New Zealander Sophie Devine shows it’s possible to be an elite athlete despite a type 1 diagnosis
From a young age, Sophie Devine was talented enough to make it onto representative teams for both hockey and cricket, fuelling her love of sports. “The two sports are extremely different, but that is what I love about them,” she explains. “Hockey is so fastpaced, but cricket has the unique challenge of being almost an individual sport played as a team.” Through this motivation, Sophie was able to quickly pull through her teenage diagnosis of type 1 diabetes and make a sporting life her career.
In 2005, the then-15-yearold Sophie had all the classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes – losing weight, drinking lots, fatigue and constantly needing to go to the bathroom. “I kept pestering Mum to take me to the doctor but she thought it was just a bladder infection and that it would pass,” she explains. “The tipping point was when I walked into class and couldn’t see the whiteboard. So I went to the local GP and, within an hour, I was on my way to the hospital.”
Sophie, now 30, was lucky enough to have a great healthcare team from the get-go, and was only in hospital overnight.
Diabetes and sports
“[Before my diagnosis] I had very little awareness of what diabetes was, other than an uncle who has type 1,” she explains. “I thought I’d never be able to play sports again, and eating treats was definitely out of the question!”
After her diagnosis, Sophie and her mum sat in the car crying. “After about 10 minutes we made a pact that we were going to get on with it and that there’s no point complaining about it. We just made the best of the situation,” she says. After just a three-day hiatus from playing sports, Sophie decided diabetes was not stopping her from playing hockey or cricket. “I actually had an age group hockey tournament a couple of weeks after I was diagnosed, so it gave me something to look forward to and push to be a part of,” she says.
Following her diagnosis, Sophie focused on hockey – playing 36 internationals – as a member of New Zealand’s women’s team, the Black Sticks, with the ultimate goal of making the London 2012 Olympics. “I unfortunately missed out on the final 16, but loved the experience of playing and training at the highest level with hockey,” she says. Sophie was then offered one of four contracts from New Zealand Cricket to train and work in the cricket environment, which was too good to turn down.
Today, she continues to compete on the New Zealand women’s national cricket team, the White Ferns – who she has played for since the age of 17 – and hopes to play in the upcoming Women’s T20 World Cup. Sophie also plays for Western Australia’s Western Fury in the Women’s National Cricket League, South Australia’s Adelaide Strikers in the Women’s Big Bash League, and Wellington Blaze in New Zealand’s domestic competition. “Sport is a massive part of not only my life but my family’s too, so they always encouraged me to continue playing,” she explains, “and to also let team coaches or managers know about my diabetes and how they can keep an eye out for me.”
Sophie has been fortunate to have supportive teammates willing to learn about her diabetes beside her, and they all know where her stash of jelly beans is in case of an emergency.
Injecting insulin 4-5 times a day after meals, Sophie is particularly watchful of her blood glucose levels after exercising, carrying her diabetes kit with her at all times. “I’ve learnt the hard way that I need to listen to my body and not try and rush back into things, as I can keep having hypos!” she explains. “I simply need to stop for 5-10 minutes, have some jellybeans, maybe a sandwich, then I’m good to go.”
As Sophie prepares for her next game, she takes pride in continuing to challenge the stereotype of the inability to play sport with diabetes.
Sophie playing for the White Ferns.
LEFT: Sophie with a cricket fan. ABOVE: Playing on the Wellington women’s NHL hockey team.