on the blood glucose level I presented. At 33, I finally gave in and moved onto an insulin pump, which has changed my life. I probably test 8-12 times per day, and my HBa1C is at an all time low. Unfortunately, the injuries didn’t stop. 10 operations in the past 16 years (one on my eye due to diabetic complications) meant that I had to call time on my playing career last summer. However, I have now turned to cycling as I’m still recovering from a condition in my pelvis and hip meaning I struggle to run. Managing my glucose levels for this can still be difficult, and no two days seem to bring the same results!
So, what would I do different, what advice would I give and what have I learnt about sport and being diabetic? I would definitely say testing is so important. In later years, I really noticed how my performance on the pitch would be better the tighter my control was. If I was too high, I would feel sluggish, slow and off the pace. However, having that tight control is important all week, not just on match or training day. If it is higher than hoped, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it can be high and I have no idea why! Testing during a game or training is also important. There’s no shame in doing it. As a sporty youngster, my only role model was Gary Mabbutt (someone I still look up to), a professional footballer living with type 1 diabetes. However, I wasn’t aware of anyone else who I played against who was diabetic, and always thought I was on my own. Having something like TDFC is amazing, as it enables so many people to share their inspiring stories. Just remember, you’re not alone in being a diabetic!“
Upon reading Jon’s story I wanted to ask him a few questions to delve a bit deeper into his life experience with the condition….
CB: So, there’s obviously a vastly different way of controlling Diabetes in 2018 compared to when you were diagnosed in the mid 1980’s what sticks out as being drastically different?
JP: “When I was first diagnosed as a diabetic, the treatment seemed very basic. One injection per day, one appointment every 6 months to a year, basic carb counting, no real research or good information on playing sport with diabetes, it was all generic, and given to me by doctors and nurses who a) didn’t have diabetes themselves; and b) didn’t play sport!”
CB: You mentioned in your story that you lied to your healthcare professionals… Why did you feel like you had to do that?
JP: “Sadly, I felt I had to lie to the doctors and nurses I saw as I thought I’d get told off for not testing enough. I think I also felt that there wouldn’t be any problems if I could just keep them happy. Long term complications of poor control and benefits of keeping close control were never really explained to me (that I can remember) until later years. Even then, I guess I thought it’ll never happen to me”
CB: What were the difficulties you faced when injured and managing your Diabetes? Was that the hardest part or was it the mental battle with being injured as a sporty person?
JP: “My glucose levels would really rise when I was inactive. Since a young age I’ve been active and on the go, so have always used that as something to bring the levels down, meaning I didn’t have as much insulin as I would if I was inactive. Being inactive was incredibly hard both physically and mentally. Blood glucose levels would go up, so I’d increase the insulin, meaning I’d then go low, then I’d have too much to eat or drink and go back up again! This then had the knock on affect mentally. It was hard being unable to do something that I’d grown up doing (not just football, but physical activity of any sort) and feeling like a gift you’d been given was being continually taken away was tough. Then, as I would be coming back, I’d either suffer another setback, or get a small run of games before another injury. (Ironically, since stopping playing, I’ve managed to shed quite a bit of weight, which would probably have helped me a little bit years ago!). So I’d have the mental side of not playing and seeing all my team mates playing and training every week, while I was stuck waiting for my injury to heal. That combined with the glucose levels yo-yo-ing was tough to take. Better control would have helped me with my recovery. However, being injured did mean that I could spend more time with my family (that was about the only benefit, although I’m sure my wife would tell you that on a Saturday around kick off she’d rather I wasn’t moping around complaining that I wasn’t playing!!) I couldn’t go and watch my team play as it made me cross and angry I wasn’t playing!”
CB: What’s been your proudest moment with Diabetes and Sport?
JP: “I feel that just continuing to play sport for as long as I have whilst having diabetes is a triumph in itself. It should never stop you doing anything, but especially in the 80s and 90s, there wasn’t really any network or support in place if you were struggling or not sure at all. Apart from Gary Mabbutt, there were no real sporty role models with Diabetes to seek out guidance and inspiration from. I’ve now spoken to children and adults (including one family member and a best friend from my childhood who are both active) who have been newly diagnosed and managed to convince them that you can continue life normally without letting diabetes hold you back. They see that I can continue to participate in physical activity, so why can’t they! It has also helped the people around them, who don’t have any knowledge of diabetes, see that you don’t need to let it hold you back, whether in sport, or just life in general.”
CB: What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with when dealing with Diabetes around football?
JP: “Probably other people (coaches, parents etc) knowing what to do or how to act. I was never shy about telling team mates I was diabetic, but also never shouted it from the rooftops. As an adult, I made sure that there were a handful of team mates who knew, but as a child it was a bit more difficult. We had one parent who was a nurse who watched her son most games, so I think that put my parents mind to rest (I didn’t like them watching me for some reason!!). My manager from u11 to u16 asked my parents about what he needed to do, and my best mate’s Dad would quite often be there (although he did go and sit in the car with my supplies because it was cold one game – typically when I needed them!!)
Managing the control in general can be difficult; it can also be easy, but as no two days ever seem the exact same, it just adds to the fun! I could be absolutely fine one game, do exactly the same the next, and it all be completely different. Sometimes I‘d go too high before a game, sometimes after. I’d always make sure my bag was on the side in the dugout fully stocked, and sometimes give a bottle of Lucozade to our keeper to put in his goal.”
CB: What would you like to influence in the future around Diabetes? What was your reason for joining TDFC?
JP: “I’d like diabetics and their families to have as much support as possible and to encourage them to keep active. There’s no reason to let diabetes hold you back. If I can make a difference to one person who is struggling with their diabetes, or even if they’re not struggling, I’ll be a happy man! I’d also like to make sure that people are educated so diabetics can always have the same opportunities as others.
I discovered TDFC through social media. I think I clicked with it straight away, wishing I’d had something like this when I was younger. I want to be able to help and inspire future generations of diabetics, of all abilities, so that they may go on one day to inspire others!”
An amazing story Jon and thank you for sharing it with the community. 😀
To the TDFC followers out there who have asked me and others involved about the management of the condition around Football here are a few videos which I recorded with my friend Paul Coker at 1 Bloody Drop ( click here to check the website out ) ! Hopefully they’ll provide some useful tips around managing a complete game day situation. Remember the suggestions I make are from my own experience and should always be accompanied by the support of your healthcare professionals.
Remember what works for me might not work for you so it’s important you learn from Trial and Error and continue to adapt your own preparation and match day routines to get the best from yourself and enjoy playing!
Key Points for Before the Match:
Loading up with Carbohydrate the day before
Consistency of Routine
Good night’s sleep
Plenty of time between pre match meal insulin dose and starting the game (3 hours + ideally)
Lots of Testing
Key Points for During the Match:
Small adjustments take on glucose if required
Find a quick acting carbohydrate drink (I use Lucozade Sport)
Try to understand what effect the intensity of exercise has on your glucose levels
Key Points for after the match:
Watch out for Hypos especially during the night (nothing to be feared, just keep an extra eye out)
Consider how intense your involvement in the game was and how long you played… This can have a big bearing on how levels respond after. The more intense the more likely you are to dip lower after the game.
Consider reductions in your bolus doses for meals immediately after games.
Eat carbohydrates within your post game meal or snack.
Consider a reduction in basal dosage and think about a bedtime snack.
Be very careful consuming alcohol after a game as it increases the likelihood of hypoglycaemia even more. It can be done but just be careful.
I hope the advice in the videos and the key points from them are useful to many of you out there. A huge thank you again to Paul Coker at www.1bloodydrop.com for creating this amazing content.
As usual if you have any questions. Give us a shout.
