Twenty-six-year-old International rugby player, Henry Slade, developed Type 1 diabetes at the age of 18 – but doesn’t let it affect his performance on the pitch.
Slade has now adapted to life with diabetes. However, there was a moment he thought his career may have to come to a premature end because of his diagnosis. He says: “All I could think was: ‘I want to be a rugby player’ and I was questioning: ‘Can I do that?’”
Fortunately, Slade was told his rugby career would not be jeopardised, providing he was able to control his diabetes – which proved to be a steep learning curve.
It’s frustrating having diabetes, but it doesn’t stop you doing anything.
Learning how to manage his diabetes
Slade had to quickly grasp the complexities of his blood sugar levels and how playing rugby would affect the medication that he needed. “It’s different going from training to matches and that’s probably the thing that I had to trial and error with the most.”
He sought advice from professionals as well as a peer in a similar situation: “Chris Pennell, from Worcester Warriors, also has Type 1. He spoke to me and said he injects before a match, so I’ve recently started doing that.”
It can really be a balancing act, and understanding how other factors, such as adrenalin, may affect the body’s blood sugar levels, is very important. This is particularly prevalent for a sportsman whose adrenalin levels are likely to be heightened before a match.
“My blood sugar was often higher because of adrenaline. If my blood sugar was 7 or 8 mmol/L before I went out for a training session, I’d have to up it with a couple of jelly babies, which would last me up to an hour and a half. But, if I was to do that before a match, I’d come in with a higher blood sugar.”
Type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to change your life
Slade has not let his diabetes hinder his ambitions and was selected for the England squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Tokyo.
So, has being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes has changed him? It has changed my life, but I’m still able to do everything I want to. The way I look at it is you can’t change what’s happened to you. I’ve got diabetes and it’s something I just have to live with.
“It’s frustrating having diabetes, but it doesn’t stop you doing anything. You can do whatever you want, it’s just about having control.
“It shouldn’t limit you any way physically. It’s not going to affect how fast you can run or how strong you are. It’s just a matter of controlling it. If you can do that, then there’s nothing you can’t do.”
People just don’t know enough about diabetes
People with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes may attest that awareness of the disease can be generally poor, which Slade himself has also found out.
“When people ask about how you developed diabetes, they often think you’ve eaten too many sweets. Then there are people that think now I can’t eat any sugar at all.”