Our First Training Session (DiaEuro)… Making History

On April 22nd 2018 we began our journey to create the UK’s first all Diabetic Futsal team……

Where do I start… It’s hard to put it into words how proud I am to see this project get off the ground after the hard work and time given up by people behind the scenes at TDFC. I know I personally invested a huge amount of time negotiating, networking and reaching out to people to try and make this happen, and to finally see a group of Diabetic players come together to train, socialise and share experiences has got to be one of my proudest moments I’ve had since launching the community in February 2017.

So in this blog I’m going to try and give a bit of insight into what happened…

So we’d asked the players to arrive between 9:30 – 10 am to give them a few minutes to acclimatise to their surroundings and stretch their legs after a number of them had travelled upwards of 2 hours to get to the University of Worcester ( www.worc.ac.uk ). As the guys all started arriving it was great to see the passion for the project and the idea of playing futsal with a group of people they’d never met! One thing which I spotted as people sat down and got ready for the briefing, was the instant connection and bonding that the guys were doing from the off… Most of them had never really spoken to another type 1 Diabetic let alone a whole room of them all interested in the same sport they were into!!! I’ve seen this happen only on a couple of other occasions at Diabetes related conferences and events but when it’s something you’ve helped organise it’s pretty special to witness. 

Myself and Harley, who’d led the organisation of the day at the university, were keen to give the players a short briefing before they jumped straight into the session. We wanted to properly introduce the members of the TDFC team, give the guys an idea of the agenda and ensure they knew the health & safety procedure at the university. But after this “brief” briefing, it was all about the Futsal!!!

As the lads got kitted up and ready to go, I was running around trying to make sure the coaches were happy and had what they needed, whilst checking Elle and Harley hadn’t come across any hiccups! Luckily it was all good and as the lads entered the hall I was confident we were in a good spot! As Will Weaver and Paul McHugh (our coaches) introduced themselves and their esteemed background in Futsal, I was able to relax ever so slightly. As the session got underway I was able to chat with Jodie and Max who’d come down from the Worcestershire FA to support us and capture footage of the occasion (www.worcestershirefa.com), which was fantastic to see. It was also brilliant to see Sue and Lisa, from the local adult Diabetes specialist team, drop in to view a part of the session. I was extremely appreciative of the local support from our partners in the community on this historic day!   

As we got into the session itself, I spent most of the time observing and capturing images for TDFC social media. My job will be to manage and pick the team, as well as potentially playing, so it was important I got a good idea of the quality level of the players! With the experience of the guys varying from a former professional footballer to recreational Sunday league, the overall standard was really impressive for an introduction to Futsal and I’m really excited about how they continue to develop their passion for the team and the sport. Luckily, we filmed the whole session so I’ve got the help of video footage to review when picking the squad because I’m not sure it’s going to be an easy job based on the ability I saw!!

The session continued to progress very nicely from technical drills, into sessions closely linked to game play, to give the players an opportunity to try out the things they’d just learnt. I just tried to facilitate our coaches’ ability to deliver the session as well as the happiness of players and our band of TDFC volunteers. I maintained a safe distance from playing (due to a game I’d played the day before) and tried to just take it all in, with everyone seemingly enjoying themselves, I was just so pleased. The observing was the best part! Loved it!

To see the media take an interest in our “new” team was also really positive as it gives us the platform to gain support from sponsors, new players, coaches and the governing body of our sport to continue doing this exciting work.  BBC Hereford and Worcester arrived towards the end of the session to do a couple of interviews with myself and the players whilst recording some video footage to use for their social media channels. The below links are showcasing the coverage we received from the day:

Radio:

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0638fgt#play ( 1 hour 37 minutes 36 seconds for the feature)

 Social Media:

https://instagram.com/p/Bh9AFV3hQLS/ 

https://www.facebook.com/bbcherefordandworcester/videos/2003662723039459/

A huge thank you to the BBC for all of the support and coverage you have given us!

 

As the boys finished up with training I witnessed a moment of absolute gold and something I felt summed up the day perfectly. Seeing a group of lads who’d never met before, high fiving, patting each other on the back and embracing at the end of the session like they’d known each other for years is something I’ll never forget. In reality, they’d known each other for 2 hours!!!  Sharing a medical condition with someone who enjoys the same sport as you drives an instant connection that most people can’t even replicate with their best friends!! Something just clicks….

