England and Exeter Chiefs centre Henry Slade talks about balancing diabetes with being a professional sportsman.
"Diabetes is not something that will make you run slower or lift less weight. It won’t affect you physically; it shouldn’t stop you doing anything."
I had no symptoms at all.
Me and my best mate at school were both ill one day. We randomly had the flu, were really ill, could hardly move and had the next day off school. I didn’t really think much of it.
Over the weekend Ollie told me he’d been in hospital as he didn’t feel right. He was really thirsty, had lost a lot of weight, around three stone, so had tests on him and it emerged he had diabetes.
A week or so later Ollie came back into school, at this point I was better and thought I had nothing wrong with me. I felt fine. He had his blood-testing kit so we all had a go. That’s when I first saw that my blood sugar levels were high. We tried it again the next day and it was even higher, so I phoned up my old man and we went to the doctor’s surgery. They ran some tests and told me I had diabetes. It wasn’t nice to hear. I had no symptoms, it’s lucky I checked.
'It's all about balance'
I have type one diabetes, I can’t control the blood sugar levels in my body. My pancreas doesn’t produce insulin so if I eat something then I have to inject insulin into myself, it’s all about balance. If it gets too low I’ll have some food, if it gets too high I’ll have a jab.
It took a bit of getting used to, especially as my rugby career progressed. I had a couple of little lows and had to get used to how my body would change in training and games. Both are different. In training my blood sugars would drop so before the session I’d have a couple of sweets just to make sure I’m at the right level. Games were harder to control.
In my early games I would test myself at half time and see my blood sugars were through the roof, really high. We did some trial and error testing during several matches just to get it right and found out that the adrenaline would make my levels spike so it's all about keeping it in that middle range.
Jelly babies and discipline
It’s never affected my game, it’s just an extra thing to think about at half-time which would take 30-60 seconds to sort out. Sometimes it can be mentally off putting, I have come in from a warm up and my blood sugars have been dropping low so I’ve had to have a sweet or two to boost me up. I get a little bit nervous as to whether I can get my levels back up but I’ve never had problems.
It shouldn’t stop you achieving anything you want to in life https://t.co/i1vtdOxNg6— Henry Slade (@Sladey_10) November 2, 2018
Exeter have always been supportive, I always have a pot of jelly babies near me on a match day which is nice…Thomas Waldrom always used to lurk by my spot trying to get his hands in my jar. It's nice to have a couple of sweets now and then, even if I don't need them.
If I had to give advice to an aspiring youngster who also had it I would say: ‘diabetes is not something that will make you run slower, lift less weight. It won’t affect you physically if you keep on top of it. Test yourself all the time; it shouldn’t stop you doing anything. Be self-disciplined, rigorous and test yourself all the time’.
Chip and win
Recently I’ve had a chip inserted in my arm which constantly tests my blood and I have an app on phone which receives updates on my levels. If I don’t get a notification then I know I’m fine. If I’m going to go high in the next few minutes or low in the next 30 minutes it’ll give me a little warning. If not, it just leaves me be.
I got diagnosed seven or eight years ago and it’s almost like being normal. Almost.