First of all, I hope everyone had an amazing Christmas and is looking forward to 2018. I always see this time of year as the perfect opportunity to reflect on what has gone before and review the year’s trials and tribulations. It helps me process how I’ve dealt with what’s happened throughout the year and then focus on what I need to do in 2018 to make things successful from a personal perspective and in this case, on behalf of The Diabetes Football Community (TDFC).
For the purpose of this post I’ll steer clear from my own personal ups and downs across the year. Instead, I want to solely focus this post around the achievements of TDFC and the direction we’re taking for 2018 as it’s been a constant source of positivity within my life in 2017 and I hope it has been the same for the diabetes community.
Let’s rewind ourselves back to February and the start of the project… When I left university in 2012 I wanted to find a way of helping people with Diabetes around sport and specifically Football, knowing the experience I’d had within the game, but at that time I maybe didn’t have the experience, knowhow or the mindset to pull it off. However the continued rise of Social Media in that 4/5 year period all of a sudden gave me the platform I needed to communicate and share this experience. After a period of communicating and talking about my own personal circumstances and life within the #GBDoc the idea came to me… A free vehicle in the form of Twitter and Facebook where I could share some snippets of my own knowledge and hopefully encourage others to do the same and form a peer support community which could bridge the gap between legal disablement (Equality Act, 2010) and partaking in mainstream sport. There aren’t many conditions where this occurs and for me there hasn’t been anywhere near enough support for people living with chronic medical conditions in my sport during my life playingfootball. This is something I feel passionately about changing! This drive/passion and obvious gap I’d felt myself, created the growth platform for TDFC.
So following hundreds of posts, tweets, direct messages, blog posts, networking with others, conferences, Facebook live videos and a couple of podcasts during the 10 months since TDFC began, we now have 700+ followers on Twitter, 3000+ likes on Facebook and since the website launched at the end of May, it has received 6,500 views. To say I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done in growing the network and supporting people with diabetes would be the understatement of the century. I can only describe it as an incredible reflection of our hard work and of the gaping hole which needs addressing for this group of people.
However, you can’t achieve this all on your own…So let me say a huge, huge thank you to the team of people who have supported the development of TDFC across 2017. Firstly to James (Jim), who has completely driven the look and feel of our platforms, logos, images, T-shirts, leaflets and any collateral promoting the project. He does this whilst balancing a full time job and whilst having a young child, so his support has been incredible and I hope I can pay you back one day buddy. Secondly to Noel, whose enthusiasm for supporting people with diabetes and advocating for improvements is second to none and is truly inspiring. She continues to help push the project forward and lead TDFC in the USA. Whilst lastly I’d like to say thank you to Karl, Alex and Jon who have all recently been added to our family and have supported in three very different but extremely valuable ways. All of you have been incredible and without you there can be no doubt that the growth of TDFC would not have been as rapid. I’m very grateful to have you all on board and always will be. I look forward to you continuing on the journey and with some of the awesome things we’ve got coming up for 2018 I hope to see a few more joining the TDFC ranks, to help drive some of our ideas forward!
So what have been my highlights across the year?
Well where do I start… Probably for me the Trip to Portugal was the single greatest highlight of the year. I still can’t believe I was able to share a Futsal Court with a group of people who all live with the same condition as me. It had a lasting effect and it’s now something I’m working hard to recreate within the UK during 2018. As much as that was incredible, some of the stories from the community that have been shared and the impact we’ve been able to share outweighs the trip to Portugal for me. We’ve also been lucky enough to visit conferences relating to Diabetes and sport to spread the message of TDFC and network with other likeminded people/organisations. Yet the only thing that really matters is continuing to provide the inspiration, help and guidance the community need or want from us.
In spreading our message of empowerment and support we’ve been lucky enough to receive some great backing from organisations that will be imperative in driving our growth in 2018. One of those leading partners is the Worcestershire FA, who have been passionate about our mission from day one and for whom I’m incredibly thankful for their motivation to do more and join us on the journey. We will be working alongside each other in 2018 to push a number of initiatives and ideas forward!
Noel & Jodie meeting at Worcestershire FA HQ
A new addition to our partnerships and a good friend of mine is the DiAthlete (Gavin Griffiths). We’ve just agreed that as part of the League of DiAthletes programme which supports worldwide education and empowerment for people with Diabetes thatTDFC and I, as the founder, will partner with the programme to push the message of education and support, for people with Diabetes from people with Diabetes. I believe this to be an extremely powerful mix which with help from our healthcare professionals is changing the way care and education around Diabetes is provided. It’s a really exciting proposition which I can’t wait for TDFC to support.
Within this post, I also wanted to highlight some of the amazing publicity we’ve had during 2017… It’s a reflection of the hard work put in to developing the project but also a representation of the need there is for projects like ours to exist. It’s been amazing to receive coverage from the English Federation of Disability Sport, On Track Magazine and The Inclusion Club to name a few, in what has been great publicity for a project so young. However as much as I believe in celebrating our successes and sharing them, I’m firmly focussed on what I can impact upon now, which is the future.
So what are we doing in 2018?
2018 is about you, the community! This is now the time for us to take it up a gear. Following a period of time where we’ve focussed on providing mainly online support via social media, we want to push it a step further and try to develop some initiatives which bring people with diabetes together, with football as the vehicle. I’ve been building bridges over the last year with the Worcestershire FA, who are supporting us with raising awareness in Football with a video campaign we want to create, whilst also helping us consider how we may improve education through workshops and resources. Alongside the improvement in education, there’s an amazing opportunity to bring people together to learn about Diabetes management whilst also enjoying involvement in the game. This opportunity starts with attempting to create the first team from the UK to compete in DiaEuro and continues into developing our own participation days/camps for people with Diabetes at home in the UK. We hope that with the support of our friends at DiabPT United we can recreate the model they’re using to bring this all to life. We will need support from sponsors, players, coaches, admin & medical professionals to pull it off but I’m hoping we will have some amazing support from our friends within the diabetes community to get this off the ground!
The most important thing about our community is the people that interact with it, who share their stories, get inspired and who continue to learn new things which help them with their everyday lives. Our developments as a project are as much about our ideas as they are about yours, so if you think there is something you’d like to see us do, or think would be a good idea, or even that you’d like to help us with in the future, all you need to do is get in contact. We’re here for you!
I’d just like to finally point towards the future and the works of 1 Bloody Drop(Paul Coker) and Chris Pennell’s type 1 Diabetes Rugby academy to demonstrate the gap and why the work of TDFC has become important in filling a void for people with Diabetes in Sport. I’ve forged promising relationships with both of these projects and I firmly believe we’re all pulling together to improve the lives of people with Diabetes in sport all over the globe. People living with chronic conditions taking part in mainstream sport don’t get enough support to compete and this is what we’re trying to address!
I hope you’ll agree that it’s been a pretty amazing 10 months for TDFC and the future looks even brighter. Keep supporting us, keep sharing your experiences with us and keep spreading the message. We can’t challenge the misconceptions and the structures in society without your support!
Firstly…. I can’t believe that 7 months after the creation of TDFC, we’ve been able to jet off to Portugal to meet an all type 1 Diabetic Futsal team. Just having this opportunity has been an absolute privilege and sharing it with Noel & Karl was special. I feel immensely proud of what we’ve achieved so far and this experience has been one which has certainly highlighted and demonstrated what we can achieve together.
Some of you who are reading this that haven’t been following TDFC as closely as others, are probably thinking why have you travelled to Portugal?
Therefore, I thought I’d outline the reasons and objectives before I get into my diary of the trip…
·It was the first time Noel and I had spent any time in person together so the trip was ideal for us to focus on the future of TDFC with each other.