This signifies the start of something special!

Post session we grabbed the players, coaches and any volunteers who wanted to stay afterwards (of which most did!) to sit and have lunch. The camaraderie and laughter the lads were having normally takes months of work to create, yet they had managed it in a couple of hours, as they exchanged stories of life with Diabetes and shared the obligatory banter over football. Injections and blood glucose monitoring devices were out on all of the tables and carb counting was the norm!

As we brought the day to close and I reflected on what we’d delivered, I was filled with immense pride. This day had been such a long time in the making and I was so pleased it lived up to the expectations we’d set ourselves.  We had some amazingly positive feedback and enthusiasm from the players involved and I think that TDFC did a great job during this first training session.

So it’s onto the next session… Sunday the 17th of June at the University of Worcester Sports Centre. We will be welcoming new and existing players to the session as we continue to work towards getting a team to www.diaeuro.org from the U.K and growing the team beyond this tournament.

Before signing off though, I have to say a huge thank you to Harley, Elle, my parents, Jon, Alex, Bryn, Will, Paul and all of the players for their support in putting on a hugely positive session. I’m sure the positivity surrounding the day will ensure this project goes from strength to strength and I’m super grateful for all of your involvement.

Until the next time,

Chris

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The Cup Final… Can you ever get it 100% right?

The first word that springs to my mind after my most recent experience is…… WOW. (Videos & Images courtesy of my Instagram profile: brighty08)

Opportunities to play in cup finals are special. They’re a culmination of a season’s worth of hard work, good performances and often quite a bit of luck. You have to appreciate and enjoy them, because as I know, it can be years until you play again in the next one, or you may never get the chance again! That only dawned on me after this one though…… If it is the last one, at least it was one to remember!!!

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to try and encompass everything about preparing for a Cup Final weekend from my experience living with Type 1 Diabetes. These moments matter and hopefully after a good performance in this most recent match, I can give a bit of insight about what it was like, how I prepared and the reactions to hiccups which allowed me to still get out there and enjoy the experience.

So for me it started on Friday night ( the cup final was 3pm on Sunday!) when the squad met up for Training as we do every week. This session was a little different though; the team had suffered a shock defeat a couple of days beforehand and we were keen to feel more prepared leading into the final. So we spent a good half an hour discussing preparations before doing a session that focussed on breaking down our opposition’s tactics. We knew how they played having beaten them at their venue in the league just 2 weeks before (8-6 to Worcester). It was a good session that we all wished we’d spent a bit longer on but we felt positive we could get the job done. I was slightly concerned my hamstring was tweaking but I got in and sat in an ice bath, sorted the glucose levels out (which were pretty good!) and went to bed feeling positive about the weekend.

Saturday comes around and inadvertently I managed to keep my thoughts around the final to a minimum all day. In typical male style, I’d left the purchase of my Mother’s day gifts until the last minute so I spent the morning getting those! I was with Alex (our TDFC sports psychology guru) grabbing lunch and consciously aware the final was coming up but the only reference I was making to it was ensuring I ate plenty of carbs and tried to stay in safe blood glucose ranges throughout the day.  I spent the evening just chilling out with my mates, with my mind away from the game, having a laugh. It kept me relaxed and stress free. Something Alex keeps telling me is important to get the best from myself.

However…. I made a major mistake on Saturday.  In my attempts to “Carb Up” I ate pretty late that evening and I messed up the carb counting….  This led to a middle of the night Hyperglycaemia (21mmols), requiring an injection and a disruption to my sleep!  Definitely not the best preparation but if we had it all our own way it wouldn’t be so rewarding to achieve the things we do as Diabetics!

Sunday… Game day! I started off a bit later than usual following the sleep disruption. A period of stretching the muscles and foam rolling out the niggles started the day before a reasonably sized brunch. In the car on the way to the game was the first time I really started to think about the next few hours. I could feel the normal feelings associated with big games building up; the excitement, the nerves, the anticipation and general buzz of an occasion.

