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Worcester Warriors full-back Chris Pennell leads a slightly different life to many of his fellow Premiership professionals, combining rugby with type 1 diabetes.
Pennell has been a club stalwart since making his debut against Bath Rugby in 2007, a year after an abnormality in a routine blood test led to his being diagnosed as diabetic.
Now, over a decade and almost 200 club appearances later, Pennell is on a mission to give others suffering with type 1 diabetes a route into the sport.
Pennell has set up a diabetes rugby academy at Worcester, giving young type 1 diabetics the chance to play sport in a safe and fun environment, an initiative he wants to see at other Premiership clubs
“We’ve been running since November 2017 and it’s growing, moving from strength to strength, so we’re excited about what the future holds for the academy and we’ve got big plans to spread it around the different rugby clubs because the need is out there," said Pennell.
“And the message that it sends for young type 1 diabetics is that it doesn’t have to stop them engaging in sport and having fun.
“It’s great to see how much the kids are growing and changing and becoming more confident, but also the little diabetic community we’re creating for the parents as well because the mental support is so big when it comes to things like diabetes.”
Pennell has a personal understanding in how diabetes can affect the body and what those young people are going through.
He uses this experience in weekly sessions to show others how an active lifestyle and managing diabetes really can go hand in hand.
He added: “More often than not people are encouraged to stay away from the unknowns and exercise can be seen as an unknown, but the flipside of that is the healthier you are, the more active a lifestyle you lead, the easier it is to manage your diabetes.
“If you’re fit and healthy you need less insulin to process food and the less insulin you have in your system, the easier it is to manage diabetes and the more stable your blood glucose.”
The sessions run with the invaluable support of community coaches Chris Stephenson and Simon Northcott, and Pennell often enlists a couple of senior players to help out.
“The players have been fantastic in giving up their Tuesday afternoon after what has been a pretty tough session to run around with me and the diabetic kids for an hour,” he added.
“The support from the club, particularly the community foundation but also the boys, has been incredible and makes it such an exciting thing for the kids.
“It would be fantastic to start building that diabetic rugby community around the country.”
Supporting the community
Pennell was named as Worcester’s player of the month for February, as the Warriors enjoyed a narrow 6-5 win over defending champions Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park and backed that up with a 25-15 home win over Gloucester Rugby.
But aside from chasing success with his club, Pennell is determined to support the community in any way that he can.
“As I’ve moved through my career I’ve realised how fortunate we are to be in the position we’re in as professional rugby players and if there is any way you can give back to your local community, I think it’s so important to do so,” he said.
“We are such a positive focus for the community – if people get behind a sports team in a town or city, it can really bring people together and drive culture in those places.
“If we as players have the opportunity to give something back I think it’s very worthwhile.”