As we come into the Summer Season in the UK (despite this random hot-cold weather) I reflect back on a great ‘Spring Tour’ with DiAthlete, dishing out some type 1 motivation and getting back into endurance challenges!
From late April to early June it was flattering to have packed an absolutely full schedule on a weekly basis. It was challenging as I used up any ‘rest days’ that I had from work to travel around and meet communities at events, but nonetheless well worth it! At the beginning of March I had the first talk to the Basingstoke Young Diabetics group, and then from late April onward it was event after event – meeting over 1,500 people directly!
Having been overseas at most events in the past few years now, it was also great to be back on home soil for a lot of the events too! Not since the 30/30 Challenge in 2013 have I had the opportunity to engage with so many type 1 diabetes communities around the UK consistently. I travelled to: Cambridge, Altrincham, Bexley, Slough, Gravesend, Lancaster, the Isle of Wight, Belfast and Southwark, along with going to a school in Ashford Surrey and overseas to Romania, in Targu Mures.
The weekend of 25th and 26th April consisted of a lot of travelling – something as an adventurer I quite enjoy doing! Seeing new places, meeting new people. On the Saturday I was at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and it was a fantastic networking event, with a massive turnout of people. This was followed up by another huge turn out in Altrincham, just outside Manchester, the very next day. This was a Type One Sports Day event hosted by JDRF North.
The Addenbrooke’s event was great. I gave a lot of energy – which is very much my style, and got the ball rolling for the weeks to come. The audience really responded well to it, I nearly missed my train to Manchester with all the after-questions! One type one mum was quite emotional after my talk, she had a few tears and I had to give her a hug! Meeting a young lady named Tracy Power there was also inspiring for me, Tracy has Polyglandular Syndrome as well as Type 1 diabetes, yet, just has this extremely positive and incredible presence about her.
To be at the Type One Sports Day by JDRF was brilliant. I really like how the JDRF North Team do their events, Chris Normington and Sadie Munroe do a great job connecting with their regions. It was the largest turn out they have had to date for a community event and with the cast they had, it was clear to see why. I was there the full day which was a treat as I watched talks from lead dietitian Francesca Annan, Lesley Jordan at Input, pro rugby league player at Sale Sharks Andy Forsyth and Andreas Petz of Team Novo Nordisk. To close the show after that lot was a real honour!
I hosted my own event at my own diabetes center in Sidcup, where I was diagnosed, Queen Mary’s Hospital. It was great to connect with my former children’s nurses, Jan and Sarah. I planned to do a sports education event, sharing my story but with a focus on educating guests on sports control in type 1 diabetes for the various effects. Reflecting back at my own story, there was a lack of advice available when it came to sports when I was growing up playing football or even when I started running. Even in the present times, there isn’t a great amount of info out there in sports health for diabetes. Yet, I have it in abundance through all my experiences – I’ve got a lot to pass on. And I want to do this in a fun way – as a child I never found the information easy to take in from professionals within hospital walls. Using my own casual approach, I believe I have a better way of getting through to young people particularly, it comes from experience!
Although there wasn’t the largest of turn outs on the night, those that came along I felt really took something from it. A teen into football named Owen was really interested and perhaps even more so about connecting on his diabetes – its not easy to open up when younger but he did on the night. Unfortunately Ben Coker from Southend United was going to come too but he had his end of season do on and double booked himself! Ben did record a support message and I’m sure I’ll get him along to another event in future! Funky Pumpers also supported by putting on a spread of sandwiches, which was really appreciated.
Going to Slough was interesting. All the opening 4 events were very diverse in the styles of the events, yet, with one positive, community message at the end of it. In Slough there was an even blend of type 1 and type 2s in attendance. I liked this as it was a chance to speak about various effects and see what was similar and relatable in each type. I felt the few with type 2 there learned a bit on type 1 management.
The event in Gravesend was a Circle D event hosted by Shelley Bennett. I’ve known Shelley for a long while now and always have known about Circle D through that, of course! I have always felt it absolutely fantastic what she does – a bubbly, positive person bringing exactly that to young adults with type 1 diabetes in her community. Again this was a very different style of event, simply sociable! And it was very enjoyable. Circle D call it ‘The Rant Room’ and it is a chance to share stories, let off diabetes steam and socialise with others who have diabetes. Gravesend isn’t terribly far away from me, 15 mins on a train, so it meant I could also enjoy a beer at the pub with them afterwards!
Travelling up to Lancaster takes a fair bit of time. The main problem is getting across London – even when your address comes under London! From London Victoria I travelled nice and cheaply via Megabus, up to Preston. From there I got a train to Lancaster, which is a beautiful old English city – with plenty of hills and country lanes. The last time I was there was when running the 30/30 Challenge on a route from Lancaster to Fleetwood; as I recall it rained for about 5 hours straight that day. It was good to catch up with Dave Sowerby, whose camp bed I slept on, and to meet the Lancaster I-Pump group up there.
Dave then dropped me off… in Leeds! I again had booked Megabus to get back to London and Dave had work in Leeds – so I got to see a bit of the North. As my bus wasn’t until the late afternoon and Dave dropped me off around 7am… I decided to see some more of the North, deciding Leeds really wasn’t a place to spend 8 hours or so, and headed on to York (Old York) – another great old English city! A lot of travels, no problems in diabetes control. There is the message of the tour, we can enjoy life!
