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Celebrating 30 years of living with Type 1 diabetes

When you follow your dreams, you learn new ways to manage your diabetes, says Ann.

August 1987, I lay in bed desperately thirsty wondering how long it would be before I needed to get up and go to the toilet again. I'd lost about 10kg in weight in a week. I was lucky, I was seen by a doctor, referred to hospital and hooked up to an insulin drip before things got too serious. I had Type 1 diabetes.

I developed a "so what" attitude towards it, although there are times when I get frustrated. Sometimes it's when a relentless stream of meetings at work gets in the way of me testing frequently enough, and really being able to take care of myself. Sometimes it's when whatever I do I just can't get things under control. But mostly I just crack on and live with it.

Ann taught herself to swim and has recently swum 3.8K in the Cologne 226

Roll forward 30 years to August 2017, and as I completed the last few training sessions ahead of starting the Cologne 226, it dawned on me that this would be the perfect way for me to celebrate overcoming the challenges that living with Type 1 can present. The Cologne 226 ... an "iron" distance triathlon - 3.8k swim, 180k bike and 42.2k run (marathon). Completing this distance had been a distant dream back in 2011 when, having completed a half marathon, I declared that it was just too hard to manage my diabetes through anything longer.

But dream I did, and so I taught myself to swim, with a lot of help from my friends. I did my first triathlon in 2012. Then I was lucky enough to attend a diabetes and sport weekend where I met some incredibly inspiring people achieving fantastic things in sport.

Step by step the dream grew stronger and more real ... until 3 September 2017 when I got into the water ready to swim to the other end of the rowing lake at Fuhlinger See and back. For around 1.5 hours I would have no way of monitoring my diabetes, and be off my insulin pump, when I got out of the water and onto the bike I would then be able to start managing that.

The race was the culmination of a journey that started a long time ago, and which intensified throughout 2017 as I trained for over 10 hours most weeks (a rest week was 6-8 hours) peaking at almost 18 hours in late July.

That journey saw many highs and lows, but my success in completing the race within the 16 hour cut off (15:16:09) was in no small measure all about what I had learnt along the way. How much insulin when I get on the bike? Where to put my pump so I could bolus insulin on the go? Where to put my scanner so I could blood test on the go? How much food I needed and when?

What I learnt is simple – whatever obstacles life throws at you it is more than possible to overcome them if you are prepared to start the journey that will help you reach your dream. The journey is unlikely to take the course you expect, but you can guarantee it will teach you a huge amount along the way.

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