Footballer with Type 1 Plays in World Cup
Five years ago on the 11th of October in 2011, I thought my life was over. This was the day I was diagnosed with late-onset type 1 diabetes. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of my journey.
In the days following my diagnosis I was confused, scared and upset as I struggled to come to terms with the reality of living with diabetes. The main concern that loomed over my head was ‘This thing is never going away’. This thought is still with me today, but over the years I have learnt to tackle this thought head on every day. I’ve had to adopt the mindset, ‘things happen; now let’s get on with it’. I think this is one of the most important aspects on my road to dealing with the rigors of daily diabetes care, but it’s been the mantra that has sustained me to this point so far.
I have been lucky enough that post-diagnosis, as an athlete with diabetes, I have been able to represent New Zealand playing Football for the U-17 team. I’ve played in Vanuatu and at the World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. I have also won a national title with Saint Kentigern College in 2013. And most recently, I’ve been living in the United States, completing a four-year scholarship to study and play soccer at the University at Buffalo in New York. All these things seemed impossible to me in the weeks and days following my diagnosis, but with the support of my friends and family, many hours of hard work and careful care and management of my type 1 diabetes, I have been able to live the life I could only dream of as a child.
I certainly can’t preach that I have been the perfect diabetes patient. There are some days when I am on top of the world, testing five to six times a day gleefully. Other days I struggle to mange one or two. To me, some days I felt like I just wasn’t ‘getting it’. And looking back on it, this is completely normal. Diabetes isn’t something you learn overnight like multiplication or tying your shoelaces. For me it’s more an ongoing process, like learning to drive a car.
When you first sit down in the driver’s seat, it’s an overwhelming feeling. Which pedal does what, how do I change gears and what happens when I press this little triangle button on the dashboard; it’s a lot to take in. Diabetes is similar. There are so many different functioning and moving parts to the whole operation that effectively keeps your blood sugar within normal parameters. You can’t be expected to know how to fully control each aspect days after being diagnosed, just like you wouldn’t take someone on his or her learner’s license, put them on a race track and expect them to win the Indy 500.
You have to learn how each individual aspect of driving fits into the greater picture of safely getting you from one place to another. As you continue to drive more and more, you pick up on little tips and tricks that make you a better overall driver. In the same vein, with each passing day as a person living with diabetes, you become a ‘better driver’ so to speak and learn small things that are personal to you that contribute to being in control of your diabetes.
These are the things that no doctor or health professional can teach you, and it’s this ‘on the job training’ that is so vitally important to each person in my opinion.
If you had told the 15-year-old me, lying in the hospital bed all those years ago, the things I would go on to achieve and the life I have lived so far, I would have told you that you were downright crazy. I think one of the things that is a constant depressor for people living with diabetes, especially people with type 1, is uninformed people who, whether knowingly or not, pass judgment on what someone with diabetes can or can’t do.
Now this isn’t just the naysayers, this can be people as close to you as friends or family who just don’t know enough about it to fully understand it. For me it’s all about educating these people that living with diabetes doesn’t hold you back—you can have a piece of chocolate, you can have a beer and you can do the things that everyday people can.
At the end of the day: you can. For me, this is the most important thing I have gained from my experience with diabetes. You have to become comfortable with your own routines and care, but at the end of the day diabetes can’t stop you. The only person that can hold you back is you. So I challenge you to take back the control; don’t let a diagnosis of diabetes signal the end of the road. Let it be the start of a new journey with a new beginning that can take you anywhere you want to go.