Mak­ing di­a­betes man­age­able: the story of a di­a­betic ath­lete

The Malta In­de­pen­dent spoke with for­mer Sliema cap­tain JOHN SOLER to learn more about the is­sue. Soler, who de­cided to re­tire from the game af­ter 20 years play­ing first team wa­ter polo last Septem­ber is also a di­a­betes suf­ferer. Soler has won ev­ery hon­our

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

Di­a­betes is a grow­ing bur­den, with the roughly 415 mil­lion peo­ple cur­rently liv­ing with the con­di­tion, ex­pected to in­crease to 642 mil­lion by 2040.

This is why World Di­a­betes Day 2016 is putting all its ef­forts into pro­mot­ing the im­por­tance of screen­ing to en­sure early di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of di­a­betes to re­duce the risk of se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions later in life.

With one in two adults with di­a­betes cur­rently un­di­ag­nosed, World Di­a­betes Day seeks to cre­ate aware­ness as the best means to com­bat the ill­ness.

In­creas­ing lev­els of poor nutrition and phys­i­cal in­ac­tiv­ity among chil­dren has con­trib­uted to mak­ing di­a­betes a global pub­lic health is­sue.

What is alarm­ing is that the num­ber of peo­ple with di­a­betes in low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries will con­tinue to grow, pos­ing a threat to sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. For ex­am­ple, by 2040, the num­ber of peo­ple with di­a­betes in Africa is ex­pected to dou­ble.

The con­di­tion also has an ef­fect on both or health and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions with 12% of to­tal global ex­pen­di­ture on health are cur­rently spent on di­a­betes suf­fer­ers.

Di­a­betes is a com­mon chronic con­di­tion in the Mal­tese pop­u­la­tion, with Min­is­ter for Health Chris Fearne an­nounc­ing a na­tional ac­tion plan com­bat­ing the grow­ing the num­ber of suf­fer­ers in Malta.

Around 10 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion above 18 years es­ti­mated to be liv­ing with this con­di­tion, a pro­por­tion of whom are un­di­ag­nosed.

How old where you did you first dis­cov­ered that you were di­a­betic?

I was 21 when I found out I had type 1 di­a­betes

How did it feel at the time?

Ob­vi­ously, at first it was quite a shock, I had just be­gun play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally in Italy and I didn’t ex­pect it to hap­pen to me. I think sport helped a lot since it al­lowed me to move on from it quite quickly.

As a di­a­betic ath­lete, there’s noth­ing you can do but just try to test and bal­ance your sugar in­take, and if you re­ally need it, in­sulin.

What did you do?

I got in touch with Sir Steve Red-

grave, an English two-time Olympic Cham­pion, through a web­site, and they were re­ally help­ful and were able to let me know about pro­grammes you could fol­low with in­ten­sive train­ing. In fact, within weeks I was back to train­ing pro­fes­sion­ally.

I just thought that it was cer­tainly a man­age­able con­di­tion, as long as you are able to ac­cept it, em­brace it and find information on how to take care of the con­di­tion. It be­comes a prob­lem once you start re­ject­ing the fact that you have di­a­betes and fail to take care of it prop­erly.

If you’re not able to move past it, it will im­prison you, be­cause ul­ti­mately there are fac­tors of the con­di­tion that limit you which can be over­come, but if you ig­nore them it could se­ri­ously ham­per the way you live your life.

How did you first re­al­ize that some­thing was wrong?

Well, there was weight loss, which is a symp­tom of di­a­betes but truth be told I had ini­tially thought that this was a re­sult of me play­ing a pro­fes­sional sport at quite a high and in­tense level. There weren’t any se­ri­ous phys­i­cal signs in terms of fitness and strength.

Be­ing an ath­lete is a chal­lenge for ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially with some­one who suf­fers from di­a­betes. Could you tell us what’s most chal­leng­ing part for you?

What was great about be­ing an ath­lete, was once I found out about the con­di­tion I had an im­me­di­ate goal to get back up on my feet and get mov­ing again. I was half­way through a sea­son, and to be hon­est the idea of stop­ping a sport which I love gave me the drive to take care of my­self, sort my­self out as quickly as pos­si­ble and be­gin to move on.

Do you feel like the dis­ci­pline re­quired for man­ag­ing di­a­betes has helped you in your ath­letic achieve­ments?

It def­i­nitely helped! Liv­ing with the con­di­tion trains you to be­come ex­tremely dis­ci­plined. As doc­tors used to tell me, as a di­a­betic ath­lete you have to treat your body like a sports car, you ei­ther give it the right fuel or it will break down on you.

How do you man­age di­a­betes while you’re out there play­ing?

Well, for me, af­ter trial and er­ror, I even­tu­ally found the best glu­cose drink for me, and I buy boxes of them and con­sume them be­fore ev­ery work­out to this day.

Do you think that the med­i­cal com­mu­nity can do more?

Most doc­tors I’ve spo­ken to over the years are ac­tu­ally re­ally keen for peo­ple with di­a­betes to take up a sport. Ob­vi­ously, it is so im­por­tant that it is man­aged cor­rectly when you do ex­ces­sive sport, since if you don’t man­age your con­di­tion prop­erly, you would even­tu­ally pass out be­cause of your sugar lev­els drop without re­plac­ing them.

What is your mes­sage to peo­ple newly di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes?

I think it is so im­por­tant that peo­ple don’t feel ashamed, don’t feel alone, be­cause there are hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple with the con­di­tion. What re­ally helped me was read­ing on the sub­ject and mak­ing sure I was in­formed about what my body can and can­not do. Ul­ti­mately, I think peo­ple need to know that while it may re­strict you, you are still able to do ev­ery­thing you could nor­mally do.

Do you think peo­ple in Malta could do more to spread aware­ness on the is­sue?

In Malta, un­for­tu­nately, peo­ple are still ig­no­rant when it comes to the con­di­tion since some peo­ple still view di­a­betes as some­thing be­ing wrong with you. In the past es­pe­cially, peo­ple used to act like get­ting di­a­betes was as though you had con­tracted the worst dis­ease pos­si­ble, when in fact it’s pretty man­age­able, it isn’t easy but it def­i­nitely man­age­able, es­pe­cially with proper at­ten­tion and reg­u­lar an­nual check ups you can live a very long and healthy life.

John Soler

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