Henry Slade: I'm proof that having diabetes doesn’t stop you doing what you want to in life

Simon Collings
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From the outside looking in, it is hard to see the positives of being a rugby player and having type 1 diabetes.

It is a condition that affects 400,000 people in the UK, with England centre Henry Slade one of those living with it.

Type 1 diabetes drastically changes a person’s way of living. With the ­pancreas no longer producing insulin, an individual’s body sugar levels become volatile and they can sky rocket or plummet, depending on what you eat.

To control their levels, a person with the condition must make a note of the carbohydrate content in every snack or meal and inject the appropriate amount of insulin. Life essentially becomes a balancing act and a maths equation — but one that is made all the more difficult by other factors, such as adrenaline, also having an impact.

Given Slade spends his life pumping adrenaline around his body playing for England and Exeter, it doesn’t appear an ideal situation.

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“I think it makes you quite organised,” he tells Standard Sport. “On a match day, I actually don’t mind it because it does take your mind off things. Instead of being sat in a changing room worrying about the game, you have other things to worry about. Your mind is elsewhere, so you are able to relax a bit more.

“I think that little bit of switching off when you think about your sugars does help. It keeps me relaxed.”

It is testament to Slade, 26, that he is able to manage his diabetes so well, to the point where it is a positive.

Slade has become one of England’s key players after forming a formidable centre partnership with Manu Tuilagi — a relationship they will hope to rekindle against Ireland in the Six Nations on Sunday if both are fit.

Slade is returning from a fractured ankle, suffered against Leicester in December, while Tuilagi pulled up with a groin injury during England’s opener against France. Before he was excelling for England, Slade had been making his name at Exeter, but his journey was almost derailed before it had begun, when he was diagnosed with diabetes before he began his first pre-season in 2011.

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“I had no symptoms, nothing,” he says. “But my friend had just been diagnosed and he came into school with his blood-testing kit. We were mucking about, testing our bloods because it was a new thing none of us had seen before.

“My blood sugars were high, so I tested them again the next day and they were even higher. At first, I didn’t know what to expect. It sort of didn’t really hit me until I had to be taking jabs all the time.

“It took a bit to get used to, as it was around the start of the summer and a few weeks before I was due to go up to Exeter to start my first pre-season.

“That was a big change in itself, so to have that coupled with diabetes was a big challenge — but I had ­support from the club, so I was able to do it.”

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Exeter’s support for Slade has been key in helping him develop a routine to control his condition. He uses a Dexcom G6, a device which continuously monitors his blood sugar levels as opposed to him having to prick his finger with a testing lancet, and it is so advanced it can send data to the coaching staff if needed.

There are times when Slade’s blood sugar levels can be low and half-time involves having a few Jelly Babies to bring them up — a ­situation that has increased his popularity.

“The lads are always trying to nick them ,” he jokes. “But in all seriousness, anyone out there should know that having diabetes doesn’t stop you doing what you want to do in life. As long as you are on top of it, then you are just the same as the guy next to you.”