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Don’t let type 1 diabetes stop you achieving your dreams

Kevin Nolan, the Kilmacud Crokes and former Dublin footballer, was devastated to receive a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. He tells us how he came to terms with his illness.

When were you diagnosed with type 1 diabetes? 

It was December 2011. I’d recently turned 23 and also been diagnosed with coeliac disease. Plus, I’d started a new job at a secondary school teaching PE and science. This alongside playing for the Dublin senior football team. So life was busy.

What were your symptoms?

I felt really tired. I lost two-and-a-half stone in weight and I was waking up six or seven times a night to urinate. It came to my mind that it was down to the pressure and stress of the new job and doing well with Dublin because we’d just won the All Ireland Championship. Because of that I didn’t go to my GP for about two-and-a-half weeks after symptoms started.

After diagnosis, were you worried it would affect your sporting career?

Yes, I always look to find the positive. When you’re trying to compete at the highest levels of sport and you’re a couple of percent off your best, then it can be a problem. On top of everything else, I had to start thinking about food before training and my blood sugar level during training. But if I knew then what I know now, I would have had a much better understanding of the condition and felt more in control of it.

It wasn’t diabetes that ended my inter-county career with Dublin. That happened because I sustained a couple of injuries and had an operation on my lower back. 

How do you manage your diabetes? 

I inject with insulin pens six or seven times a day, if not more. Also, because something out of my control is causing my blood sugar to rise, I’ve applied to get an insulin pump. I also use continuous glucose monitoring and have a sensor in the back of my arm that I change every two weeks and scan with my mobile phone to take a reading. Diabetes tech has advanced a lot since my diagnosis.

How important is exercise and diet?

Exercise helps reduce the amount of insulin you have to take; so, as a sportsman and PE teacher, living a role model lifestyle helps. As for my diet, being a coeliac restricts the foods I can eat anyway.

What would your advice be to anyone newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?

Take ownership of your illness and don’t let it hold you back. Being diabetic might restrict you a bit at first; but once you get it properly under control there’s no reason you can’t achieve the dreams you had before your diagnosis. I’m now engaged, relocating to County Monaghan and looking to transfer to Cremartin. So, it’s changing times for me — but exciting times, too.

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