·Understanding the DiabPT United project. There is nothing like it within the U.K or USA so we wanted to understand and learn how the team operates, what their objectives are and how they raise awareness of the condition in Portugal, whilst using Futsal as the vehicle.
·Growing our network in another country and meeting new people who share our passion for Football whilst living with Type 1 Diabetes.
·Learning about the DiaEuro competition from a team that have been competing for several years. (It’s a futsal tournament which only diabetics compete against each other, with one team representing each European nation).
·To video & document the experience to share with our community.
As you can see we went out to Portugal with plenty of purpose. I really wanted to make sure we had a trip which brought us closer together as a TDFC team, achieved our objectives and was a lot of fun… You’ll have to ask Noel & Karl what they thought, but I certainly felt we managed to do all of that!
Enough of the objectives now… Over to my diary of the trip. ENJOY!
Well it felt like we started the trip with a day which contained 36 hours following the alarm going off at 3:30 am and checking in for our flight by 5am! However the excitement in all of us was pretty evident so I didn’t complain too much about the early start. WOW was it cold though, a serious chill in the air at 4:30 in the morning which by the time we’d arrived in Portugal had seen a 20 degrees Celsius swing in the temperature!!
After a relatively smooth parking & check-in procedure at the airport we were greeted with security. A Diabetic’s nightmare is how I would describe it. You feel uncomfortable and worried about the potential of airport security confiscating or wanting to question the items you’re bringing through in hand luggage to manage your Diabetes. For me, this seemed to go without a hitch with the normal kind of questions asked and my insulin placed outside of my bag for the authorities. However when we got to Noel getting through it was another story!!! She’d first been asked to remove the liquids from her bag, as is normal, but as she was carrying Capri Suns as a hypo treatment this caused a particular problem for the officer, who despite being informed of the medical reason and documentation for carrying them, proceeded to place a couple of the drinks in the bin. Obviously this upset Noel somewhat but the ordeal wasn’t finished there! She then approached the scanners to be told she’d need to go through the fully body scanner rather than the metal detector, despite informing them that she couldn’t because of the pump she was wearing! After a couple of minutes arguing over this, she was allowed to go through the basic metal detector and endure a frisk. It wasn’t going well and we hadn’t even got through to the bag searches yet… Noel decided to leave a couple of Capri Sun’s in her bag following the encounter with the first security officer. This obviously had her bag flagged up and another search commenced. This time after some more arguing over Noel’s right to carry her liquids she was allowed to keep them and we were on our way… It was a frustrating and poor way to start our journey with little understanding, knowledge and care shown by airport security. I appreciate the job they do in these difficult times we live in, but when a Doctor is signing someone off to carry these items to ensure their own welfare it’s frustrating to say the least.
It wasn’t the best start to the trip… However after a few obligatory selfies, some food and 40 winks to recover from the 3am wake up we were on the plane!
It was a pretty uneventful flight in which Karl & Noel, used the time to catch up on the sleep they’d lost a few hours earlier.
Upon arrival everything seemed to go fairly smoothly and it allowed us to ride the Metro into the city of Lisbon, where we grabbed some food knowing we’d be hanging around for a couple of hours until we could get into our apartment.
Knowing we had a busy weekend coming up we decided to use the remainder of Thursday to relax and enjoy each other’s company. We hopped into an Uber and hit the beach to relax after a day of travelling and carrying our cases around Lisbon. It was an awesome beach but my mind was wandering away to the reason we were there constantly. I was super excited and nervous all at the same time, which is understandable I guess.
That night we headed out to the Hard Rock Café and relaxed after a reasonably successful first day getting ourselves set up in Lisbon! I was content with how day one had panned out.
We kicked the day off with a slightly slower start following a few drinks the night before, but whilst Noel headed down to the Aquarium myself and Karl headed over to the castle of Sao Jorge via the metro and a small walk. Walking through a city is the best way to see it, which Noel can vouch for after getting lost for at least an hour and a half coming to the castle from the aquarium… We found her eventually!
We then ventured up into the castle to the breathtaking views it offers across the city of Lisbon. It was pretty special. Whilst for us, and the other tourists within the castle, the novelty of Karl using his Drone to capture footage across the city was also pretty incredible with everyone completely encapsulated by it. It was the first time I’d seen it in an action and wow is it a bit of kit!!! I can’t do the scenery justice with words so please take a look at the photos below…
Throughout these first couple of days I’d been battling a YoYo of blood glucose levels whilst Noel had some awesome levels to show for it. My control had been so good leading up to the trip that I was certainly keeping an eye on this distinct change, which only started to become apparent a few days later!
After an hour of taking in the views of Lisbon from the castle, we headed down to Sao Nicolau square on the river front to record some shots of us taking in a landmark whilst kicking a ball around (after all we were there to do some work for TDFC). We had a lot of fun talking about diabetes and mucking around with a ball and we even had a few bystanders watching and commenting on some of the moves! I can’t wait to see some of the drone shots of this kick around as Karl assures me they look very cool.
Following this recorded chat amongst ourselves we then hit one of Lisbon’s renowned tourist spots the Belem Tower. It was a nice spot on the river front where the 3 of us sampled some port wine and orange juice, watched an incredible busker and tried the Lisbon famous Pastel De Nata (A Portuguese pastry they’re famous for). All the while I was enjoying myself and having a lot of fun with Noel & Karl but in the back of mind thinking ahead to the weekend and the purpose of the trip. I was starting to get really excited about what was to come.
We went out that night hunting down some authentic Portuguese cuisine to ensure we experienced the local culture to Noel’s high standards. So we found ourselves a nice restaurant recommended by one of the many Uber drivers we interacted with on our trip. The food was great and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves but the most amazingly small world moment occurred whilst we were there.
Myself and Noel were tucking down to some food when we heard the words “Type 1 Diabetes” above the crowd in a jam packed restaurant. Both of us pricked our ears up like meerkats! It was an American accent talking at another table so the only person for the job was Noel. It turned out Casey (Our new Type 1 Diabetic friend) was on the Olympic Development Programme for Football and had more than likely played against Noel in the past!!! What were the chances of meeting someone like that thousands of miles away from home, in a restaurant in Lisbon??? I wish I’d put a bet on it!! We’re now connected on facebook and talking about TDFC. I love seeing these moments in life! They’re few and far between but they serve as a reminder of the amazing moments which can occur in our world. I’m hoping to get Casey to do a short interview for our Facebook page.
An amazing end to the second day which was so in keeping with the purpose of our trip!
A pretty early start by all accounts as we headed over to Benfica’s stadium for 9:50 to get ourselves into their megastore…. My glucose levels had finally given me a bit of relief and looked a little more settled, however it wouldn’t last long!
After we’d all spent some time buying replica merchandise from the megastore (as I’ve now adopted them as my Futsal team!), we met next to the statue of Eusebio, a Benfica and Portuguese legend of football. It was at this point I felt a bit nervous & apprehensive. We were meeting with people we’d never met before and had only spoken to over social media, so I felt like this was acceptable. There was also a language barrier to potentially cross!! All of these worries were quickly alleviated when Jenifer approached and we started talking… The bond of sharing type 1 diabetes is an instant conversation starter and something which I often find puts me at ease around someone as they understand immediately the difficulties I have to contend with in life. I felt comfortable instantly.
The people we met were Jenifer, Carlos, Alexandre and his daughter whom are all involved with DiabPT united in some way. They were responsible for spending the day with us and provide Portuguese to English translations haha! They were absolutely brilliant and so patient with our lack of spoken Portuguese. After the initial welcomes our first stop of the day was a tour of the Stadium of Light, Benfica’s home venue.