For me letting those feelings come into play on the way to the game was the best time for them. You have to let them do their thing but knowing how I tick, I also needed to remain calm. If I allow myself to pile pressure on my performance, I play a bit too quick and the anxiety can drive my glucose levels up, which again affects the output. I like to remind myself I’m here to enjoy it and play the game for fun. If you don’t enjoy it, why do you do it? It also keeps the glucose levels more predictable… The mind has a huge impact on the body!

Upon arrival and with the hamstring not feeling too clever, I was stretched out and massaged in the changing room before we went out onto the court. My glucose levels were looking good and as we left the changing room you could feel the buzz around the team, as for some it was the biggest game they’d played in! We rolled out into the venue and as we started the warm up you could see the focus and intensity was there, which is always a good sign early on! I was feeling sharp (apart from the hamstring tweak) as we started moving the ball around on court and the warm up went by with a smile on my face and a growing sense of excitement for the game to begin… I’m not sure whether this excitement masked what happened next though!!

As the whistle blew to kick off, I wasn’t thinking about anything. I just wanted to react to what was going on around me and play the game as I saw it. Futsal is played at such pace I don’t think there’s much time for anything else anyway! Our starting 4 began the game with a lot of composure on the ball and making some chances. It was always going to be a tight start to the game playing against a team who were the biggest challenge in our league and in the first few minutes it looked like the game was going to pan out that way. A couple of minutes in I was lucky enough to see the ball drop at my feet with a chance to break forward, I took it, beat a couple of players and nutmegged the keeper to make it 1-0 (GOAL BELOW).  A great start to the game for us and on a personal note it gave me a lot of confidence to continue effecting the game and getting myself on the ball. After my first 5 minute stint on court the score was 1-1 after we’d conceded a soft goal. Nonetheless a solid start!

I then witnessed 5 minutes where it didn’t go well at all for us. We conceded a number of soft goals and we’d lost our organisation… This summed up much of the rest of the first half until the final few minutes but the damage was done. We were 5-1 down at half time. That kind of score isn’t quite as dramatic as it would be playing Football, but it did give us a very big mountain to climb in the second half. I was feeling pretty good out on court but there was no doubt I was concerned we had a little bit too much to do to get back into it! The glucose levels had recovered and now sat at 8.4mmols going into the second half so I didn’t make any adjustments over the half time break.

So with a big task on our hands, the boys kicked off the second half. We started it well, with plenty of possession and we drew a number of fouls (6 fouls wins you a 10 metre penalty). This made it very interesting as the half progressed but without making too many chances we knew the next goal was crucial… Fortunately we got it! Sam got a poachers effort under the keeper’s nose and it was game on. Following the first 10 minutes of the half playing with the same 4 players and the goal to make it 5-2, we threw some fresh faces into the action to chase down the deficit, of which I was one.  Coming back on I knew that we were one foul short of a penalty and the momentum was very much in our favour. Sure enough the persistence told! 5-3 via a 10 metre penalty from Vytas. Now we could sense the tide was turning…. With 5/6 minutes left on the clock I picked up the ball, slowed the play down, created half a yard and took the shot on, 5-4 (GOAL BELOW). The belief was growing but time was running out. We kept plugging away with chances but was the comeback all in vain? As the clock ticked down towards 1 minute, I picked the ball up for a kick in and played a firm pass across the court to Ally deep inside their half, he took a touch and dispatched the ball through a crowd of players into the bottom corner. Queue mass celebration! We’d come back to level the final with barely any time left on the clock but the job wasn’t complete… I noticed their team dropped their heads at this point as they were trying to hold out for the result. The momentum was with us and as the full time buzzer went we were full of confidence that we’d go onto complete the comeback in extra time!

The turnaround for extra time was fast and I felt good so I didn’t check my glucose levels. I was happy to just keep going… Despite the flow of the game with us, Warwick took the kick off and immediately scored to make it 6-5. Surely we couldn’t throw away all of the hard work now?

NOT TODAY! From a kick in Vytas set me back for a strike which I hit hard towards the back post and via a small deflection it ended up going in (GOAL BELOW!). 6-6 and we went into the half time interval in extra time knowing we still had every chance of completing the crazy comeback! At this point I was desperate for us to get the job done with our momentum as no one wants the lottery of penalties!

