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Friday, 22 September, 2000, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Redgrave's needle match
The four warm up on the Sydney lake
Sunrise: Not the regular life recommended to diabetics
BBC Sport Online's Chris Russell says fear of injections is the least of Steve Redgrave's problems as he faces the daily challenge of diabetes.

It is one thing to perform on the world's greatest sporting stage for almost two decades, as Steve Redgrave has done since his first Olympic gold-winning performance in 1984.

It is quite another to continue to do so under the restrictions of a full-time medical condition which would have resulted in the rower's death less than a century ago.

Redgrave drinks
Regulating food intake could be a matter of life and death
In this respect at least I am in the same boat as Redgrave, with all the needles, monitoring equipment and sugar supply to prove it.

Diabetes, the condition we share, is not one that does not provides constant pain or permanent physical symptoms.

But for someone in Redgrave's line of work it is as bad, since it directly affects the body's ability to produce energy.

It can also never disappear from the back of the mind, since getting it right is a matter of life and death - in the long term if not the short.

  Typical diabetic's day
Wake up, check blood sugar, select dose, inject - and wait for 20 minutes before eating
Lunchtime: Repeat process
Again before evening meal
Select and inject does of long-acting insulin before bed
Redgrave takes two further injections
Adjustments must be made all the time according to blood sugar levels
I can only marvel at Redgrave's athletic capability and determination since my body can hit problems after a short cycle ride or even during a stressful visit to the shops.

While it does not happen very often, in such circumstances there is only one remedy to avoid eventual unconsciousness - to rest and quickly take on sugar.

Clearly such an occurrence would be most unwelcome during an Olympic rowing final, but the condition does have a nasty habit of reminding you of its existence at the most inconvenient times.

The only way of avoiding this worst case scenario and long-term complications in the future is to control the condition rigorously.

Finger prick blood test
Diabetics have to constantly monitor blood sugar levels
The endless regime of monitoring is a hassle for mere mortals but must be a massive distraction for an elite endurance athlete who already has enough to think about in terms of health and preparation.

The day begins with a blood sugar check using a finger pricker and an electronic meter, then an injection then a wait of up to half an hour until breakfast can be eaten.

The same process is repeated for other meals, and often before bed. And Redgrave's need for extra snacks during training means he is a six-jabs a day man, while others like myself can make do with four.

It is not the case of simply injecting the same dose every day either - the amount of insulin required depends on various factors such as the amount and type of food eaten, and crucially in Redgrave's case, the level of physical effort.

  Insulin, sugar and balance
Insulin converts carbohydrates and sugar into energy for the body's use
Diabetics' production is affected, and many cannot produce it all
They inject it according to current blood sugar levels, planned food intake and activity levels
If there is a miscalculation of too much insulin, sugar must be taken on rapidly
Too little insulin has less short-term effect, but can lead to long-term complications
The unpredictability of the human body means that this is never an exact science, even for a desk-bound journalist or somebody who is religious and regular in the amount of food taken on board.

Anyone who saw the BBC's Gold Fever programme will have seen Redgrave pass out during one endurance test. The pictures came as no surprise to those in the know.

At its simplest level diabetes causes the body to stop production of insulin, something regulated in the normal body according to the requirements of food and exercise.

So in terms of a car, insulin is basically the fuel injection system. Without it you can have as much petrol - or food - in the tank as you like, the engine will not turn over properly.

Injection needle
Getting the needle: An unavoidable companion
Under that comparison Redgrave's engine is very much in the Formula One category, but you would not find Ferrari or Mercedes winning too many races with a potentially faulty fuel mixture.

Redgrave knows this too, a factor which leaves little room for error since if his engine blows it cannot be wheeled back to the pits and replaced.

It makes his triumph one which is not only over his rivals, but also after a daily grind that will never go away.

The fact that he is prepared to try for further glory, and do it so brilliantly at the age of 38, is almost beyond belief.

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09 Feb 99 |  Medical notes
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