The first thing that struck me was what an impressive venue and a really apt venue for getting to know members of the project. It’s Lisbon’s biggest football stadium and what a place to look around. Again I’m struggling to do it justice with words so I’ll hand over to the images to do a better job…
It was pretty spectacular all in all. Watching Noel & Karl scoot round the whole Benfica away dressing room benches to make sure they’d sat in the same place as Lionel Messi was a particular highlight…
After our stadium tour we moved onto the Museum. I’ve never seen a trophy cabinet like it!! My team Aston Villa certainly struggle to fill a room let alone a museum. This number of trophies comes with the territory of being arguably Portugal’s biggest club side. As we meandered our way through the trophies we took time to get onto the topic of Diabetes and the differences in the methods employed to control the condition in our respective countries. Access & costs were a topic we varied in hugely despite Portugal, the U.K and USA being fairly westernised countries.
After some lunch and more chat about the project, the DiaEuro concept and how they go about sustaining & growing what they have, we had a short walk to the indoor pavilion to watch Benfica’s futsal team. This is where we got to meet Bruno (the team coach), who up until recently was coaching the Benfica Futsal U20’s team so he’s an excellent source of knowledge on the game (an ideal contact for me!)! Futsal’s top league in Portugal is almost fully professional so the standard is extremely high and certainly something I learnt from and thoroughly enjoyed watching. Benfica won the game comfortably… But going back to Bruno, the interesting thing is he’s one of the only people involved in the project who isn’t a type 1 diabetic. Not wanting to spoil upcoming video content but hearing his thoughts and knowledge about the condition from working with the team was fascinating! His commitment to the team is extending to actually wearing a Libre to next year’s DiaEuro so he can feel a part of the routine with the team.
We enjoyed an incredible day with a few members of the project who made us feel so welcome and on the ride back to our apartment we continued talking diabetes, futsal and about our common interests. DiabPT united had treated us to some wonderful memories.
Myself, Noel & Karl had a quiet evening reflecting ahead of the day we’d all been building up to. For me this was a once in a lifetime experience we were about to have. How often can you say you’ve trained in a team made up of only Type 1 Diabetics? To say I was excited would’ve been an understatement. My glucose levels were not playing ball at all though. It started to dawn on me that the YoYo had been caused by my basal insulin not working (I think the fridge was too cold and had ruined it), so with all of it potentially ruined, I was monitoring more closely and correcting a lot with bolus injections, this continued the YoYo of hypos & highs, but I battled on with it, as I didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t ideal preparation for a training session I was desperate to be a part of, but I was determined to be involved even with this hiccup and the injury I was carrying!
Well this was it… The day of the training session with the team. The day which I’d been looking forward to from the moment we’d organised the trip.
The day started with some pretty high glucose levels for me from the pizza we’d eaten the night before and my background insulin not working… This had me awake pretty early to correct my levels ahead of the training session, whilst I wasn’t going back to sleep due to the excitement!
After some breakfast and the normal training preparation routine, we then grabbed ourselves an Uber over to the pavilion, which was a short ride away.
Walking into the indoor hall with a couple of the players & management team we’d just met was a surreal experience. I was just about to embark on a training session I thought I’d never ever see. Playing with a squad of players which all shared the same medical condition as myself was completely alien to me. I’d never played in the same team as another type 1 diabetic let alone 10 of them.
The training session was from 10 am to 12pm and it flew by. For me I just felt lucky enough to be able to train a little bit as it was the first time I’d played at all since breaking my foot in May! The biggest thing that struck me was that despite not knowing anyone and not speaking their language, we’d all managed to bond, become friends and feel instantly comfortable around each other. It really was a special moment as our shared love of futsal and our Type 1 Diabetes created a bond instantly. I’ve seen this happen now quite a few times and it just amazes me the bond created between people by something deemed so negatively by many, in the form of a chronic medical condition.
Myself and Noel did step out of the session in order to capture some interviews with members of the team & project. We obviously wanted to take part in the session as much as possible but for us this session was much more than just playing. We wanted to get a feel for the project and the purpose of DiabPT, so we interviewed members of the management team and players to share this with our TDFC followers. The content and information we got from these chats were incredible and I can’t wait to be able to share it with the community. Karl is working on pulling this together for us to release on our social media pages as well as the website, so please keep an eye out for it!
We left the session with such a smile on our faces. A resounding success and a moment in my life I’ll always remember. It was an incredible experience and opportunity which I’m so grateful I had the chance to be a part of.
We followed the session by heading to lunch with the team where we had the entertainment and “Mischief Maker” Noel in full flow as we shared stories of Diabetes, talked about DiabPT United & generally had a lot of fun in each other’s company. I felt like we’d made lifelong friends in the space of 3-4 hours.
After our lunch and some more Portuguese sunshine I wanted to get behind the camera and film an interview which I thought would be a cracker for our followers. I wanted to showcase a chat between the only two non-diabetics sat around the table for lunch, Karl & Bruno. Karl had been following me and Noel over the course of the previous few days with a camera and was certainly getting a good feel for what life with Type 1 Diabetes was like, so I thought getting him to question and chat with Bruno on camera would be a gold dust interview. It really was!! I can’t wait for us to share their exchange.
What a morning/afternoon it was and I couldn’t thank DiabPT united enough for the experience. After we re-grouped back at our apartment we felt it only right to go out for a nice meal and to toast to the success of one of our main objectives of the trip, so we headed to a Mexican restaurant for some food and to relax after a very busy day.
We all went to bed that night extremely content with how the day had panned out, the fun we’d had, the friends we’d made and the amazing content we’d captured. A happy TDFC team!
On day 5 the pace of the trip caught up with everyone… We all had a lie in and I was suffering with a cold quite badly so we didn’t really get going until 12pm but after the previous day’s activities we could be forgiven for making a slow start to the day.
Once we got going we stopped off at our local subway for a foot long and then hopped onto the metro down to the river Tagus, to then grab an Uber over to the Almada district where the sanctuary of Jesus Christ is located. The main reason we went was for the incredible views of Lisbon and we weren’t disappointed!! Yet again I won’t waste words on trying to describe it as I honestly can’t do it justice in the same way the pictures can…
We spent a couple of hours taking the views in before heading back and relaxing, knowing we had an early start again on Tuesday. The TDFC squad grabbed some food from an Italian restaurant and agreed that after a number of days of living on our phones and posting non-stop on social media, to ensure people could keep up with the trip, we would put them down for the duration of Dinner. It was a great idea as we discovered new things about each other and got a much needed break from the notifications.
After a busy weekend and a day of me feeling a bit rough I was glad Day 5 was fairly quiet knowing what the schedule for day 6 was! My levels were still bouncing around and just trying to keep them on a leash was quite a challenge and tiring. At this point I was just hoping to get home and get some insulin that was working on board, as the challenge of managing on just short term insulin injections was difficult to say the least.
At this point we were getting used to early starts so this was no shock to the system as we headed back over to Benfica’s stadium to watch their Futsal first team train… However once we arrived our man behind the scenes (the coach of DiabPT united, Bruno) informed us that they’d changed the time of the practice and this now clashed with our second order of the day…
So we had to chill for an hour or so at the stadium of light… There are many worse places to be stuck haha!! Myself and Karl had a game of FIFA, we grabbed some food and walked around a bit before heading back to the metro… On our walk back to the metro we were lucky enough to bump into a couple of the Benfica Futsal players whom we managed to grab a couple of photos with, which was a positive to our mishap!! (Rafael Hemni and Andrea Correia)
After our detour we headed over to APDP, the oldest Diabetes association in the world for a tour with Jonni Tuga from DiabPT united. It was an amazing place to visit and having seen how they have all of their diabetes care under one roof within this building it made me think of how much better it would be if you could visit one place in the U.K and have your eyes, feet, bloods, dietician and consultant appointment in one day, which is how they do it in Portugal. We looked over the history of the association in their museum and chatted about how things differ in our countries in the care we receive. A frequent topic of conversation for us!!
