About “THE DIATHLETE” Gavin Griffiths

  • BORN: 13th August 1991

  • DIAVERSARY: diagnosed at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, 7th – 11th January 2000

  • FIRST TYPE 1 ENDURANCE CHALLENGE (outside of living with type 1 itself!) 23rd August 2008, 29 mile Thanet Coastal Run

  • BIGGEST ENDURANCE CHALLENGE: GBR 30/30 Challenge, 900 miles, starting in John O’Groats and finishing 30 days later in Land’s End. 27th April – 26th May 2013.

  • FURTHEST TRAVELLED DIABETES PROJECT: Suva, Fiji, during the DiAthlete Global Tour 2017

I think that of all the endurance challenges I might have gotten through so far in my life physically, the one which will always be the hardest to have taken on – with no choice in the matter – and requires to be continuously taken on each day, is the one of being diagnosed with this condition. As an 8 year old boy I was never going to accept the condition too easily, who does?! The hardest part that I reflect on wasn’t the injections – which were giant looking syringes just 20 years ago in the UK, which shows how things have changed in some parts of the world in more recent times – it was returning to school and suddenly this realisation of a life-long condition actually hitting me, making me feel subconsciously different to everybody else around me. I believe any medical condition, and most in particularly this one, is a journey of confidence: confidence is instantly diminished once you get diagnosed and you have to try and find how to pick up the pieces and puzzle it back together over time.”

“In school I found myself bunking off. I found myself being very shy to begin and not wanting to talk about it, or do what I had to do with a load of attention and fuss being made. There were some names that got called early on and I reacted bad to it, people around me also didn’t understand hypers or hypos and why I would behave or shake and shiver and act differently. This led to some fights in my early rebellion. In my teen years I started to find confidence for the first time and it came through my passion of sports, being part of a team and allowed to take part in sports days – winning the first race I ever ran, the 800m, at the age of 13 – playing football every day! There was a lot of doubt when diagnosed as to whether I could play sports, how dangerous it was, it was all trial and error to begin. Health professionals would hide under the table back then as the info wasn’t so accessible, it was more or less: avoid hypos at all costs! But simply being out there playing and not having diabetes as this fear-factor or subject to make me feel different, just doing what I enjoyed, gave me confidence. And with confidence comes acceptance; acceptance takes a long time to build and you can get caught out with a surprise hook at any moment, but acceptance is the biggest step to take – this condition is every bit as emotional as it is calculated each day… and we all know we have to do a lot of calculating!”

“At 16-17 I was struggling. I had transitioned into basal-bolus insulin pens, away from pre-mixed insulins, but not given any advice on how to calculate carbs or work meal times out. This is a big danger in our cause, even more so perhaps today with technology such as insulin pumps – the outcomes of this tech can be incredible, better replicating the pancreas release of insulin and even preventing hypos in areas – but if not given the right blend of education to work with this, the results can be very dangerous. The approach to education all round needs to adapt, to be more relatable and considerate of the mental emotions of the person first; break the ice there and then build into the core details. This issue exists today and it did back then too; I was given no info but for to inject 6 units of rapid bolus insulin with every breakfast meal, take another 5 units of it for lunch… and as for dinner, take 14 units of rapid acting insulin. If on a 1-10 ratio, that means to consume 140gs of carbohydrates thereabouts with every dinner meal. The info received from the new adult team I had transitioned in to, well, it wasn’t there. I could have had a salad and still have injected 14 units. Needless to say, hypos happened. They happened A LOT. And it was scary. My parents only knew of the mixed insulin regime, inject twice a day, eat at certain meal times, avoid treats. So I was on my own dealing with the worst hypos I could experience, one even knocking myself out for 3 hours and fortunately coming round with a head covered in blood and no memory of how; another slightly worse, losing control of my body while in a full bath tub. We were given 4 test strips a day in my area back then, so a missed test often led to a mistake. I lost my hypo awareness in this period.

“It was also around that same time however where a great wave of self-confidence, surprisingly so, came over me. I had been succeeding on the football field. I found a willingness to take my diabetes care into my own hands, especially when I had been experiencing high blood sugar levels during football I began doing the opposite of healthcare subscribed ‘avoid the hypo’ methods, and tried to create ways to avoid the highs and play my best. At Sixth Form, on a school camping trip as a group leader, one of the younger children in another groups was having a hypo and the teacher came and got me to speak to the young boy whilst he picked his levels up, as he was upset and crying. He shared how much he hated it. And I felt sad in that moment, remembering how I felt the same way whilst bottling it up inside. A few weeks later, it was the motivation for me to then plan to run a marathon and prove otherwise, that this condition didn’t have to be the restriction, the burden all of the time, that achievements were possible; I needed to prove this to myself. I did. Everybody was scared for my health when I said that I’d do it, not many expected for me to finish. By the end of the run along the coastline of Thanet in Kent in 2008, I was disappointed… I had finished it in 3 hours and 1 minute, and was absolutely fuming about the minute! From that moment this ‘DiAthlete’ idea had been born in my head. It wasn’t ever about the times, the distances, the running – and yes, there’s been a lot of interesting challenges from running John O’Groats to Land’s End, cycling over the Alps, circulating the UK with 25 marathons in a month, challenges and community events in 6 continents – it was always about the empowerment factor, to get people finding the self-confidence to believe in themselves again, the diabetes connection and personal accomplishments to follow it.”

Gavin shares his story as a keynote speaker and adapts sessions to sports and exercise, emotional wellbeing and global awareness (through the League of DiAthletes programme) in diabetes, whilst also operating DiAthlete Workshops.

International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Europe Longstanding Achiever Award 2019; 2nd ever Honorary Member of the International Society of Paediatric & Adolescent Diabetes (ISPAD); Royal Commonwealth Society Associate Fellow; Honorary Citizen of Targu Mures, Romania; London Borough of Bexley Civic Award for Devoted Service 2014; Diabetes UK Bryan Walliker Fundraiser of the Year Award 2009. 

Gavin delivered a great presentation to a packed house at the Minneapolis JDRF headquarters. Talking about his amazing accomplishments is a quick way to inspire people. Gavin openly shares the struggles he faces along the way (yet in a positive way) which is something everyone can relate to, no matter where they are on their diabetes journey. It builds a great connection between Gavin and his audience and brings his presentations to the next level.

Scott Johnson • Scott's Diabetes


DiAthlete operates a range of events & workshops, and participates in active challenges. View more here.


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