Page last updated at 08:22 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 09:22 UK

Sir Steve Redgrave on diabetes

By Helen Briggs
Health reporter, BBC News


"Diabetes has to live with me, not me live with it"

"I'm just an ordinary guy who went quite quick in a boat, really."

Astonishing words for a five-time Olympic gold-medal winner.

Sir Steve Redgrave is also surprisingly modest about the struggle with diabetes that almost cost him his fifth gold.

"I don't really want to jump on the bandwagon and say, 'Oh look at me, I'm a diabetic, what a terrible condition this is,'" he says.

"I will drip feed information out there, and people that want to know, I'm happy to tell."

Sydney Olympics
In action at Sydney

But he says it's a delicate balancing act. Some have taken away the wrong message from the fact he managed to win his fifth Olympic medal as a diabetic, thinking it can't be that bad a condition.

"It's a very very serious condition but dealt with properly, and looked after well, there's no reason why you can't carry on your normal lifestyle," he explains.

When we meet at his home close to the Thames he is in surprisingly good cheer given his latest "sporting injury".

Returning from a golf tournament, he slipped down a grassy bank on the way back to the car, and now faces several weeks with his leg in plaster.

"Most athletes tend to eat pretty good diets, look after themselves reasonably well, try not to do stupid things of getting themselves in situations where illness or injury could happen," he says, laughing at the irony of his words.

"You tend to be thinking, 'Oh I've got a little bit of a sniffle, I wonder if I'm coming down with a cold'. You're always a bit of a hypochondriac in some ways, thinking something is going to happen to you, illness wise."

On a day-to-day basis, he makes sure he eats healthily but after years of eating huge amounts of food during training, he has had to cut his intake by half.

"Being a former rower, for 25 years we're on a diet of six to seven thousand calories a day - that's a huge amount of food. You've done that for 25 years, you stop doing it, and you can't give up the food, so you tend to over-eat slightly.

More than 1.4 million people in the UK have diabetes
The most common form - Type 2 - tends to arise in later life
Symptoms include being thirsty, feeling tired, being run down, blurred vision and going to the toilet a lot in the night

"So I've probably halved my diet, from what I was when I was an athlete, but still struggle with my weight a little bit, and the older you become, the harder it is from that point of view, and obviously with the diabetes as well, that becomes harder as well because you should be eating on a regular basis."

Sir Steve Redgrave was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 35, in the run-up to the Sydney games, where he hoped to compete for a fifth gold. He says it took him over a year to adjust to the condition, and even now it is a constant juggling act.

"Every waking moment you're aware that you're diabetic," he says. "But you develop a new sense - what you're going to eat, how much insulin you've got to take with that food that you're taking, what sort of a stressful day you're going to be living because that affects the blood sugar levels as you've got to look at a lot of different things."

He has chosen to control his blood sugar by taking insulin through a small pump. His main strategy is to take control of diabetes, and not let it interfere too much with his life.

"I'm very flexible with the whole of my condition - I decided from a very early age that diabetes had to live with me, not me live with it, and that's the way I've really focussed it. So my lifestyle hasn't changed a great deal, I have to come up with regimes to make it work for me."

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