Last weekend saw the highlight of the diabetic footballing calendar. 132 kids with diabetes from 12 different countries, plus their parents/supporters headed to Lausanne, Switzerland to take part in the finals of Junior Cup Diabetes 2012. Medtronic have hosted the event for the past 6 years. As they said at the opening ceremony, the event is about showing that diabetes doesn’t stop you, and also about having some fun. It was great fun, but it also made me cry.
As the teams arrived, and I saw the excitement around them, I couldn’t help thinking it was great that having diabetes had given these kids such an amazing opportunity – to take part in an international football tournament at the age of 10 or 11. My expert pre-match analysis concluded several things – the Dutch team and supporters were very orange, the Canadians very intimidating when they turned up to the opening ceremony looking very professional in team tracksuits, the Brits very loud with their vuvuzelas, the Germans impressive with their coordinated chanting of “Deutschland, Deutschland” and the Irish very green and very noisy. And that’s without mentioning the Slovakians, Hungarians, Italians, Swiss or Belgians.
My interest in football and my knowledge of it are about equal at zero. I will admit to having come home and Googled Christian Karembeu to discover that the man taking the kids through warm up was indeed a member of the 1998 French World Cup squad and a winner of the Champions League with Real Madrid. That’ll explain why despite my lack of knowledge, the much better informed kids looked over the moon to be playing football with him.
Over a day and a half of matches the teams fought to get their hands on the cup, and despite an exceptionally strong start from Holland (to the point where I was wondering how unethical it would be to tamper with their insulin at lunch) the eventual victors were Germany.
But it wasn’t the football that made me come home with tears in my eyes. Diabetes was everywhere at the event with people doing injections in dinner queues, quietly going hypo by the side of the pitch, or entire teams blood testing at the same time. But it was a minor sideshow, like the half time entertainment people are aware of but doesn’t overshadow the game. Exactly as it should be.
For me, the sight of 132 kids taking diabetes by the scruff of the neck and seizing the opportunity it had given them was really emotional. I recognised the determination of the parents cheering from the sidelines that diabetes wouldn’t stop their kids from doing anything. It made me think of how lucky I was to be brought up by parents who decided at my diagnosis that my diabetes was going to be very much the sideshow, not the main game. I’ve seen diabetes ruin people’s lives. It’s beaten them down to the point where it controls them and stops them from living the life they deserve. That breaks my heart. From what I saw, these kids are going to control their diabetes, there’s no way it’s going to control them.
Congratulations to all the teams, you did yourselves proud.
Thanks to Medtronic for inviting me and paying for my travel. I should mention there was also a bloggers meeting going on at the same time which I will talk about later, but for now, all the attention should be on those brilliant families living well with diabetes.