We pushed forward and controlled the second half of extra time. Just a minute in, a neat one two with Paul found me in the area on my own and I dispatched the ball into the bottom corner…. Pandemonium from our bench followed, because for the first time since the 5th minute we led the game!!  Just a minute later we were 8-6 up following a nice move involving myself, Alessandro and Harry who despatched the ball at the back post. A typical Futsal goal now had us just 3 minutes from taking the cup!

We defended like trojans and shut down every Warwick move and even under the press moved the ball well and played with composure. Our positive approach allowed us to finish up with 20 seconds on the clock by making it 9-6. Vytas worked himself some room via a corner and between us we managed to get the ball home after some last gasp Warwick defending…. In scoring my 5th of the game, we’d secured the cup, 3 goals in 20 seconds was too much for us to throw away and we knew it!! After a remarkable game we’d done it (VIDEO BELOW FOR FINAL GOAL AND FINAL BUZZER).

I haven’t given Diabetes all that much air time during the game, because guess what….. It didn’t get much air time during that final. Once I sorted out the pre game hypo, I did 1 check at half time to ensure things were fine and that was all that was needed.

After such an awful 12 months with injury, and with my family watching, it was a pleasure to play like I did and help the Uni get their hands on a cup. You don’t get many chances to play in cup finals and win trophies so when you score 5 and have such a positive effect on the result it’s special. I was just so pleased for the lads after witnessing their development across the season to see them all be rewarded with a cup final win was great, after they’d supported me in coming back from my injury problems every step of the way.

To answer the title of the post… I don’t think it’s about getting it right 100% of the time, it’s about making sure Diabetes doesn’t impact the important parts! It came together when I needed it to but not without the challenges. Remain calm, react appropriately and enjoy every moment! I definitely left the Diabetes on the back seat of the car during the game and allowed myself to enjoy the occasion and express myself. Diabetes or not, nothing was holding me back on cup final day.

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 My Cup Final Top Tips (From my experience, not endorsed by a Healthcare Professional):

  • Keep your mind off the game until the hours before it. If you focus on it too early, you may put too much pressure on yourself or get over excited.

  • Test as regularly as possible.

  • Carb load the day before.

  • Hydrate well on the day.

  • Remember to take it all in… Win or Lose you’ve done amazingly well to get there and it’s a match you don’t want to forget.

  • Keep a consistent routine with your Diabetes. Play this match just like any other, however be prepared that levels may be erratic due to the emotions of a final having an effect.

  • Try and enjoy the occasion rather than get nervous about trying to perform. It’s just a game of Futsal/Football and you’ve probably played hundreds before this one! (I’ve made this mistake before!)

  • Smile and tell yourself you’re there because you deserve to be.

Chris

New Year, New Goals, Same Motivation?

At the start of every year I find myself reflecting on what’s happened over the previous 12 months and looking forward to what the next 12 bring my way. I don’t think I’m alone in the way that I do this with the hundreds of posts I see online, all referring to the end of one year and the beginning of the next. It’s a period of transition which in my eyes allows me to reset my thinking and the batteries. It gives me an excuse to think about the positive changes I can make to my life in the New Year and the impact I can have on the future, as I know I can’t affect what’s happened in the past.

However, the start of the New Year in the U.K is often grey, cold and somewhat uninspiring for those looking to get active for the first time, or who have had a break over the festive period. Combine that with a challenging period of over indulgence in Food and drink that tests the blood glucose levels of people with Diabetes, and you can see why it may be a struggle to get into a new regime during the New Year.

Diabetes is a condition which is renowned for testing even the most positive people in their approach to life, so it’s important to consider its pitfalls when finding your motivation to get active or play sport. How do you combat negativity around your condition which affects your mindset and approach to daily activities and exercise?