The other reason for our visit was to get involved in another couple of interviews… Myself and Noel interviewed Jonni about his involvement in APDP & DiabPT united, whilst the association also wanted to interview myself & Noel about TDFC and the reasons for our trip so they could share it in the magazine they circulate for their members. We were happy to oblige!
We then parted ways with Jonni and said our goodbyes for the last time on this trip and the first twinge of sadness came over me as I knew the trip was heading towards its completion. I knew it wouldn’t be the last time we saw our friends in Portugal but I tried not to dwell on the fact we were leaving them behind, but more on the positivity of the relationships we’d developed over the time we’d spent away.
After our goodbyes we managed to take in our first football game of the trip as we visited Sporting Lisbon on our final night together… Our friends at DiabPT united weren’t too pleased as they’re mostly Benfica fans haha! We witnessed a 0-0 draw with Maritimo but the experience of seeing one of Portugal’s biggest teams play in their home stadium was a fitting way to spend Noel’s last night with us. Leaving the stadium I felt an immense amount of pride as to what we had seen, who we had met and what the visit had achieved for us all.
We couldn’t leave Lisbon as a full team without toasting to the success of the trip. So we headed to a local cocktail bar toasting to the success of the trip. We smiled, laughed and enjoyed talking about our favourite moments, whilst catching up with some of our friends on facetime and whatsapp. I can honestly say that spending all this time with Karl (Karlita) and Noel (Noelly) was a pleasure and I’ve learnt so much about them in such a short space of time.
We enjoyed our last night together…. Until we arrived back to our apartment to be greeted by a power cut! Haha. You win some you lose some! The lights were out but the TDFC light was shining brightly.
We all woke up feeling a bit strange as this was the day we parted ways. Noel’s journey back to the USA began at midday so we were forced to say goodbye fairly early on in the day. We all felt sad as we’d become accustomed to each other and our surroundings! A massive thank you to Noel for travelling over from the USA for the trip, without her the trip wouldn’t have been the same for me or for Karl. She’s an incredible advocate for Diabetes in sport and such a pleasure to have on board the TDFC project.
After a swift goodbye and yet another Uber for Noel to the airport, myself and Karl felt very much like the trip was over and the majority of our final day was spent lugging our suitcases and bags around Lisbon. We arranged our final resting point to be a small boat in the Lisbon Marina and we headed out for the last time to watch Benfica’s Futsal team compete in the Lisbon cup with Bruno. It was an extremely entertaining and a much closer game than the one we’d seen at the weekend. Benfica ended up winning 5-2 away from home. Whilst we were there we bumped into one of the main commentators for Futsal in Portugal and we spent time chatting about TDFC, my own Futsal and the game itself. What struck me is how incredibly approachable, friendly & welcoming everyone in Portugal had been towards us. There are some funny stories that Noel can tell about some over friendly Uber drivers but all in all as we left the game, I definitely felt I’d be coming back to visit Portugal again.
Karl and I got back to our boat in darkness, hopped in through the hatch and literally took 5 minutes before getting into bed. We had our last early start of the trip to get to the airport and I knew it would be the last night of battling away with no basal insulin! I couldn’t wait to get home and sort my medication out on one hand and on the other I was gutted to be leaving behind an amazing trip.
Day 8 / Reflections
As we got up, packed our bags and left our boat behind in the marina, for another Uber to the airport, I felt a mix of emotions. Despite the disappointment of leaving Lisbon to arrive in a damp and cloudy Birmingham I felt myself feeling both humbled and blessed by the whole experience.
Did the trip teach me anything? Yes.
Did we achieve the goals we’d set for the trip? Yes.
Did we raise awareness of Diabetes & TDFC? Yes.
Did we enjoy ourselves? Yes.
Everything I could’ve asked for from Portugal was achieved. Our first TDFC trip was a resounding success and the content we’re going to share, I hope will help our followers and provide some great insight.
Before signing off from my diary I have to say a massive thank you to Jenifer Duarte and Jonni Tuga (Joao) who helped us organise the trip and made us feel so welcome. I also need to thank Bruno who spent so much time with us in Portugal for which he didn’t have to. It was hugely appreciated.
An incredible opportunity, meeting incredible people, which I hope will lead to more incredible things from TDFC. Thank you to everyone who supported our trip in Portugal and everyone that posted, liked, commented and shared our posts online and through social media. We’ll keep talking about supporting, advising, empowering and raising awareness of this condition in Football. More support is needed and we’ll keep challenging for it.
Before beginning this blog post I want to dedicate it to my own support network. I’d like to give a special mention to my Mom, Dad & sister whom have had to live with Type 1 Diabetes almost as much as I have.
So I don’t think you can start talking about a support network, without saying “Thank you!”
Without the people who have been involved in managing my Diabetes with me there’s absolutely no doubt that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy my life and my sport in the way I have.
These people are the unsung heroes of managing Diabetes. However for this blog post their impact will be celebrated!
So let’s start with probably the most pivotal people in any young Diabetic’s life, your Parents. Not only are they instrumental in understanding the condition and treatment, they will be the people who influence your mental approach to the condition, to tackle everyday life. My Mom and Dad need to take every plaudit I write about them in this post, as without them, I really don’t think I’d have been able to put myself into the position to have ticked off the life goals I have alongside the Diabetes. They’re ordinary, down to earth people that are extraordinary to me.
I’ll start by talking about the “normal” parenting required to support someone like me, crazy about my sport. I’m sure any parents reading this will know exactly what’s coming but it should never be overlooked. The trips to take me to football matches with my club, training sessions, school trips, round to friends to play football, buying my football boots & kit (ensuring you had the latest trend to!), paying to watch the team I supported and all of the moral support it requires to support children in sport. None of that is easy and that’s just the parenting around the sport!
But what about all the other things they didn’t expect to have to do with their child as a result of Diabetes? Those middle of the night hypo treatments, those regular prescription collections, giving me injections, checking my blood glucose levels, the continual worry of whether I would run into a hypo or hyper, the packing and preparation for any holidays or football matches, the hospital appointments, the diet and regime management, the list goes on… But despite all of that, they rarely let it impinge on my ability to do anything in life. In fact they probably made sure I tried things as much as possible to ensure I didn’t build up any fear towards the condition. They’re incredible people and what they’ve done for me over the years I won’t ever be able to adequately put into words, but thank you Mom and Dad for everything.
The physical support and attitude my parents forged in me, from their own approach to the condition is the single biggest contributing factor to anything I went and achieved as I moved from a teenager to becoming an adult. Having parents like mine, I believe, can really make the difference in the way a young diabetic approaches their condition and sport.
I also have a younger sister, who obviously didn’t help with the management of my condition or my attitude towards it but she helped in ways she probably doesn’t realise and maybe won’t, until she reads this! She’s an incredibly talented person, who I believe is naturally more intelligent than myself, which is good, because she pushed me to try harder in the things I was good at. Having that sibling rivalry in a household can be really healthy and can bring out the best in both children, who are fighting for the praise of their parents. Whilst I also have to thank her for putting up with Mom & Dad dragging her out in the cold as a child to come and watch me play. She didn’t ask for that life and she didn’t really enjoy it (it’s put her off football for life!), however by not kicking up a major fuss and allowing Mom & Dad to support me in the way they did, she has had a massive part to play in where I am now. Me and my sister have a pretty good relationship now as Adults, we talk all the time and we both support each other on our different paths in life. She lived around my Diabetes long enough to know when it’s going right or wrong instinctively and I think your siblings and parents will always be able to spot it. A huge thank you to my sister. Had she not been so understanding, I may not have had the opportunities to enhance my control with the support of my parents.
