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Good days and bad days – learning to manage type 1 diabetes as a professional footballer

Niall Canavan is an English professional footballer who plays as a defender for Bradford City in the English Football League. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 27.

Niall Canavan, a professional footballer with type 1 diabetes

Finding out I had type 1 diabetes at the age of 27 was a huge shock for both me and my family. In a way though my diagnosis actually came as a relief as it provided an explanation for the physical struggles I had suddenly been experiencing in my professional life. Looking back, I had been showing all the typical type 1 symptoms for many months, but I just wasn’t aware of what they were at the time. Gaining this understanding of what was happening to my body allowed me to take back control of my health.

Professional sport can be unforgiving, and I initially feared having a condition that I couldn’t control may be seen as a weakness. I challenged myself to get back to performing at my best and prove that it wasn’t. 18 months after my diagnosis, I gained a promotion to League One with Plymouth Argyle and I am now more in control of my physical health than ever before.

Regular testing and keeping track of any irregularities throughout the first year helped build my confidence and understanding of the way my body reacted to different situations. A match-day atmosphere or the elation of a last-minute winner could swing my sugars one way or the other. I learned how to adjust my insulin dosage to proactively combat this. Now two years on, I am still learning how different factors can impact my sugars and how to adapt accordingly. I always take extra ‘goodies’ on away trips and ask our goalkeeper to keep an energy gel behind the goal to make sure I am prepared for anything unexpected.

Modern technologies have definitely played a big part in helping me on my journey so far. I have used the Dexcom G6 and I am currently using the Freestyle Libre. These are both compatible with my smartphone and make monitoring sugars on-the-go stress free. I believe they are a key tool for someone with diabetes to have and would encourage anyone to give them a go.

You have good days and bad days with diabetes; the good are easy to take in your stride and the bad not so much. On days when things aren’t running as smoothly as I’d like I just remind myself that it’s ok not to be perfect and that every day is a learning day. Diabetes should never hold you back from anything, you can take it wherever you want to go.

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