I don’t have a definitive answer… However myself and Alex will try to offer you some insight in how to approach the New Year, set new goals, how to find your motivation and most importantly, maintain it:

  • First of all, it’s about what motivates you to get active? Is it external praise? The sense of achievement from within yourself? Money? Fun and enjoyment? Becoming Healthier?  There’s a whole array of things which may drive you to make a change. In my life it’s about the sense of achievement I get from ticking off goals and the enjoyment I get from playing sport.  But for you, it’s important to understand what’s driving you to get active or stay active and use that to continually fuel your motivation.

  • Secondly, I never set Diabetes related goals… I’m not sure if that will shock people or not, but it’s how I work as an individual. I’ve always had the attitude that as long as I maintain acceptable control which allows me to perform to the best of my ability in my sport, and it doesn’t affect my every day activities, that’s good enough for me. If I give it too much focus in my life it will consume it, so I choose to position it on the backseat of my life and not the front seat.
  • I like to break my goals into categories… I tend to place any objectives or goals into sections which reflect the direction of my life. So for example in 2018 I’ve got goals for my Personal life, my sport and my career. It helps me organise myself and the direction I’m trying to head towards in all walks of my life.
  • I set 2 or 3 goals in each section which I believe are achievable within the timescale of 2018…It’s important you don’t try and change too much as you’re unlikely to be able to achieve too many goals, which may disappoint you in the long run. Be realistic in the expectations you set yourself.
  • The goals I set are the big things I want to achieve, but each week I’ll set myself much smaller ones which underpin the progress towards the bigger ones. For example it might be reducing my 5k running time, or lifting a heavier weight in the gym. Neither of which are part of my overall objectives but both will contribute to hopefully successfully achieving 2018’s goals. Those smaller goals can be so important when you’re having a tough week with the Diabetes in feeling that sense of achievement we need to keep us going. I think it it’s important in driving the continuation of exercise and keeping those good habits.

Of course my motivation and the tools I’ve used are transferable, but on the next section of this post I’m handing over to Alex who’s going to take a look at it from his perspective as he’s spent a considerable amount of time studying sports psychology.

 

“I want to talk to you guys about goals. Goals can help keep you motivated throughout the year, especially when the initial motivation that often comes with the New Year begins to fade. All goals are not created equal and the better goals you set the greater chance you have of continuing to make progress throughout the New Year. The rest of this post will give you some do’s and don’ts when setting some goals.

DO – Make sure the goals you set are in the form of actions and behaviours. If you want to increase the amount of exercise you do this year, how are you going to do that? Perhaps you want go to the gym more? How many times a week will you go? An example of a good goal in here would be, “I’ll go to the gym twice a week this year”. You could make this even better by deciding which days you will go to the gym. Once you’ve achieved this goal you may decide to add another night.

DON’T – Carrying on from the first suggestion, do not and I mean never ever, set vague goals. So if you find yourself saying something like, I’m going to take my football more seriously this year, refer back to the first do. If you have ever found yourself starting something for a few weeks and then slowly but surely reverting back to old habits, vague goals may well be the reason why. Vague goals can also be thought of as wishful thinking.

DON’T – A goal that can’t be measured is not a great goal to set. Setting a goal that you can measure allows you to check your progress as you set out to achieve your something and lets you know when you have been successful. If you want to improve your diabetes management this year, perhaps set a target for where you would like your HBA1C score to be for your next consultation. It’s really important to mention here, that goals concerning your HBA1C score should be set with gradual improvement in mind, not drastic changes.

DO – Set goals that are positive. This is a simple but powerful tip; it’s really important to focus on what we want to happen rather than what we’d like to avoid. When you’re setting goals, try and make them about increasing behaviours rather than decreasing behaviours. So if you have a goal regarding your nutrition, make your goal about starting to eat things that are going to help you lead a healthier life instead of stop eating foods that don’t help you lead the lifestyle you would like. Being positive in your goal setting will help you decide on the actions that will help you get there (remember the first do).

Since I have just suggested to make your goals positive, I am going to finish on a do rather than a don’t. My advice to you all, setting goals will increase the chance that any resolutions you’ve made will continue past January. Goal setting is key to long lasting motivation and it will also let you see how far you’ve come. Once you see yourself making progress I hope this will also increase your motivation to continue. Happy New Year folks!

Alex.

