How to Play Pro Rugby with Type 1 Diabetes

For those who wonder whether people with Type 1 diabetes can play sports and stay healthy, we present professional rugby player Chris Pennell as proof.

Recently, BBC filmed a day in the life of Pennell, a full-back for the Worcester Warriors in the UK. Viewers can see Pennell balance his blood sugar levels as he weight trains, practices with his squad, picks his daughter up from daycare, and coaches a youth rugby squad.

Pennell was diagnosed at the age of 19, when he was already playing professional rugby. He says that once he learned about diabetes, he never had a doubt in his mind that he would continue to be able to play.

“I’ve always been pretty stubborn, so I wasn’t going to let diabetes stop me from doing what I wanted to do,” he says in the video.

As a pro athlete working out multiple times a day, Pennell must keep careful track of his blood sugar levels, and he’s careful with his diet. Throughout the video, we see how his workouts lower his blood sugar levels. That, plus the fact that he’s careful about the carbs he eats, makes it so he doesn’t have to inject insulin until after 5 p.m. on the day of filming.

Click on the photo to be taken to the BBC video profile of Chris Pennell.

That’s not to say that blood sugar management is an exact science for Pennell. His levels fluctuate throughout the day, and he even has to eat some carbs before bed to lessen the risk of going too low at night. It appears from the video as though he keeps his blood sugar management simple, using fingersticks and multiple daily injections over a pump and a CGM.

On the day of filming, Pennell seems to inject just once throughout the day, and this is the only moment when he appears flustered. This isn’t because he’s scared of the needle, but because he has to warn the camera crew of where he’s going to inject himself.

“I’m about to get my ass-cheeks out, basically,” he says with a laugh.

Rugby, which evolved from soccer, is a fast-paced, full-contact sport. The objective is to get the ball down behind the opposing team’s goal line, or to kick it through the opposing goal post. Pennell says his teammates have been very supportive of him, and it’s clear he works hard to perform at his peak on the field.

The video is a reminder that people with Type 1 can compete athletically at the highest levels, but to do so takes focus and dedication.

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Courtney Major currently attends Emerson College where she majors in Writing, Literature, and Publishing with a minor in Marketing Communications.

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