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Personal Health Q3 2021

How technology helps a rowing champion stay fit

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Aoife Williams

Athlete living with diabetes
FreeStyle Libre Ambassador

Flash glucose monitoring is helping rowing champion Aoife to maintain her fitness while living with type 1 diabetes.

At 20 years old, Irish rowing champion Aoife Willis was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

“At first I rebelled,” says Aoife. “I thought, ‘This is not going to stop me rowing’.” She returned to training that night and within a year she had won at the Irish National Rowing Championships.

Now, she says: “I looked as though I managed my diabetes well. I had learnt lots about the condition, but I didn’t realise that I lacked detailed knowledge of how it affected me. You can’t fight it. You have to work with it and it’s a steep learning curve.”

When she restarted running in January 2020, she found she could not manage her glucose levels properly. “I was using a finger-prick system of monitoring, but it wasn’t working well for me. I’d wake up in the night because I didn’t know how to keep my levels up,” says Aoife, from Limerick City.

You can’t fight it. You have to work with it and it’s a steep learning curve.

Technology as a teacher

A friend told her about a technology that continually increases her understanding of her diabetes.

“My Flash glucose monitoring system consists of a sensor attached to the back of my upper arm, coupled with a phone app. I can scan the sensor with my phone – even through clothes – to pick up my readings and get an eight-hour insight into my glucose movements,” says Aoife.

“A short walk used to mean taking my glucose monitor, insulin, glucose tablets, insulin pen and needles. Now a swipe with my phone shows what my glucose will do in that time, so I just carry my phone and glucose tablets.”

Better monitoring means she is now running half-marathons. “I can keep up with the children I coach at the rowing club, so it’s made a big difference to me – and them,” she says.

Better control

“It’s made an invisible condition visible. People ask about the system and it shows diabetes is not all blood, needles and fasting.” She advises others living with type 1 diabetes: “You have to learn how it affects you, and this technology helps.”

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