The Real Madrid Player with Type 1 Diabetes

Nacho Fernández, diagnosed at age 11, opens up about his Type 1 diagnosis, and how he feels it has shaped his career as a pro athlete.

Photo courtesy of Real Madrid


Real Madrid defender “Nacho” Fernández was told at the age of 12 that he would have to give up his aspirations of having a soccer career because of his Type 1 diabetes. Nacho (aka José Ignacio Fernández Iglesias), joined Real Madrid’s youth system at the age of 11 with a clear goal in mind – to one day play for one of the most historic and successful sports franchises in the world. But according to a UEFA.com profile, just a year later he had to miss a Real Madrid tournament for a hospital trip. There he met a doctor who said he couldn’t play soccer anymore.

Luckily, an endocrinologist told him the opposite a few days later, and now he plays at the highest level for one of the most elite soccer clubs in the world. Since his first call-up to the professional level in 2011, Nacho has appeared in 118 games and scored five goals, with three of them coming in the 2016-17 season.

Nacho has been very open about his condition and the challenges he faces on a day-to-day basis. In the same UEFA.com profile, Nacho said he has had to take care of himself “three times more than a normal person.” But he believes managing his diabetes care has in some ways made him more responsible than the average athlete.

In a sport such as soccer that requires intense conditioning and cardiovascular endurance, consistently monitoring glucose levels is paramount to staying on the field and preventing serious injury. Even the adrenaline rush of playing in front of thousands of screaming fans can greatly impact blood sugar levels. Nacho seems to not get enough of the challenge. He even participates in other endurance sporting events, like triathlons, that require a heavy amount of training and preparation.

Nacho is just one of the many professional athletes in today’s world who have learned to cope with Type 1 diabetes, despite having been told that they would be unable to perform at such a high level. Such athletes have included (until their recent retirements) NFL quarterback Jay Cutler and NBA center Adam Morrison. The training regimen of an elite athlete with Type 1 diabetes is rarely simple, but Type 1 diabetes did not present an insurmountable barrier for these athletes to pursuing a professional career.

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Ian is a student at Union College, majoring in Political Science with a concentration in renewable energy and government policy. He enjoys writing, traveling, and following the inspiring stories of the sports world.