If anyone wants some more in-depth advice regarding setting goals for the New Year, don’t hesitate to get in contact with me via email.

alexrichards35@gmail.com”

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Type 1 Diabetes Management around a Football Match Day

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:

  • Early preparation
  • 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
  • Small adjustments

 

Key Points for During the Match:

  • More Testing
  • 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.

TDFC

Reflecting upon 2017, whilst looking forward to 2018

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 playing football. 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!

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 that TDFC 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!

To an amazing 2018 and beyond…My best wishes.

Live. Play. Inspire.

Chris

TDFC trip to Portugal: The Diary

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!

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Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.  

After we’d enjoyed some sunshine and ball work we wandered through the streets of Lisbon and did a little interview of how things were going whilst I was resting my foot (https://thediabetesfootballcommunity.com/2017/05/28/the-impact-of-injuries/ ). We were catching up on camera with our thoughts of the last 24 hours and the approaching weekend with DiabPT United.

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.

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An amazing end to the second day which was so in keeping with the purpose of our trip!

Day 3

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!

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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!

Day 4

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.

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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!

 Day 5

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.

Day 6

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.

Day 7

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.

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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.

Chris

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Type 1 Diabetes: A disability or not? How do you identify with it?

This is a question which I’ve struggled to answer for a long time. Is Diabetes a Disability in my eyes? As many will already know Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus is by law an “Unseen Disability” which has the ability to significantly impact the lives of the people that have it. It’s power to disrupt and harm the people that live with it, in my opinion, is underestimated by much of society. As much as I strongly believe that you’re able to overcome the condition to achieve great things, there will always be the lasting effects and scars of living with Diabetes which challenge normality. I find this a really testing subject and one which in my experience has divided views amongst the diabetic community.  

As always though, I don’t shy away from expressing my opinion on the difficult subjects. However I fear I might still be on the fence with this one.

When a law states that a condition falls into the parameters of Disability it’s hard to argue with the reasons behind that decision. When I consider my own life and its impact, there’s no doubt that despite getting used to the difficulties, the interruptions shouldn’t be overlooked.

Let’s consider some of those moments when I firmly believe this condition I live with makes it feel like a Disability.  What about when you’re woken up in the middle of the night, sweating, suffering a hypoglycaemia that causes a headache which lasts all day? Losing 2/3 hours sleep trying to correct your glucose levels in the middle of the night back into range? Or when I’m forced off the football pitch because my glucose levels are dangerously out of range? Or when it stops me from driving and holds me up for an hour and a half whilst I recover?  Or when my vision blurs and I lose some of my coordination?

Whilst these are just a few examples there’s no doubt that when any of these things occur, life can feel constrained, as Diabetes presents itself as a Disability.

I think it bores down to the potential the condition has to impact on someone’s life… Although I’ve done ok for myself in terms of my achievements, this condition has the potential to have a devastating impact on someone’s life, and in the most unfortunate circumstances it can be fatal. I think for those who are given the opportunity to maintain reasonable control of the condition it can feel like Diabetes doesn’t hold you back much, if at all, and doesn’t really reflect that “Disability” tag. However for those who may be unlucky and are unable to manage it, its unquestionable the debilitating effect it has.

If it didn’t impact on my life whatsoever I’m not sure I would’ve spent so much time hiding my Diabetes through the fear of judgement. I always wanted to merit my achievements on my ability and not my disability.  I always felt it was another hurdle to jump over, which would mean I would just need to work harder than everyone else to achieve my goals.

There’s no doubt whichever way I try to answer the question I find myself sat back on the fence on this one. It’s a condition which will never be the same for everyone and in turn will never have the same effects on someone’s life. I’ve been lucky enough to live a life where I’ve been able to keep it under control for the most part and not let it affect my outlook and approach. There are many others who aren’t as lucky as I am and I appreciate that….

If I pose myself the question again “is Diabetes a Disability to me?” I’m still not sure!!!

What do you think?

The Psychology of a Diabetic Footballer

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.

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 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.

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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”

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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.

Tips for Exercising with Type 1 Diabetes

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:

1.       Testing

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!

2.       Treatments

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.

 

5.       Mindset

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.

#KnowDiabetes #FightDiabetes #DiabetesWeek 2017

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