But what about those who haven’t lived with Diabetes around them 24/7? The people that find themselves in your inner circle, but not quite as close as your family. I think your closest friends are the people that help you normalise Diabetes and often tackle those insecurities around testing, injecting and generally showing your condition to the world. I even had friends of mine who would pinch my leg so I could inject when I was much younger (in the days when you were told to pinch the injection site!), which definitely immersed them in Diabetes with me. They bring normality into my life which sometimes allows me to forget my Diabetes, even if it’s only for 5 minutes, but it’s so important to feel like you can get some rest bite from it. My friends go some way to understanding the condition, i.e knowing what to do when it goes wrong, but I’m quite glad they don’t know much more than that as their lack of understanding definitely helps me take a break from it when I’m in their company.
As with anyone who’s ever played in a sports team, it’s important to have a coach who supports and understands you. This is even more important for a type 1 diabetic. My coach Nick was instrumental in those early years following diagnosis. Sure, he got as frustrated as I did when it let me down and affected my ability to play the game, but importantly, he understood that I wasn’t going to get it right 100% of the time but he continued to play me regardless of this fact. Yes, I’m sure it helped that I was a capable player who helped the team win trophies but my lack of consistency must’ve been difficult for any coach to watch… I can only thank him for his patience in those difficult early teenage years. I believe having a coach who can empathise in this way with your situation is so important as you learn and grow into yourself and the game throughout your adolescence. As an adult I’ve not required that level of support, but being up front with my coaches about what the condition is capable of doing to my performance is something I’ve only really talked about recently. Until this point, I concealed the true effect of Diabetes as I wanted people to judge me on my ability and not my condition. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who’s taken this approach but having a supportive coach will definitely alleviate some of this worry.
I can’t undersell the importance of a passionate healthcare professional, who just knows the right words to use when Diabetes is far from your friend. Fortunately for me the nurse that looked after me upon diagnosis and throughout my life in paediatrics was Diane Cluley. Her positive outlook for me and my life with the condition was imperative in those early years whilst adjusting to this new world. Her knowledge and empathy towards my lifestyle, condition and mindset is without doubt the biggest impact anyone from the NHS has had on me. People within the healthcare profession can really make or break lives with their attitude towards the people they care for. Had I been supported by a nurse with a strict “textbook” attitude to Diabetes, I’m not sure where I would’ve ended up with my football.
I also wanted to mention the latest addition to my support network. The Diabetes online community (#DOC) has become a big part of my life in the last year and what a group of people they are. There’s an instantaneous connection that can’t be replicated easily with people who don’t have diabetes. The members of the #DOC understand your hardships, your middle of the night hypo concerns and the small battles you face on a daily basis. I’ve made some great friends already and with the level of support they offer I’m really not sure how I managed the condition without them! I’d advise any Diabetic to get involved in the community and speak to other peers about their Diabetes. I find sharing my experience and talking to others about theirs almost like therapy! I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!
A diabetic’s support network can really be the difference between succeeding alongside the condition or finding it a tough existence. Luckily for me, I’ve had the most amazing parents, family and close friends who have never once made it “difficult” for me to manage it. Sure I’ve had people come and go in my life who haven’t helped or caused problems around the condition, but the “core” has always been there and without them I honestly think TDFC wouldn’t exist! Everyone needs support to grow and develop but those with Diabetes really do need it more than most to enable them to fulfil their potential in life and in sport.
Having been involved in a number of conversations regarding the psychological support, and the need for more of it, I wanted to put my own spin on it around Football.
It’s never an easy conversation to have, within an extremely masculine setting of the changing room or a football club, but times have changed and the emphasis on mental health has never been more important.
Well where do you start with Diabetes?
I don’t think I’ll be able to cover or adequately portray the full effects of the condition on my mental well being and approach to my life and sport, but I’ll try and deliver a snapshot which I feel is most poignant to Football.
I wasn’t born with type 1 Diabetes.
You’re probably wondering why I’ve made that statement stand alone? The significance of it is because I remember life without having the condition. Until the age of 8 I wandered through life without a care in the world, blissfully unaware of what was to come. My only focus at that age was how quickly could I get home from school and get a football out!
Then in the September of 1999, I was catapulted into a world of worry and anxiety. That care free life that I lived prior to my diagnosis was a distant memory. Diabetes teaches you to worry very quickly. What if I forget my injection? What if my glucose levels go too low? What if they go too high? What happens if I play football? What happens if I eat this meal?
That extra worry is definitely a burden I’ve had to carry growing up.I’m not sure you can properly shake it; you just learn to deal with it and adapt.
Just imagine what it’s like when you’ve “learnt” to worry more than usual and you’re greeted with a situation where you’re different to every other child in the changing room as you pull out your blood glucose monitor and insulin. When all you want to do as a child is “fit in”, this immediate difference can make it quite difficult. Most kids try to avoid situations like this where they feel alone or slightly outcast, but when you’re a diabetic in mainstream sport you have to just embrace it, otherwise you won’t do it. It takes guts.
Throw into that, those difficult teenage years and the “banter” of 16 boys at the age of 15 and you can only imagine how uncomfortable you can feel. Not to forget that if you’re trialling for a new team, or trying to make a step up or play for a representative side and you don’t know anyone in the dressing room. The levels of anxiety go through the roof! It’s an added stress trying to fit in, so hopefully with some of the work I’m doing with TDFC we can encourage diabetics to embrace their condition in this environment, and give those people who don’t have the condition some guidance on how to support children who may find this a barrier.
All of this worry and I haven’t even referred to trying to get glucose levels in range to be able to get out there and play.Without them in a good place you immediately know you’re on the back foot. I don’t hide from the fact that during the warm up and team talk prior to a game I’m very rarely concerned with the tactics of the team (as I really should know them already!), as I concentrate all of my efforts on making sure the body is loose and the glucose levels are in a good place to play! Again it adds more pressure and anxiety to your preparation but when you’ve learnt to deal with that the playing part is a breeze!
This anxiety about getting levels right leads me very nicely into the frustration and anger it generates when it does go wrong. I will not be the only one that has experienced their glucose levels going wrong in the moments when you need them to be stable the most.I remember vividly my levels “playing up” when I had trials at pro clubs and in cup finals. Emotions always run high and invariably cause you a problem which no planning can foresee! However it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow when you’re out there struggling to perform when you know what you’re capable of. My parents and coach of my junior team felt this frustration for a long time, as they watched my ability succumb to the diabetes and it often left me infuriated.Sometimes it’s out of your control and the best way to respond is to chalk it off and go again next week. You’ll learn from what happened and try and put it right next time. It never makes the anger and frustration easier to accept, it just means you don’t give up because of it.
But what about the fear of Hypos? A topic often referred to when Diabetics refer to exercise. Anyone who’s experienced a mild Hypo (when you’ve been able to treat yourself) knows that it can be a pretty nasty feeling and pretty scary, but what about the people who have experienced one which they couldn’t treat themselves? The courage and bravery it can take to then put yourself in a situation with exercise, where they’re more likely to occur, is huge. I’ve only suffered one severe hypo like this in my lifetime and can only describe it as one of the most frightening things I’ve been put through. I think the fact I was only 13 at the time helped me respond to it. As a child you’re pretty fearless so I didn’t build up too much of a mental barrier to hypos despite experiencing that. Regardless of how I dealt with that I know situations where others have really struggled to come back from it and it can be a significant barrier I want TDFC to address. I want to ensure that no diabetic feels unable to participate in Football as a result of fearing hypos. The organisation will be campaigning hard to improve the support in Football for diabetic participants as well as the people who deliver the game that need greater awareness of the condition.
