When I was 13 I was helping mum with her dressage outing for the riding club and I started to complain of being very very thirsty. My eyes were blurry and I had to keep going for a wee. The next day mum took I was diagnosed with a life changing condition: Type 1 Diabetes. No one else in my family has or had it so I was just very unlucky. The adjustment was traumatic. Painful finger prick tests every hour and then injecting myself in the stomach. I had to grow up quick… and I did!
I was really into my Tetrathlon (Shooting, swimming, running and riding) and I wanted to keep this going. It was really hard. I kept getting cramp in the swim phase and would often have to be fished out, but I wouldn’t give up even after the diabetes doctor said, “maybe you shouldn’t do it”! Mum and I figured out that the doctors had me drinking a bottle of Lucozade before sport… my sugars would soar to 25 mmol/L (normal range 4-6 mmol/L) so I’d cramp up. We found another way to make sure I would not go hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) and so my sporty lifestyle continued. I ran Cross Country for Welsh Schools, qualified for the National Tetrathlon Championships and qualified for the Pony Club National Dressage Championships a couple of times. My blood sugar control was not great throughout my teens but I kept trying and kept active.
I went to University in Cardiff (BSc Hons Science in Health Exercise and sport) followed by Bristol (BSc Hons Physiotherapy). It was during my first year at Bristol that my parents separated, I was estranged from my father and my mum decided to move to Greece. I lost everything, my home, my horse, most of my belongings.
I continued in Bristol lodging with a lady who allowed me to keep my cat; without a horse I took up pistol shooting. Before I knew it I was shooting for Wales and heading off round Europe to various competitions. The University were amazing at supporting me and I became a valued member of their Advanced Athlete Group, winning Advanced Athlete of the Year 2008. This award was not just about the sporting achievements, but it was about who promoted the university and reported regularly on training progress and competitions. During this time, I was also diagnosed with Ceoliacs Disease, meaning I had to exclude wheat and gluten from my diet. As a diabetic this makes eating slow release carbohydrate impossible! I fought on.
Following a disappointing drop from the Welsh team for the Commonwealth Games (New Delhi 2010) due to my lack of funds I gave up shooting and turned to Triathlon. This did not agree with my Diabetes – exercising with high sugars were causing alot of damage to my body without me knowing! My blood sugars were all over the place. I was a fully-fledged physio by this time and had done three years in the NHS and made a leap into private practice. My connections to triathlon did me very well in building my reputation and I soon felt confident in setting up my own clinic, and I did with one other physio.
Almost simultaneously, I fought for 8 months with the local diabetes team to allow me to have an insulin pump. I had a three-month diary of everything that I ate and drank, every activity and blood glucose reading to prove I was serious about getting an insulin pump. They worry that some believe an insulin pump will do everything for them and will stop looking after themselves, which can be fatal. Eventually, I was granted one and my average blood glucose went from 10.1 to 7.8 in just three months. BUT I was too late. I woke one September morning with a big black blob in my right eye. A blood vessel had burst in the eye. This was the start of three years of fortnightly trips to the Eye Hospital to prevent me going blind not only on my right eye but also my left. I had to stop exercising to avoid further damage to my eyes from the higher blood pressure. This was quite depressing.
In 2014 I needed to find a way back to horses so I asked around and managed to find something to ride a few times a week. Later that year I was informed that I was likely to go blind in 5 years. I decided that life is short and bought myself a horse – nine years since mum left.
Milly was the best buy I had ever made, she is bred to event. She has become my best friend. With further news of my eyes needing invasive surgery I found a way to buy myself some transport so that Milly and I could start competing. Just two months later my right eye was operated on. The jelly was removed, the membrane on my retina was scraped off and the outer rim of my retina was lasered (this is a form of amputation). Following 6 weeks of rest (and no riding) the operation was deemed successful. I had lost some peripheral vision, especially above and below. I could now start riding again, but we only managed three months before my left eye had to have the same operation.
My eyes were settling nicely, and I was adjusting to the light sensitivity and loss of peripheral vision. My night vision was appalling though!
I finally got engaged to my wonderful boyfriend of 6 years who has been there for me through thick and thin; I’m lucky to have him. Wedding planning began along with planning my eventing season for 2017! 2017 arrived and we went straight in at BE100 and managed 6 runs before the wedding in July. Our wedding was perfect!
During the last five years of all of these ups and downs Bristol Physio has gone from strength to strength and we have many new members in our team, including a new partner. We provide sports pitch side cover for both Bristol Grammar School and QEH and see a variety of conditions in people from all walks of life at our clinics. We have expanded our clinics to two other locations with more exciting plans for the future.