That weekend in May I then returned to the Isle of Wight for the first time since I completed running around the 70 mile perimeter island in 2010. It felt a bit emotional to return, it had a personal meaning to me that challenge. After not succeeding in running the full coast route in 2009, suffering a very bad hypo in the process, to go back, when aged 19, and complete it meant anything really was possible against this disease. Sam Brooks set up a community event on the Isle in Newport and being over there had that 30/30 support feel about it. In doing my 30 mile a day for 30 day challenge it was the communities that saw me through, helping to put me up a night, carry my bags, give me food and come and cheer me on. On the Isle a lady called Sue and her family put me up the night, fed me a lovely dinner with homemade Rhubarb Crumble pie, there’s some great people about!
The talk was enjoyable as always and it was interesting to see one or two just came along not even having any association to diabetes whatsoever, just interested to hear my story and find out about it. Beforehand I caught the Winchcombes who by chance happened to be over for the weekend. And Paul Farrelly joined me on the isle too for the event. Anyone looking to do an inspiring diabetes event with speakers, look no further than Paul and I as a tag team. He motivated me to go back and do the Isle of Wight challenge all those years ago with his story, of course since then I’ve gone on to do bigger challenges and advocate for communities around the world – and between us we once capsized Sir Steve Redgrave’s rowing boat!
The following day I then decided to relive those moments from 5 years back and have a run on the island. I only planned to run 4 miles on the North part. I ended up enduring 24 miles from Cowes to The Needles on the coast. Having just re-started training and re-building my body, it may have been a bit to soon having not endured big miles since September in New York for Marjorie’s Fund – but it proved otherwise. I kept a nice controlled pace and more so kept my diabetes in check – just one stop in a pub to reload levels! I did take one wrong turn, I should have remembered the road signs! But in terms of fitness I was very comfortable tamely running it in 4 hours.
In Ashford Surrey I went over to a school where the teacher had invited me to go and meet one of the students. His name was Jack. I spoke to his year group on my story and the aim was to pass on encouragement for Jack. I was impressed by him anyway – he loves sports and played every sport going at the school! From Rugby to Hockey! He definitely had the right attitude and just needed reminding he can keep on top and that he has the responsibility in his hands to take control.
Travelling to Romania was an absolute adventure and pleasure to do. I went to Bucharest by myself to then get a very long 7 hour bus ride to Targu Mures. There I was supporting the Transylvanian t1 diabetes association named ASCOTID. I raced a half marathon cross country, in difficult heat and conditions – the woodland surface was a test for the ankles in my recovery but I got through it! So real positive signs from the two main runs on this tour! In Romania they receive enough for 1 blood sugar test per a day, every 3 months on prescription. This is a country where if you wish to take control of your diabetes you need to pay good money.
I caught up with fellow young leaders Matyi and Cristina from Romania over there and I look forward to catching them later in the year when we go to Vancouver as IDF Young Leaders in November. In the future I’m definitely someone that ASCOTID can call a supporter now, their work is so valued and needed over there.
Heading to Belfast was a brilliant experience. I stayed 2 nights over there and really enjoyed meeting a fantastic community. Kathryn Cooney did a great job in making things happen over there.
We had a talk on the Friday evening when I arrived. It was a good turnout of people too, probably between 30 and 40 people came along after the original DUK NI event had been cancelled just a few days earlier. After meeting everybody, on the Sunday we then organised, out of the blue really, to do a sports education programme. This is something I’ve had in my mind for some time now and when in Miami last year actively had an event on, which everybody really enjoyed.
Opposite from being trapped in a room, inside a hospital, not wanting to listen and take things in. I presented a new initiative of active learning. I coached the information I have in sports management, in both anaerobic and aerobic exercises, to a group of young type 1s, their siblings and parents who turned out. From having a ‘rant ball’ session where everybody physically let off some diabetes steam by throwing a ball in a circle to having the kids see the effects different types of exercise can have by running or sprinting and testing. I enjoyed coaching it and the kids ranging from 7 to 17 all enjoyed taking part – when I did a sports and diabetes quiz they got every single question correct! I was impressed!
To conclude the Tour it was back home in London. I went to Southwark to meet the DUK Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark group. The last time I spoke to those guys was over 3 years ago, where I told them I planned to run the length of the Britain. This time I suggested the world – I guess I’ll have to come back in 3 years and tell them about that! Also good to see little Ed doing well, a Palace fan with type 1 who I remembered speaking to at his school a few years back!
For the Summer Time I’m working on seeing if I can get a few coaching programmes on with local clinics in the UK. A main focus at the same time for me is to also work hard and earn some money this summer, then I’ll look to tour again in the Autumn Season both in the UK and overseas – a Canadian invasion of course is on the list!
If I look back at the tour and more so all the people I’ve met, I see only positives in the cause. Positives brought through unity in the communities and opportunities for people to engage in the cause. It has been fulfilling. As my DiAthlete empire grows, I want to continue that fulfillment to everybody in it. In the future together we are going to re-brand the concept of life with type 1 diabetes, overcoming the fears and phobias to outlining pragmatism towards accomplishments in the cause.