Having scaled the heights of international sport whilst managing the debilitating effects of diabetes, one University of Worcester student is now leading a flourishing global support network that aims to help others do the same.
Chris Bright, 27, from Redditch, was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus as a child in 1999, but he has not let this prevent him from fulfilling his dream of achieving international honours. Now Chris has founded an organisation that aims to help support others who are seeking to pursue their passion for football whilst living with the condition – The Diabetes Football Community:
“As a child, I decided that I wasn’t going to let diabetes drive the car of my life, I was going to put it where it belonged, in the back seat,” Chris says. “I had very little support and advice about how to manage my diabetes around my football growing up, but I felt passionately about changing that,”
Having a steely will is one thing, but with a condition whose debilitating effects are severe enough for it to be classified as a disability in law, Chris also had to find a way:
“There aren’t many medical conditions whereby the condition you live with classifies you as disabled, but where you still have to compete with the able-bodied mainstream,” Chris says. “There’s no ‘diabetic football’ in the Paralympics.”
For many diabetics, constantly monitoring and balancing your carbohydrate intake and insulin levels is a difficult task and an inexact science, where even your best efforts can still result in an instance of hypoglycaemia (dangerously low blood sugar), or hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar). An imbalance in your blood sugar can lead to fatigue, searing headaches and impaired vision, so it is easy to see how type 1 diabetes can make competing in sport at the highest level difficult.
In addition, exercise can significantly increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, making any insulin you inject more powerful. The insulin sensitising effect of exercise can last for up to 48 hours after exercise and can make it difficult for a diabetic athlete to judge their insulin needs.
Through his drive and determination, Chris has been able to pursue his dream of fulfilling his own rich potential in football in spite of his condition:
“I’ve had trials for several league clubs, and despite not quite making it as a pro, I’ve played a lot at the semi-pro level for clubs like Pershore Town and Bromsgrove sporting,” Chris says. “In 2013 I took up playing futsal with Birmingham Tigers, and in 2016 I won my first international futsal cap for Wales, which was a very proud day.”
“Having achieved a lifetime dream by becoming an international, I felt it was time to tackle the issue that had always been there, and so I founded The Diabetes Football Community in February 2017,” he adds.
The Diabetes Football Community is a peer support network which has been developed across several social media platforms to offer advice and support to those looking to balance their passion for football with their need to manage a diabetic condition:
“We now receive contact from all over the world to our website, Twitter account and Facebook page,” Chris explains. “But the hard work is only just beginning as we’ve got big plans to develop content, resources & extra support for the community. Our main focus is to continue listening to our followers and ensure we develop tools which benefit the people who interact with us.”
Having originally graduated from his degree in Sports Studies in 2012, Chris returned to the University of Worcester earlier this year as he sought new ways to help develop his idea:
“The Diabetes Football Community is the reason I’m back at university studying for an Mres in Sport & Exercise Science after a 5 year break,” He explains. “I want to research the origins of this community and what makes it such a unique concept, at a university which values, promotes and drives inclusivity in sport. I believe there’s no better place to do that than at the University of Worcester.”
“Our drive, determination and mission is to improve inclusivity for people with Diabetes and we aim to do this by raising awareness of our project and the condition,” he says. “We want to normalise Diabetes in Football and firmly believe there should be no barriers to participation.”
“The old saying goes, we can’t change the cards we’re dealt, just how we play the hand. I’ve pushed myself to play the best hand I can in my own sporting career, and now I’d like to support others to play theirs,” he adds.
More information can be found at thediabetesfootballcommunity.com.