Rowing and diabetes, part 1 – Guest blog by Simon Drakeford


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We received a message on our Facebook page recently from Simon Drakeford who has a son, Oliver, who has Type 1 diabetes and now has a pump. Oliver is also a very keen rower, and has not let his diabetes get in the way of reaching brilliant levels within the sport. Simon wanted to share Oliver’s story. Here is part one of Oliver’s story…

“Oliver was diagnosed when he was seven. All the classic symptoms: very thirsty; needing the lavatory every five minutes. Once diagnosed, Oliver was put onto a regime of twice daily injections. As Oliver got older his regime changed to meet his needs and follow new developments.

As parents of a child with diabetes, we felt it was vitally important that Oliver learned to manage his diabetes, so he could have a normal life that was not dominated by diabetes. This means being sensible and prepared, and doing everything you need to do, to ensure that you stay fit and healthy.

Sport has always been a huge part of Oliver’s life. When he was nine he joined a local football team, and attended all the training sessions and played all the matches. Half time was a rush of checking blood sugar levels, and eating Jaffa cakes. On starting secondary school, Oliver was to discover his great passion, rowing. The school had taster sessions on indoor rowing machines, which were followed by sessions down on the water. From the first moment Oliver was totally hooked.

Virtually everyone knows that rowing has got a famous diabetic Olympian, so Oliver could see no reason why he should not row! From the early days Oliver’s coach could see that there was potential there, for Oliver to become an accomplished rower. We sat down with the coach and went through a care plan and talked about what Oliver’s needs were and the expectations of his coach.

As a family we have been fantastically supported by the Specialist Community Nurse Team. A referral was made to Alder Hey to meet up with a dietician who specialises in sport and diabetes. Oliver developed his understanding of how different elements of his training affected his body and so learned how to use food and injections to control his diabetes, enabling him to train and compete.

Quickly the training session increased and Oliver started racing in a crew, success followed. 2011 saw Oliver’s crew hit the national regatta circuit and won a collection to medals including gold at the National Schools Regatta in a coxed quad. There were occasional blips with the diabetes, and towards the end of 2011 it was becoming apparent that the training and rowing sessions were becoming harder for Oliver to deal with and manage his diabetes.

As the difficulties increased, alternatives to Oliver’s regime were tried. Some progress was made, but Oliver’s performance and confidence continued to drop. Blood sugar management at times just seemed impossible; Oliver had hit the teenage phase when nothing seems to work, despite adhering to all advice given.

2012 started really badly, training sessions were not being completed, frequent ‘phone calls from school, as Oliver was unwell with soaring blood sugars. Further difficulties came when crews were announced for the regattas. As Oliver had not been well enough to train, he was not selected for the crews, and this hit him hard. Oliver just loves rowing and it is a consuming sport, especially when you start to row at national level. Everything he tried, would not work in managing his blood sugar levels.

The frustration levels were enormous, and it was upsetting to see Oliver so disappointed, frustrated and angry at the diabetes. We had read about the insulin pumps, and Oliver’s Sports Dietician suggested we look in to the possibility of Oliver having a pump, as this was seen as the best way forward for his rowing and general health.

2012 was progressing into spring and Oliver was getting angrier and angrier with the whole thing, we were prepared to give the pump a chance. Whilst the care and support we have received locally has been amazing, when we were looking at pumps there was not a paediatric pump service.

Thankfully the neighbouring health authority did run a paediatric pump service. Referrals made and appointments booked, we set off to meet the paediatric team and discuss Oliver having a pump. We assumed the process would take some months. So it was a pleasant shock when the nurse asked us when we wanted to come and look at some pumps for Oliver to choose one.

Within three weeks, at the end of April, Oliver was back at the hospital for his pump to be fitted…”

End of part one.

Part two of Oliver’s story will be online on Wednesday 22 August. Come back to find out how he gets on with his pump.

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Fingers crossed for part 2. I am reading this in Holland where my son, aged 17 and diagnosed type 1 at age 2, is competing in the Topper (small single handed sailing dinghy) world championships. Sugar levels went haywire last year but he started on the pump in December and much better now. He puts the pump in a waterproof case attached round his waist and sails for up to 6 hours at a time. We are not expecting any medals but we are proud he is out there competing. Diabetes has not stopped him sailing even on the pump so I hope it worked for Oliver and his rowing.

Well done Oliver… I hope the pump has giving you back yr life again… I was told i hve type one on the 26th June this year.. Its been so hard but i believe i takes sometime before they get your insulin right!! I am lookg forward 2 readg the rest of yr story.. Yr amazg Oliver…. Anne