I don’t really remember my life before diabetes but when I started rowing at the age of 11, it became clear that maintaining blood sugars in order to spend full days racing as well as training sessions was not that easy, particularly on 4 injections a day. At the age of 16, I was lucky enough to get funding for an insulin pump (only the second paediatric in a small hospital trust!) in order to try to manage my HbA1c whilst keeping active. This was as much a steep learning curve for my Consultant and Specialist Nurse as it was for me!
So, when Steve Redgrave won his 5th Olympic gold medal only 3 years after being diagnosed, he became my hero. I had been contemplating stopping rowing so that I could concentrate on my exams and still have time to socialise with friends but I was bored, I needed a reason to eat healthily and monitor my blood sugar levels in order to train with my team and compete in regional and national races. If I didn’t have a race to aim towards, I lost interest in eating well and so my diabetes control went downhill, coupled with exam stress and typical teenage rebellion, not the best combination. When I went to university I was thrilled to learn they had a rowing team with a 6-12km stretch of water for training and therefore set about getting my control back on the straight and narrow so that I could get a place in the crew and get back to racing.
5 years later I was 2 years qualified as a Physiotherapist and had been a member of the local rowing club when I decided to join the committee as Vice Captain and women’s Captain. However, pursuing my career further to start a new job in a children’s hospital in another city meant that I had to leave behind this role and, little did I know at the time, but also rowing. My new city meant that the nearest rowing club was too far to train at and therefore I needed a new goal.
From Rowing to Running
I had always been a bit of a jogger, as part of general fitness and rowing training but I had never ran more than a 10k and never thought I could, because of my diabetes. I had managed to control my blood sugars pretty well when I was in a boat, by using a temporary basal on my pump I could row for 1-2 hours but when it came to trying to run further, I could never run for longer than an hour without going hypo. Everybody always asked me how I managed to row so much with diabetes but the truth was, I had never known any different.
When I first went on an Animas Sports day in 2011, I heard stories of many people who had run marathons but wanted to get some tips on how they should be managing their diabetes rather than just experimenting for themselves. This Animas event was only a day event so there wasn’t much opportunity to chat to others about their experiences, but simply hear from the professionals such as Dr Ian Gallen, which is what we were all there for, wasn’t it? When Animas announced they were making the event bigger and better to make it a weekend, I jumped at the opportunity to meet and spend more time with other like minded people who were interested in sport and improving their control. So, in 2012 I went back, and I got chatting to a lot more people who had run marathons as well as other sports and hobbies, but still I thought “I’ll never be able to do that”. It wasn’t until 2014, when I was in the life changing situation that I’ve explained above and I went back on another Animas Sports Weekend, that I met Craig and Canadian International triathlete Terrence Teixeira.
I was fortunate (or unfortunate!) enough to be sat next to Craig over dinner and during Terry’s motivational talk. I learnt of his experience running a marathon less than a year after diagnosis. I knew then I had found my goal and my new hero in Craig. Yes, it sounds cheesy but to me, Craig was more of a normal guy, he wasn’t a professional, Olympian with the best medical crew behind him, he was a married family guy with a normal job and normal ambitions to keep fit, and I thought “if he can do it, then why can’t I?” And so, I went home that evening, and at 1am I entered the Edinburgh Marathon. No, I wasn’t drunk, I’d just had a 2 hour drive to get home after the dinner to think about the reality of what I was going to do, and I decided to stop making excuses for why I couldn’t run a marathon. If I could row a 25 mile coastal race for charity then why couldn’t I run 25 miles (and then a bit more)?
After all, I’d always wanted to run a marathon at some point in my life, it wasn’t a totally crazy idea, so why not now, I had all the time in the world now that I wasn’t spending 4 hours on Saturdays and 4 hours on Sundays rowing and 6 hours training during the week. Much to my family’s delight (not!) and my diabetes care team’s horror, I embarked on training for a half marathon in October 2014, and in May 2015 I completed the Edinburgh Marathon in 4 hours 29mins, 1 minute under my target time! I was thrilled to bits and have Craig to thank for inspiring me and causing my mother, father and boyfriend nothing but grief for the last 12 months!
Another marathon in my lifetime maybe (I’ll never say never!) but an Iron Man…no way! Craig, I’ll leave that up to you!
P.S. Congratulations on the twins Craig!!!
Note from Craig:
Thanks Joanne for such an amazing and inspiring guest blog, I’ve only just stopped blushing from your kind words (and backhanded compliment!). I’m sure that others reading this will take inspiration from it and go on to smash their goals and ambitions, you’re the real hero, keep smashing it, I know you will!