Disease is no excuse to quit on dreams: Diabetic cyclist

The athletes raced to inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes as they competed against the best cyclists in the world.

The world’s first all-diabetic professional cycling team inspired and educated children on the disease during the recently concluded UAE cycling tour.

The athletes raced to inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes as they competed against the best cyclists in the world.

On the tour, they met with diabetics, especially children with Type 1 diabetes, and shared their personal stories to show the world how a life with diabetes can be fulfilling.

Sam Brand, 28, who was diagnosed with the disease when he was just 10, told Khaleej Times : "Early on the tour, we met an 11-year-old boy named Erin. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 20 months. Erin was a fan of the race and I rode with his name on my bike for the whole tour, including my breakaway on the second stage.

"This was so special. To show him that he isn’t alone and that he can still chase his dreams while living with diabetes. At the beginning, he was shy, and afterwards, he had the biggest smile in his face.

"Being able to see this change is incredible and this is why I love doing what we do. After the final stage, at Dubai City Walk, we met more families with children living with diabetes, including Erin. I presented him with my race number."

The all-diabetic racing team had to work hard during the off-season, winter months to prepare for any race, said Brand.

"For the UAE Tour, in particular, with it being our first race of the season, it’s mainly about switching the focus from endurance to speed work. My diet changes daily but it is focused around training and that day’s work, as well as nutritional requirements."
Brand added that race preparations vary for every individual.

"Just as every rider in the peloton has his or her own ritual, for me, it has mainly been about preparing for the conditions and making sure that I’m relaxed," he said.

"I try to keep most race days the same as it helps keep everything in balance. In terms of diabetes, I make sure I’m well adjusted to the time changes."

Back in his first year of primary school, Brand experienced the usual diabetes symptoms and was diagnosed with Type 1 at 10.

Brand’s friends, family and medical team were very supportive of him returning to football, basketball and all the other activities that he loved doing. He said his diagnosis didn’t have any negative impact on his childhood, and it was all because his family and surrounding community handled the adjustment well.

Throughout high school, the Isle of Man native competed in a variety of sports. His father was a triathlete who represented Great Britain, so the younger Brand soon started competing in local triathlons.

It wasn’t until his first year at university that he took the sport seriously. He quickly excelled and, within a year, found himself representing Great Britain at the 2013 ITU World Championships. "Diabetes doesn’t define me, but what I do with it does," he added.

A day before the race, preparation is key, said Brand.

"I make sure I have everything I need sorted in advance so that nothing comes as a shock. The morning of the race can be stressful, so limiting the stress is the ideal scenario."

"Making sure that I’m in range with my Dexcom (continuous glucose monitor) is helpful, too. We often reach out to the local diabetes communities in the countries we are racing, and many have an event lined up for us to meet families at the start. For me, that part is really special," he added.

Team Novo Nordisk’s men’s professional team consists of 16 athletes from 11 countries living successfully with diabetes. The countries they represent include Argentina, Australia, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, UK (Isle of Man) and Uzbekistan.

asmaalizain@khaleejtimes.com Asma Ali Zain

Associated with KT for 15 years. Covers health issues, Pakistan community, human interest stories as well as general topics for daily news or features.

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