With all of the negatives it CAN have….. There is one really really big psychological benefit that I believe it’s given me. I carry Diabetes around as the “chip on my shoulder” and the one thing that makes me work harder, more determined and more passionate about defying the odds of living with a chronic medical condition. I’ve been let down by it from time to time but for the most part I honestly believe Diabetes helped me find my strength. I used it to power my motivation and to achieve my goals. It made me who I am as a person and my achievements can be attributed to the resilience it added to my character. I’ve never let it stop me and nor will I let it in the future.
I have a favourite quote which I often refer to which I think reflects the way I feel about its affect on me and my sport.
“The best view comes after the hardest climb”
When you achieve the goals you’ve set yourself, knowing all of the difficulties and setbacks you’ve gone through to get there as a result of your Diabetes, the appreciation of that peak is that much greater.
As much as I believe Diabetes has had its negative impact on my psychological welfare, there’s no doubt I’ve used it positively to power my motivation and strength. Diabetes drives my determination to defy all of the physiological effects it can have, to compete and surpass my peers who don’t have the condition.
I firmly believe that “we cannot change the cards we’re dealt, just how we play the hand.” I’ve learnt to play mine the best way I can.
I’ve seen and read a number of inspiring and emotional accounts of those difficult moments which follow the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Your life is flipped upside down, forever. The life you led before is now a distant memory and a lifetime of injections and constant concern for your own wellbeing is now the norm.
However for anyone who knows me well the following sentence won’t come as a surprise.
I was diagnosed on a Monday afternoon at 8 years old and on the Friday evening of that same week I was back out on the pitch playing again.
It epitomises everything about my approach since my diagnosis. I didn’t let it stand in my way in week 1 of being a diabetic and I haven’t let it stop me in any other week since!
Despite this attitude that I adopted very early on, there’s no doubt that it tests your resolve both mentally and physically. Never more so than in that first game post diagnosis.
I remember that game really well. After a 3 night stay in hospital I had one day at home before a Friday night friendly for my club Kingfisher Colts. I remember thinking to myself there’s no way on this planet I’m not playing. It took a lot of persuasion over those 24 hours to convince both my diabetes nurse and parents that this was the right thing to do, but in my mind there was no question that I was getting out on the pitch.
In 1999, the treatment methods weren’t quite what they are today. I was placed on 2 injections a day, which can cause you to lead a more rigid lifestyle as well as a more difficult one around sport. But this was diabetes care in the late nineties, so I just got on with it and lived like this for 4/5 years. For this first game we were really just guessing and hoping everything would go well!
As you can imagine, that Friday was full of emotion. I honestly didn’t know how to feel. I was an 8 year old who had just found out that he had to live the rest of his life on daily injections. I was drained physically and emotionally. However, the overriding feeling I felt as I left for the game was one of defiance. No matter how the condition was going to test me over the rest of my life, I knew in that moment I wasn’t going to give up, or stop playing football regardless of the trials and tribulations I faced.
As I arrived at the game with my Mom and Dad there was tension in the air. We were all stepping into the unknown and despite my defiance; I was frightened, anxious and scared. “Would my team mates look at me differently? Would they treat me differently? Would I be as good as I was before? Am I going to collapse whilst I’m running around? Can I still do this?” These were the questions I was posing to myself as I met the squad and my manager out on the pitch.
I think through the fear of the unknown and the prior planning to the game, I avoided doing the warm up that day. As a family, and with my coach’s input, we had agreed that I should come off the bench for the last 20 minutes of the game. The only problem with this plan was that I had 40 minutes to stew and worry about going onto the pitch. Watching on was torturous, knowing that usually I would start the game. This was alien to me but I understood that the world was different now. I just wanted to prove more than anything that I could still do it.
As the game reached half time, and as we had become accustomed to, my team were winning comfortably. I played for one of the most successful kid’s teams at my age group in the south Birmingham area so this was absolutely no surprise and it took the pressure off my performance, as the boys were already doing the job. This didn’t stop me feeling really nervous, as the moment I was expecting to come on was creeping up on me quickly.
My Dad tested my blood glucose levels and they were in range, so I began to warm up. The normal excitement and nerves for a game came rushing back. We were 3-0 up and surely this was going to be business as usual? I was feeling pumped up and those feelings and thoughts of defiance were right at the forefront of my mind. I ran up and down for a few minutes, stretched off & got a couple of touches of the ball. I was ready.
Nick Reddish (My Coach, whom I owe a lot to!), called for the substitution and there I was stood on the touchline waiting to shake my teammates hand as I replaced him. I can’t even imagine what my Mom and Dad were feeling watching, I was emotional enough as it was. Then it happened, I ran onto the pitch and the euphoria of being able to play again after the most frightening week of my short 8 years hit me. I ran into my position and nearly broke down as it meant that much to be back out there. I didn’t. Instead I quickly forgot the emotions and why it meant so much and got down to playing. In reality the 20 minutes I was involved in were never going to be that meaningful as it was a friendly and we were already 3-0 up, but it took on another meaning to me which no one else could see or feel.
After all of the build up, I played 20 minutes of football where nothing much happened and we saw the game out comfortably. Most importantly for me, that first experience back out on the pitch went without a hiccup and I took a lot of confidence from that. Obviously many hiccups followed in the future as we got to grips with controlling my blood glucose levels around my football, but after that scary first week there was a ray of light at the end of it. It didn’t stop me. I didn’t collapse. I didn’t play badly.
The emotional and psychological build up for this match was incredibly draining, far more so than the actual playing itself. As a family we built on that game, one day at a time and one game at a time, to learn and improve my control to the point where it rarely impacted my performance.
I strongly believe that more needs to be done to support people who live with chronic conditions such as Diabetes in mainstream sport but this is a discussion for another post….
For me this was the first day of my defiance, which I’ve followed with another 17 years of that same defiance. Diabetes will never make it easy but if you want it badly enough you’ll find a way of making it work for you.
“Never stop playing because it’s tough, stop playing when your legs give up!”
Thank you for reading this post. I found it extremely difficult to write as it took me back to some difficult memories that I haven’t visited for a long time.
Disclaimer – This blog post is my own opinion and from my personal experience. No advice or guidance from this post should be considered without the support of your healthcare professional.
With it being #DiabetesWeek 2017, and with one of the themes being #KnowDiabetes , I thought it would be appropriate to share some tips about what I know from my experience of exercise and type 1 diabetes.
This week is all about sharing our experiences to benefit others so I’m hoping that by communicating the importance of these 5 key areas to the way I approach my sport, it may help someone out there who’s struggling to manage their exercise with their diabetes, or it may even encourage someone else to give it a try!
So here is my Top 5:
Testing is obviously vital to keeping diabetes under control but it becomes even more important when you’re trying to exercise. By increasing the number of checks you do before, during and after your exercise, the more likely you are to catch potential hypos or hypers which may creep up on you as a result of the exercise you’ve undertaken.
Tip – I test as often as I can, because ultimately I want to be able to enjoy my exercise and avoid any complications, so if I can spot a trend in my blood glucose early enough and use the appropriate treatment to correct it, I’m more likely to have fun. It’s vital to ensure you remain in a safe range to allow you to perform to the best of your ability; remain safe and most importantly, enjoy it!
