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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Raising prediabetes risk awareness: Michelle's story

Michelle stands on a beach, smiling

Michelle Griffith-Robinson OLY

When I was diagnosed with prediabetes in 2018, it came as a massive shock to me. 

Michelle has always been athletic, so when she was diagnosed with prediabetes it came as quite a shock. Now she wants to make sure others understand why the stereotypes around type 2 are unhelpful, and untrue. 

Journey with diabetes

Growing up around diabetes

My mum, Cicely, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when she was 58. It wasn’t a shock at the time. My grandmother had died of renal failure relating to complications of type 2 diabetes in the 70s in Jamaica, and my mum’s sisters and some of my cousins have it.

Mum has always been active, but I would say lifestyle and genetics would have played their part. I wasn’t surprised because of her diet, our family history, and everything else. If I’m being really honest, I didn’t understand the implications.

My brother’s best friend has type 1 diabetes. I’d grown up with that, so that was the only type of diabetes I knew about.

I’ve noticed that if people have type 2 diabetes, in the black community, we don’t really speak about it that much.

When I was diagnosed with prediabetes in 2018, it came as a massive shock to me. 

Activity

Getting into sport

When I was 12 years old, my mum had a keep fit class at our local sports ground and I went along with her. I was bored, so I joined in with some people at running track. That was the start of my long love affair with track and field.

I was very fast, always the best at school, always would beat the boys, and I recognised then that I had a big ability and a big talent. When my school recognised I had an ability, I was encouraged a lot, particularly by two of my PE teachers.

I loved it. I loved the training vibe, the fact that there were different communities, diversities. It didn’t matter what your background was. All that was important was being at the track with people around you with a similar mindset, which was to do sport.

My greatest achievement was walking out, wearing my team GB tracksuit, into the 1996 Olympic Games. I also represented Great Britain in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

I was the first woman to jump over 14m in the Commonwealth. That was a big achievement. Breaking milestones made me want to encourage and inspire others that they could also do great things.

When you compete at that level, it takes over everything. But I am such a big advocate of sport because of the benefits. They are huge. Sport has equipped me with so many life skills. You learn emotional intelligence, you know when you have to work hard. I use sport as a vehicle, to allow me to branch out to different things. It’s afforded me so much.

I don’t care if my three children don’t do sport to a competitive level. But what I would like to see is that everyone is able to participate in sport – at any level. It’s down to schools to encourage that, because you don’t know what hidden talents are out there.

After I retired, I did take my foot off the gas in terms of training. I started living a much more relaxed life. I set different goals for myself. So, I did some half marathons, kickboxing, weight training. I’ve always loved what fitness gives me.

Diagnosis

My diagnosis came as quite a shock

In 2018, I noticed I was weeing a lot. Leading up to that, I had a bit of numbness in my leg – I don’t know if that was related or not.

I did a bit of Googling and my biggest fear was that I maybe had bladder cancer. Diabetes didn’t come into it!

When I went to my doctor they did a test and told me I was prediabetic – where your blood sugar levels are higher than usual, but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I thought, ‘I’ll take that in a heartbeat over bladder cancer. I can do something about that.’

But I was also like, ‘me? Really?!’

There’s a lot of stereotyping around type 2. People think, ‘oh she can’t be type 2, she’s athletic!’

I suppose I was guilty of that myself. People think, ‘oh, she’s athletic, she can’t have type 2!’ But there are many genetic and lifestyle factors that come into play.

My brush with diabetes made me realise that, in the black community, we don’t really speak about type 2 diabetes that much, despite the fact that we are more genetically susceptible.

Now, I want to really educate black people. It’s not a crime that you’ve got type 2 diabetes, but what can you do about it? And how can we prevent our sisters, nephews, nieces, cousins, from getting it? We don’t talk about these things enough, and that’s part of the problem. We need to talk about it.

I want to show women, particularly black women, that it’s time to get out there, try new things and make ourselves more visible.

At the same time, we don’t need to be doing everything to Olympic level. Small steps is key.

Food and healthy eating

In the kitchen

The diagnosis properly fired me up. I was really bloody minded about it all. I didn’t want to be on tablets and decided I’d do anything to avoid that. I was offered a place in a class to help with my food and nutrition. I said I appreciated that it’s probably very good and helpful for most people, but I’ve had years of sports nutritionists telling me what to eat. I knew what I had to do – partly eat fewer starchy carbs, but mainly I had to cut down my portion sizes. 

I’ve become very creative in the kitchen. My husband came on board, which made all the difference. When you’re facing something like diabetes, it’s important to have a good support system.

You have to be realistic, too. Life is for living, so I’m a huge advocate of adopting a lifestyle that you can sustain.

Diabetes UK and me

Inspiring women and girls to make changes

I wanted to get in touch with Diabetes UK because of my family’s experiences with diabetes. I’m a life coach, I do motivational speaking, I talk about why we need to have more women and girls on boards, to make changes. I thought, ‘here’s something that’s so close to my heart. It’s a cause that’s so important to me'.

I want to inspire people to take small steps to improve their health. To make a conscious decision today. Change your breakfast, cut your portion by 25%. Cut the sugar in your tea down gradually, until you’re taking none.

On top of that, I want to show women, particularly black women, that it’s time to kick arse and get on it. We need more women like me, of colour, saying, ‘let’s climb Mount Everest. Let’s go zipwiring. Let’s not limit ourselves.’

At the same time, we don’t need to be doing things to Olympic level. But we need to be able to say, ‘I’ve tried that.’

I want to get the message out to the Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic community that ‘if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Let’s make changes.’

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