Team Novo Nordisk is a global sports team consisting of cyclists, triathletes and runners. Their mission is to inspire, educate and empower people living with diabetes. And who better to do so then a sporting team made up of athletes living with type 1 diabetes themselves? At the forefront of Team Novo Nordisk is the men’s professional cycling team. Initially named Team Type 1, the team consists of 17 professional riders with type 1 diabetes from 10 different countries. As they kick start their second racing season with the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, I was fortunate enough to steal a few moments with our Aussie riders Chris Williams from Brisbane and Justin Morris from Sydney.
Thirty two year old Chris Williams was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 27. Chris was in the middle of a bike race when he collapsed at the end of a stage and brought to hospital. Upon his diagnosis, he was advised that endurance sport such as cycling wasn’t a great combination with type 1 diabetes. ‘I was ready to quit the sport. In my mind I had already sold my bike and I was thinking about all of the things that I could no longer do,’ he said. Thankfully, Chris had a supportive network of friends and team mates who encouraged him not to give up. Within two days, he was back on a bike. Chris credits his support network who helped him realised that ‘although managing type 1 diabetes can be hard work, you don’t have to rearrange your life to fit in with diabetes; diabetes can fit in with what you choose to do!”
A typical week during the racing season will see Chris travelling and hotel hopping between races. But when back home and training, Chris typically rides about 20 to 25 hours each week, which is equivalent to 600 to 700+km on top of stretching and gym sessions. The rest of his time would then be dedicated to eating right, recovering and promoting Team Novo Nordisk whilst educating, inspiring and empowering others living with type 1 diabetes.
It is without question that managing type 1 diabetes is crucial in achieving optimum performance on the bike. So what does Chris do to look after his diabetes? ‘I exercise regularly, eat healthy, measure my blood sugar levels regularly and of course, take my medication when necessary. It’s not so different to the healthy lifestyle that the general population is encouraged to follow!’ Being in a team with others living with type 1 diabetes provides some friendly competition, which doubles as motivation to look after his diabetes. His biggest tip? ‘To have personal respect for my body and health is good motivation to look after it. We only have one body and it’s not replaceable (well, most of it), so it would be foolish to not look after it as best you can!”
Chris is passionate about racing his bike all over the world, particularly lining up at the start line alongside riders from the Tour de France whom he holds in high regards. Being in his third year as a professional cyclist and in his second year as part of Team Novo Nordisk, Chris considers himself extremely lucky to be doing what he loves as a job.
Justin is a veteran team member of Novo Nordisk, who has been part of the team for 5 years. His love of riding developed back in high school. But it was the Sydney Olympics mountain biking event that inspired him to start competing. Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 10 years old, Justin never let his diabetes stand in the way of riding. Growing up, his hero was (and still is) Sir Steven Redgrave, an Olympic gold medal rower who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during his career. Justin lives by his idol’s quote and attitude of ‘I am not going to live with diabetes, diabetes is going to live with me’. An achievement that Justin is proud of is being the first person with diabetes to attempt the world’s most difficult mountain bike race called ‘the crocodile trophy’. Although describing this gruelling 10-day course in the Queensland Outback as being mentally and physically challenging, he has successfully completed the race twice, including a podium finish for his first attempt.
Being part of Team Novo Nordisk has been a blessing for Justin’s diabetes. ‘Being surrounded by other people with diabetes encourages us to understand each other’s condition. I have learnt an infinite amount of knowledge just by having this team in my life,’ he says. When it comes to managing his diabetes as an athlete, Justin has learned to always be prepared. This includes stocking his pockets full of lollies and muesli bars in case of a low blood sugar. Despite this, Justin feels that managing his diabetes whilst travelling is the biggest challenge. Especially as he is frequently travelling across various time zones and splits his other time between Australia and America. In fact, earlier this year, Justin crossed over 40 time zones in less than 30 days! His biggest tip is to think ahead and try to predict and plan for any blood sugar situations that may arise when dealing with time zones.
Aside from being a professional rider, Justin has managed to fit in university studies in psychology and education with hopes of a future career in sports psychology. ‘Having been an athlete for 14 years now, I feel like this is one area that athletes do not have much access to, which could have the biggest impact not just on performance but general health, wellbeing and happiness,’ he explains. ‘The job of a professional athlete is special and definitely unique, but I think the pressures and demands that the job entails can be easily misunderstood by people outside the sporting world.’
In his spare time, Justin still relishes in the occasional mountain bike ride as well as recently picking up cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. More importantly, his favourite hobby is actually eating! ‘Being an athlete helps in me being able to feed this hobby very well!’ Every year, on his diabetes anniversary or diaversary (the day of diabetes diagnosis), Justin takes a well deserved break from constantly being conscientious of the food that goes into his body and indulges in sugary goodness he usually avoids such as pavlova!
Together, Team Novo Nordisk are not only inspirational to all people living with diabetes but are proof that diabetes doesn’t need to be a barrier in our lives. With lots of determination, resilience and support, anything is possible. I would like to thank Chris and Justin for giving up time in their hectic schedule for this interview. All the best for your future races and endeavours! If you’ve become a total Team Novo Nordisk convert like I have now, you can keep up to date with the team’s latest timings, results and full details of all races at teamnovonordisk.com. Make sure you like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter too!