The key to living a full life with diabetes is knowledge, says five times Olympic gold medal winner Sir Steve Redgrave. Olympic rower Sir Steve, who was diagnosed with diabetes nearly 20 years ago, says: "The more information you can equip yourself with about diabetes, the better life you can have. Your health is largely in your own hands. Get educated and act on what you know."

 

Perhaps surprisingly Sir Steve, 53, has Type 2 diabetes, normally associated with obesity and poor diet rather than the highly active lifestyle of an Olympic rowing champion.

"I thought I had type 1 but then I attended a conference of diabetes specialists in Austria in 2003 and one of them said I had type 2. I came back and spoke to my own diabetes specialist and he said, 'What difference does it make?' and he was right. The key is to control it, regardless of type."

Sir Steve's diabetes may have a genetic origin. "My grandfather had type 2 diabetes, so it may have missed a generation and been passed down to me," he says.

 

Sir Steve acknowledges that there is a stigma attached to type 2 diabetes. "People think it's less serious than type 1," he says, "especially if you tell them you do not take much insulin. But in fact type 2 tends to be more serious because it develops slowly and people are often not diagnosed until they are already suffering complications."

There is also a common feeling that type 2 diabetes that is controlled by diet is not so serious, he says. "People feel that there is a hierarchy of treatments, with dietary control at the bottom, followed by control through tablets and finally injections as a last resort, but I think there should be a more flexible, individually-centred approach."  

Sir Steve started with injections, because his highly active training lifestyle meant his blood sugar could not be controlled any other way.

"Diabetes is a complicated condition and no-one is exactly alike. I have met people who are controlling it by diet or tablets and are restricted in their lifestyle. When they go on to insulin injections their lifestyle improves. Treatment should be tailored to each person's needs," he says.

"The more information you can equip yourself with about diabetes, the better life you can have. Your health is largely in your own hands. Get educated and act on what you know."

Now 53, Sir Steve is no longer competing but his life could make managing diabetes a challenge. "When I was training I used to take readings up to ten times daily so I could monitor the direction in which my blood sugar was going and take insulin accordingly," he says. At first he even kept sachets of sugar in his boat for emergency top-ups.

"Now with meetings, travelling, work in my charitable foundation and my business interests as well as games of golf, every day is different. I use an insulin pump with a blood sugar monitoring system, which gives me greater control over my diabetes. As a result my general health has never been better - though I make sure I attend my regular health checks."