Rugby fly-half Henry Slade signed his first professional contract with Exeter Chiefs at the age of 18, the same year in which he also developed type 1 diabetes.
Now aged 22, Slade has adapted to life with diabetes, but admitted there was a moment he thought his career may have come to a premature end.
Slade says: “All I could think was: ‘I want to be a rugby player’ and I was questioning: ‘Can I do that?’”
Fortunately for Slade, he was told his rugby career would not be jeopardised, providing he was able to control his diabetes.
Trial and error
Having only had diabetes for three years, the process of educating himself on what management routines worked for training and matches was a rapid one for Slade.
“I was often higher because of adrenaline. If my blood sugar was 7 or 8 mmol/L before I went out for a training sessio, I’d have a couple of jelly babies which would last me up to an hour and a half. Although, if I was to do that before a match I’d come in with a higher blood sugar.
“So I had to adapt little things like having an insulin jab before a match or at half-time to compensate for the adrenaline. Chris Pennell, from Worcester Warriors, who also has type 1, spoke to me and said he injects before a match, so I’ve only recently started doing that.
“During the first couple of years, I wasn’t really thinking I could do that. It’s different going from training to matches and that’s probably the thing that I had to trial and error with the most.”
Living with diabetes
Slade has not let his diabetes hinder any of his ambitions. He was called into the England squad for the 2015 Six Nations and won the Aviva Premiership player of month for February 2015.
When asked if diabetes has changed him, Slade answered: “I wouldn’t say it’s changed my life. 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 and changing things like when you go out – you need something you can eat if you have a hypo.
“It shouldn’t limit you any way physically, though. It’s not going to affect how fast you can run or how strong you are. It’s just a matter of controlling it and if you can do that then there’s nothing you can’t do.”
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.
“You don’t realise, though, that most people don’t have a clue and know nothing about diabetes. That can get a little frustrating, but then I sit back and think actually, that’s probably not their fault.”
- Read the full interview with Henry Slade