So Andrew, you’re sporty in an extreme sports kind of way?
Yes, I enjoy outdoor endurance events. I prefer sports that get me out in the bush, but I have completed an Ironman Triathlon, which is a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42.2km run. I’ve also competed in a lot of multi-sports events like the Upper Murray Challenge. Once, on a non-stop 13-leg adventure race in the Flinders Ranges, my team did treks, mountain bike rides and a paddle over nearly seven days on just 15 hours of sleep. But the sport I’m really keen on is rogaining. This is where you head out into the bush in teams of two to five with a compass and a map with checkpoints all over it. I’m president of the Victorian Rogaining Association and I won the state Championships in 2012, 2013 and 2016.
How do you manage your type 1 during these events?
With this level of exercise you get to the point where you don’t want to eat anything, but I try to eat something small every hour or so. I pack different foods so I have lots of choice: fruit buns, Anzac biscuits, cheese and Vegemite sandwiches, mini chocolate bars and energy gels. There’s fruit and water at most of the checkpoints so a banana or apple is also really good. Because I’m constantly eating small amounts rather than big carb-heavy meals, I usually don’t need any insulin during the event. I reduce the amount of insulin I normally take in the morning, given the amount I’ll be exercising, but not too much as this is the only insulin I plan to be taking on board.
How often do you test your blood glucose levels?
I keep my blood test machine and insulin in the top of my backpack and check how I’m going every two or three hours. When I’m low, it affects my concentration and my vision goes funny. It’s a bit of a giveaway when I start staring at the map and taking a few seconds to get my head around it. If I get a bit high I just have an adjustment injection of insulin. I try not to let it slow me down too much.
Have you always managed good control during your sporting efforts?
No, but I’ve learned from my mistakes. I had terrible diabetes control during my first Upper Murray Challenge, which involves a 38km mountain bike ride, 26km river paddle and 25km run over a mountain summit. I was stuffing around with my bike before the event and ran out of time to do a blood test before I started. I did a test in the middle of the race. The reading was 24.5 and I still had five hours of hard exercise to go. To cut a long story short, I cramped badly but managed to finish the race. I ate as much as I could after finishing but later that evening I found myself stumbling around a motel room with a blood sugar reading of 2.0. Not good. A year later I did the same event with a much better idea of how to control my diabetes. I gave myself a correction injection before the start, kept my levels from fluctuating wildly and was more careful to keep eating after the event. Diabetes management on race day requires a lot of thought.
When were you diagnosed with type 1?
When I was nine, my mum noticed that I was going to the toilet a lot. I was always thirsty and had a yucky taste in my mouth. Mum had read something about diabetes so she took me to the doctor. My blood glucose level was 17. I went straight onto twice-daily insulin injections. I just accepted it. I don’t remember it being very difficult to manage, but luckily I never had to do injections at school. The worst hypos I had as a kid were overnight. I’d wake up wondering what was going on. Mum and Dad would be trying to get me to suck on a spoon of honey. Apparently I’d been thrashing around. I don’t remember it having any major impact though. I’d still run out and play cricket and football with friends after school. It didn’t take me long to work out I needed to eat something first.
Have you met other people with diabetes who are into extreme sports?
About five years ago I joined the HypoActive support group, which has been great. I tend to have a suck-it-and-see approach to my diabetes, so if something doesn’t work I try something else until I come up with a system that works for me. The group made me aware of how much blood sugar can affect performance. It’s interesting hearing stories from people who know exactly where they need their blood sugar levels to be for optimal performance. My attitude was that if I didn’t have a hypo I’d done pretty well!
Words by Heather Wiseman. Photographs by Eamon Gallagher.