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"I see it as having to take my diabetes on the climb with me"

Steve, 29 from Glasgow, scaled the legendary Old Man of Hoy. He was joined on the climb of the 137m sea stack in the Orkney islands by his brother Kevin and friend Dave and they raised over £2,800 for us.

Steve reflects on how he manages his Type 1 diabetes – and his nerves – when he’s climbing, as well as day-to-day life with the condition.



This video was made by Steve's brother Kevin.


“It’s easy to let diabetes run away with your life and to start thinking ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I might have a hypo’. But that isn’t the case. Your diabetes needs to be part of your life, but it doesn’t have to define you and what you can achieve.”

Steve's diabetes journey

  • Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on his 14th birthday after experiencing the classic 4T symptoms of Type 1 diabetes.
  • Has mainly treated his diabetes with injections, but recently moved onto an insulin pump.
  • Currently self-funding flash glucose monitoring.
  • Doesn’t let diabetes hold him back – including when it comes to climbing.
  • In July 2017 Steve, his brother Kevin and friend Dave climbed the Old Man of Hoy. Between them, they have raised over £2,800 over the years for Diabetes UK.


The day before I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, my dad was taking my brother Kevin to see the doctor about some swelling around his neck. Dad decided to take me along to get checked out too. I’d been feeling very thirsty, going to the toilet a lot and had lost weight.

The doctor examined us both and told my dad that Kevin was fine, but that I had to be taken to hospital immediately. I was given the diagnosis the next day. It came completely out of the blue and I remember feeling very alone. The thought of having to inject myself with insulin for the rest of my life was overwhelming. It must have been for my family too.

Managing my diabetes


When I was first diagnosed I was on three insulin injections a day. I had to follow a very rigid routine, eating the same weight of carbohydrate in my meals and snacks at the same time each day. It was tough having to be so regimented, especially during my teenage years.

A few years ago I went on a DICE course – a diabetes education course – where I learnt how to carb count and match my insulin. This didn’t really help me manage my diabetes much better though. I still found that no matter what I did, I would wake up high. If I took more insulin, it would send my hypo during the night.

It was when I started to self-fund flash glucose monitoring that I truly learnt about my diabetes and how to manage it. It showed me that at around 5am my sugar levels were rising uncontrollable. Once I knew this, I was able to take insulin to combat the spike, and I no longer felt like I was chasing my tail all day.


Growing up with diabetes could be tough, but I was determined to do the things I wanted to do.

I’ve always been into climbing and would go with my school whenever I got the chance. When I was 16 years old I got into it more seriously.

Most of the climbing I do is at an indoor climbing wall. Each climb only takes around 5-10 minutes, so I don’t need to test my sugar levels on the way up. I do a blood sugar test before I start climbing to make sure I’m safe to set off, and then once I get back down. I find that my blood sugar level tends to shoot up when I’m climbing with the adrenalin and nerves. It’s after the climb that I need to really watch my levels, as they tend to fall.

Old Man of Hoy

The Old Man of Hoy is the biggest climbing challenge I’ve ever taken on. It’s 137m high and as I looked over to it on the morning of the climb, I felt absolutely terrified. I tried to picture myself at the top of it, and couldn’t believe it would actually happen a few hours later.



With a challenge like this you have adrenalin and other stress hormones to contend with. These have a direct impact on blood sugar levels, so I needed to be constantly aware of how I would manage my diabetes throughout the five hour climb. I see it as having to take my diabetes on the climb with me.


The Old Man is five pitches long – which means there are four points on the way up where climbers anchor themselves to the rock. I used these points to check my sugar levels and inject insulin if I needed to. Flash glucose monitoring is great for climbs because it’s so easy to scan the meter. The trend data also shows me what direction my levels are going in. The stress and adrenalin meant my levels were creeping higher, so I was able to manage that with insulin injections during the climb.

I wear trousers that have lots of zipped pockets so I can carry all my diabetes kit and hypo supplies on me. The rope’s supporting me so I can have both hands free to scan my meter and do an injection if I need to.

The climb and abseil back down were the hardest five hours of my life. But it was worth it for the pure euphoria I felt when I reached the top.

New challenges

In climbing you have to trust that your gear will hold your entire weight. I trusted my equipment and knew it was weighted correctly, so on the day I just had to keep my nerves under control and get on with the climb.

Life with diabetes can be so much more unpredictable. You never know for sure what your levels are going to be. There are so many factors that come into it, especially when you’re stressed.

I would like to take on another climbing challenge at some point. When I reached the top of the Old Man of Hoy, I looked out and could see St John’s Head, which is the highest vertical sea cliff in the UK. The climb was terrifying, but I would love to do it all again.

But for now, I’m focused on another challenge – becoming a dad for the first time. Since the birth of my son, all semblance of routine has gone. My day-to-day life is changing constantly and I’m having to adapt to not sleeping and always being on the go. So it’s a new challenge for me and for my diabetes management.

It’s easy to let diabetes run away with your life and to start thinking ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I might have a hypo’, but that isn’t the case. Your diabetes needs to be part of your life, but it doesn’t have to define you and what you can achieve.

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