Diabetes should never stand in the way of your football goals – by Chris Bright
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 8 in 1999 following all the usual symptoms of weight loss, thirst and generally feeling a bit off colour for no good reason at all! I remember thinking to myself upon hearing the news “Am I going to die?” They quickly ruled that out, so then my thoughts quickly turned to the question that typifies my life “Can I still play football?”
I’ve tried to pride myself on ensuring Type 1 diabetes would never stand in the way of my goals – football and otherwise.
Growing up, my football wasn’t without its complications as a result of diabetes. There have been numerous occasions where it’s let me down and I’ve been unable to play, or I’ve needed a substitution as I just can’t get my glucose levels to fall into a range which allows me to perform to the best of my ability. It’s incredibly frustrating. However what can you do about it? No matter how well planned you are, or how well you understand your diabetes it will always catch you out. So I’ve learnt to accept that and turn my attention to the things I can do and have faith that I will get it right many more times than I won’t across the course of a season.
But I’ve been relatively successful in football without ever really hitting the “big time” (becoming a professional). I’ve trialled with professional football clubs, represented my county, played semi–pro for a number of years and represented my university’s first team. I worked out how to get my condition to work for me, to allow me to continue playing the sport I loved!
I eventually got myself into a position that allowed me to represent Wales at Futsal – (FIFA’s official version of 5 a side and a great game in its own right). In doing so I became the first person with Type 1 diabetes to do so. In those moments following my first cap it felt like all of the hard work over many, many, years was vindicated. Representing your country at any sport is a proud moment, but when you’ve done it whilst battling a condition like diabetes it’s that much sweeter. “The greatest view comes after the hardest climb” is a quote I like to refer to when talking about this. The climb was that much more difficult than so many others without the condition can appreciate, but that end view was that much more breathtaking for me.
However it has definitely tested my resolve, determination and motivation to continue to achieve and fulfil my ambitions. It hasn’t been easy and it never will be. As we’re all aware, Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition which can have a devastating impact on the ability to live a normal life. Despite this, I actually think it gave me the extra motivation to succeed and push myself, as I wanted to defy the odds it set up against me.
The importance of having a positive mindset for embarking on sport with diabetes is often overlooked. However much you try to be positive there’s no doubt diabetes can bring you down! When your illness teaches you to worry more than usual and continually ask yourself “what if” it’s difficult to not let that extra anxiety creep into what many others would deem a normal situation in sport. How would you feel in a changing room of 16, 15-year-old boys when you have to pull out a blood glucose monitor and injection pen amongst the “banter”?
It makes you stand out, at a time in your life when all you want to do is “fit in.” When you have diabetes, it can sometimes be a challenge to ensure you don’t become disheartened with exercise.
For a long time, I’ve felt people with diabetes and others competing in mainstream sport with long term chronic illnesses have been under-represented and have lacked support. I had very little support with any of my football and diabetes growing up but I feel passionately about changing that.
Earlier this year, I set up a peer support network called The Diabetes Football Community. I hope that with some of my own experience and through encouraging others to share theirs, we can create a peer support community which helps provide information, tips and encouragement that helps maintain and grow participation in football in the diabetes community.
The project started in February 2017 and we now receive contact from all over the world to our website and social media pages as we continue to share knowledge and experience with the community. I find myself doing the best I can to support with advice and tips which help to improve blood glucose control around the sport and allow others to get the best from their body.
I’ve really enjoyed sharing my experience via the blog and have enjoyed even more the numerous stories from others with diabetes we’ve shared on our Facebook page. We’re bringing those with an interest in football and who have diabetes closer together.
I just want to leave you with a final quote which I like using to summarise my approach to my sport and diabetes.
“We cannot change the cards we’re dealt, just how we play the hand.”
All I have done is learnt to play mine the best way I can. Type 1 diabetes will never make things easy for you but if you have the right attitude towards it you’ll always go on to succeed, as you work with it, not against it.