It’s so important to be well prepared with your treatments. Since I was a teenager I’ve carried around dextrose tablets in my pocket regardless of whether I’m playing sport or not in case I was hit with a hypo. It’s not just about hypos though as hypers can occur around exercise, so being able to administer insulin should your levels increase is also a vitally important treatment. You have to be careful you don’t overdo either a hypo or hyper treatment as you don’t want to move towards the other extremity, but ensuring you have your treatments easily accessible to you will hopefully make any precarious situations easier to avoid.
Tip – My go to hypo treatment is Lucozade sport as it’s an isotonic drink which ensures uptake is quicker, whilst it’s not as glucose rich as a can of coke, ensuring I don’t over treat my hypo and run with high glucose levels (Half a bottle normally sorts things out pretty quickly!). Whilst my hyper treatment is normally dependent on how high my levels are and the intensity of exercise, so it’s good to have an understanding of the expected outcome for your glucose levels as a result of the type of exercise. You can then use your insulin dose appropriately.
3.Routine / Preparation
“Fail to prepare, prepare to Fail!” This famous quote is never more apparent than with Diabetes control around sport. If you think you can just turn up, throw your bag down and have a swig of water before you start running around you’re so wrong and you will undoubtedly, in my opinion, suffer regularly with hypos and hypers during exercise.
Tip – For many years I’ve been preparing for games the night before, through the consumption of carbohydrate rich food and trying my best to keep my levels stable. I then would undertake the same morning breakfast and lunch on every single game day to ensure my levels were as predictable as possible to help with managing the game. I’ve used beans on toast as a regular meal prior to a game and tried to ensure my insulin was taken 2.5 – 3 hours prior to a game kicking off, to avoid insulin peaks. Everyone will be different and approaches will need to change for the timing of exercise but the key is to find a routine which you’ve found successful in getting your glucose levels within range, which allows you to enjoy the exercise and get the best from your body.
4.Post Exercise Nutrition/Preparation
The hours after a period of exercise, can cause you trouble. You’ve enjoyed a 2 hour session in the gym or a game of football and your levels were absolutely fine throughout it but you’ve now been hit with a hypo 3 hours later! The General rule is the longer the exercise or more intense it is, the more likely this is to happen (Very general!), so you need to take steps in order to avoid it happening.
Tip – You should eat a carbohydrate and protein fuelled meal post exercise, whilst reducing your normal carbohydrate ratio for dosing to help counteract this drop, but by how much should be your decision. It’s a phenomenon known to most sporty diabetics which if you prepare for and seek advice should alleviate the concern around post-exercise and night time hypos.
I can’t stress this one enough. You can’t and won’t get your blood glucose levels right every single time you exercise, so please don’t think any of us do! Be prepared for it to go wrong and treat it, but don’t get disheartened by your inability to get it right 100% of the time. Identify the reasons why you think it might have gone wrong, learn from the mistakes and ensure the next time you come to exercise you’ve adapted. Exercise can add so much value to your life that it would be a shame to give up or reduce the number of times you do it, because it went wrong with your levels a few times. Remain positive and seek help! There’s no doubting that exercise is an important factor in diabetes control and has huge health benefits.
Tip – There are so many great resources and people with knowledge to support in the #GBdoc on Twitter, The Diabetes Football Community is something I provide support on, whilst runsweet.com or forums like diabetes.co.uk can support and guide you if you need it. Social support can be invaluable in encouragement and guidance surrounding exercise.
I hope that the areas I’ve covered will provide some insight, support and reassurance to those of you who read it. They are just from my experiences though and should always be considered alongside the support of your healthcare professional.
Disclaimer – This blog post is my own opinion and from my personal experience. No advice or guidance from this post should be considered without the support of your healthcare professional.
When people look at the title of this post and relate it to Football, they’ll immediately think it’s going to be about the emotions, triumphs and heartbreaking moments you get whilst being involved in this sport.
I’ve been through winning league titles, losing in cup finals, last minute goals, winning games as an underdog and they all help to create the magic that makes football the most entertaining sport in the world (in my opinion!). But this post isn’t about those moments! It’s about the way the body feels when playing with high and low blood sugar levels.
For me, playing with blood glucose levels at either end of the spectrum is an absolute nightmare. They pose different challenges with neither being conducive of playing to the best of my ability. I think before I talk about it any further, I should really point out that I don’t think any healthcare professional would allow me to play football in some of the states I’ve been in when going out onto the pitch. They’re rare occasions but I certainly wouldn’t recommend some of the approaches I’ve used in the past. HOWEVER, this is reality and I certainly haven’t lived my life from the healthcare professional textbook. I’ve adapted my treatments to the situations I’ve been in, to ensure that I can continue to do the things I enjoy doing, knowing I’m not going to let Diabetes stop me.
But what does it feel like to play with high or low blood glucose levels? Pretty horrible to be honest but I’ll try and describe how both feel to me.
With a low blood glucose level it feels to me like someone hit the zoom out button. The ball looks smaller, the mental cognition to control the ball isn’t as easy and processing your surroundings, your next pass or touch becomes extremely difficult. These are just the mental effects! This is without the shaking, feeling of fatigue, indescribably weird sensation of hunger and general feeling of lethargy. None of these feelings are likely to support a top quality performance, however I’ve found my recovery from hypo to normal, to be faster and easier to achieve than from a hyper (+14mmols). I wouldn’t recommend it, but there’s been quite a few times in the past where I’ve played through this feeling and had my Dad throw on a packet of dextrose tablets for me to devour over the course of 15 minutes. Reading this, you’re probably thinking why don’t I just get substituted off? The answer is because as a competitor I want to keep playing and often feel capable enough to deal with the hypo, continue to play my game and try to help the team win the match. There have been a few occasions though where it’s got the better of me and I’ve requested to be brought off, but that will have been after a serious attempt at treating the hypo to try and prevent the inevitable substitution. Healthcare professionals won’t ever recommend this approach but whilst I felt in control enough of the hypo symptoms and the game I was playing, I felt I could treat it and continue. After all this is reality and not from a textbook!
In contrast, the feeling of hyperglycaemia and levels running too high is twice as bad and far more difficult to shake in my opinion. I often liken the feeling to walking in water. Metaphorically I think it represents the struggle perfectly. Just like walking in water you’re trying to move in a direction and make progress, with something you can’t control holding you back and slowing you down. Hyperglycaemia really saps the energy from my legs and it feels like I lose at least a yard of pace in the game. As a result of this I think it’s more noticeable in more performance. I will try to avoid hyperglycaemia at all costs on match day as I think it is a greater risk to my ability to perform than hypoglycaemia, as the effects for me last longer. Unlike with a hypoglycaemia I never sought a substitution when suffering with this extreme. With football renowned for often dropping levels, I expected the exercise to resolve it but my performance suffered and frustration levels increased whilst awaiting this! The reality is that both hyper and hypo levels have a knock-on effect on my performance but vary in the length of time and physical impact that they have.
Summing it up perfectly is my Dad who’s normally watching this all unfold. More often than not, following a hypo, the post game debrief with my Dad usually contains the words “You would never have known.” Whereas if I experienced a hyper I’m likely to expect “You could tell in the way you played.” In his own way my Dad summarises which extreme of blood glucose level is more difficult to produce a performance which reflects my ability.
Of course much of my playing career has gone without experiencing these hiccups. However I feel it’s important we talk about the times when it does go wrong so the players, spectators, coaches and referees can try to understand how it feels to try and tackle the extremes of type 1 diabetes whilst playing football. I’ve never looked for excuses for a bad performance, regardless of whether my glucose levels have behaved or not. It’s not my style but as someone who’s never had the use of an insulin pump or CGM to play a game, I’m hoping people will understand how important it is to be in the correct range for your football and for your health as well as how difficult it can be to achieve this.