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Heidi’s story: Learning to compete when you have type 1 diabetes

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Heidi Quine

Diagnosed at the age of 12 in 2001

Social media has been an absolute bonus for people doing sport who have diabetes. That is why I like to support where I can. I would have gained so much from this personally.

Heidi is taking on our UK wide cycle ride and is one of our ambassadors for the event. Always a keen athlete, she overcame an eating disorder with the help of a diabetes specialist counsellor and went on to qualify as a personal trainer, running and cycling coach. 

Diagnosis

School concern

My mum passed away when I was aged 11 and I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a year later after starting secondary school. 

I was suffering from constant dehydration, going to the toilet all the time and had no energy to walk up the school stairs. As an active individual, this caused some concern at school. A few people thought I may be bulimic because of my weight loss. I was never a big child to begin with and when I got sent to hospital after being diagnosed, you could see my skin and bones.  

After my PE teacher asked me if everything was OK, I went home and spoke to my dad about the weight loss. At the GP, my blood sugar was so high it was unreadable. I went straight to hospital and was put on a drip. I stayed there for five days until my dad and myself could complete my insulin injections and I was gaining a little more weight again. 
 

Journey with diabetes

Support

I got used to having diabetes as a teenager and my friends were always very understanding. Before PE, I would eat a Kit Kat for energy. And when I went swimming, I would eat a digestive biscuit every half an hour – so I would leave a tub of them with the lifeguard. 

However, as I headed into being a young adult, I was more embarrassed about always telling people I was diabetic. I had to manage food so much in my life which led to hypo anxiety. I didn’t want to eat extra stuff, even when my blood sugars were low. Although any high intensity activity always caught up with me, I just kept exercising. I wasn’t eating enough carbs which made it hard to manage my diabetes. 

Counselling

I had an eating disorder at 19 and through most of my 20s. Because of this, I had bad hypos where my body would not wake up properly which led to really bad fits. About three years ago, the hospital provided me with more support and I finally saw a diabetes specialist counsellor a few times which was a big help.

The counsellor knew what I was going through, providing me with advice and information to read to help educate myself. I read a book called “Overcoming Anxiety” which really helped me learn about dealing with my worries and the voices in my head. Following my passion for sport, I went on to learn more by qualifying in personal training and nutrition.

Being a decent runner and cyclist, I have learnt that if you want to compete if you have type 1 diabetes you really have to look after your body.

Help from peers

I  wish I’d known other athletes with type 1 when I was growing up. About four years ago I got in touch with a T1 Diabetic who was a Triathlete and had completed an Ironman race. She kindly rang me and we shared experiences: tips on fuelling for endurance, sharing experiences when our blood sugars go low during sport and how we manage this. 

And now I also follow other fitness individuals such as Matthew Carter via Instagram who Diabetes UK put me in touch with post Prudential Ride 100 2019.

It always gives me confidence that type 1 diabetes never stops you achieving anything you want to, especially when you can share these dreams and goals with others. 

Treatments

Penny my pump is a life changer

I am lucky to be alive and have the support I do to live with the condition in the best way that I can.

I was put on an insulin pump at the age of 28 after suffering with uncontrollable hypos and seeing my counsellor. This was a couple of years after doing my first marathon and the pump has been an absolute life changer. I haven’t had a bad (unconscious) hypo since being on the pump. It means I can reduce insulin when I am doing any activity. I have completed two marathons without the pump and two with. The ones with my insulin pump (which I call Penny) I have never had a hypo during my races.

I have started to use the Freestyle Libre this year, which is incredibly convenient. It is so much easier scanning the device on your arm from the app on your phone, to view your blood sugars. And the 24 hour blood sugar readings support your control so much better.

Diabetes UK and me

Diabetes UK and me

Diabetes UK has always supported new technologies to support the condition, along with bringing everyone together. There is space to learn from others and share experiences. Always providing advice and using their funding to allow living with the condition to not only be more manageable, but more enjoyable. 

I ran my first 10k in 2014 for Cystic Fibrosis, as my niece Millie suffers from the condition. I had never raised awareness around my own diabetes before, as I was a little too shy to openly discuss in the past. When I decided to race the Chicago Marathon in 2018, I thought it was about time I did something for Diabetes UK.

And when I did the Prudential Ride 100 for the charity last year, I wanted to show that you don’t just need to get around the course if you have diabetes, you can do it competitively. 

 

I love exercising and racing not only to connect with others, but to challenge myself on what I can achieve. Going for a run, or a cycle always puts a smile on my face. Time to myself to help me feel more alive. You want to be fit and look a certain way but when you have diabetes management on top of that, you can feel you can’t perform or do that. But I’ve never let it stop me.

I like competition and working towards something I have never done which is why I’m training for the Half Ironman’s and now the Diabetes UK cycle wide event. The one coast to coast route I would love to achieve for that would be LEJOG – a team challenge of 980 miles.

Sport has its challenges with type 1 diabetes but it has always proven to me that I can achieve crazy goals such as racing marathons, 100 mile bike rides and triathlons.

Activity

Tips for indoor cycling

I have always used an indoor bike to help with my cycling training. It helps me test my power and has supported getting me stronger cycling outside. I now instruct indoor cycling which I love.

  • Have plenty of water on hand to drink – as you always lose twice as much sweat riding inside.
  • Electrolytes are a must! They help restore lost sodium, minerals and salts the body loses when sweating / exercising. They can be found in any exercise drink (such as Lucozade) or sugar free options such as High 5 tablets which dissolve into your water.
  • Buy some cycling shoes – you can cycle with better technique and more power than normal trainers.
  • Get some padded shorts – there’s nothing worse than sore glutes if you’re cycling.
  • Get a good bike fit - making sure your seat and handlebars are in a suitable position to reduce injury and gain comfort.
  • Always remember a towel for the bike, along with a mat for under your bike (there is nothing worse than dripping loads of sweat when you are cycling).
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