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02 October 2023

Movers & Shakers

Meet Melanie Stephenson, diabetes youth advocate and professional athlete

melanie stephensonThe words sport and diabetes aren’t two things you hear said together often, within the diabetes community. But I couldn’t imagine my life with diabetes consisting of one without the other. My name is Melanie Stephenson, I have had type 1 diabetes since the age of 13 and have done athletics since the age of 16. Since then I have represented my country in sport, and carried the Olympic Torch thanks to my passion for the two. Above all doing sport has given me the power, motivation and dedication to manage my diabetes and achieve the things that I want to do in life.

I started athletics because it was something that I enjoyed while I was in school. I was very fortunate during my teenage years that my school did their best to understand my condition and that they never excluded me from participating in sports activities, which included athletics. It was at the regional schools championships that I found I had a talent for sprinting. This is when I decided to take it more seriously and get myself a coach. From there I worked hard to train 4 times a week and manage my diabetes, in order to achieve my best sporting outcomes.

I liked athletics from the start because it helped me lower my blood sugars levels, reduce my insulin requirements, and manage my weight. Athletics also taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to. There were times when healthcare professionals questioned me as to if doing sport was necessary, meaning that without it I would have a more regular routine and simpler regimen for my injections. But I rejected this idea of giving up, and it taught me to be stronger. This positive attitude paid off when I competed in the 100m and 200m sprint events representing my country on over 25 occasions and won one silver and two bronzes at the British Universities championships.

It was then that I approached my local diabetes charity - Diabetes UK to ask if there was anything I could do to use my experience to help others. I became a media ambassador for the charity, charged with providing a positive message about diabetes within the press in the UK. I did and continue to fight the stereotypes imposed on people with diabetes by others. For example myths such as: “if you have diabetes you can’t do sport”, which I’m proof of the fact that you can.

In 2012 Diabetes UK nominated me to carry the Olympic Flame for the London 2012 Olympics as a leader in diabetes and sport. This was a phenomenal opportunity to raise the torch for diabetes and sport in front of 20,000 strong crowd and the world’s press and media.This wonderful opportunity along with my sport has opened so many doors for me, that in turn have allowed me to lead the way for others who want to get involved in sports too or just take control of their own diabetes.

After I carried the torch I began writing a blog about sport and diabetes, sharing my experiences online with the diabetes online community. I was then fortunate enough to attend the IDF Europe Youth Leadership Camp in Italy, which was a great way to get involved with others youth advocates with diabetes from across Europe. After the camp, I decided to start the support group Blue Circle Diabetes, because one thing I’ve learnt from the many people that I’ve met on my sport and diabetes journey is that when people with diabetes come together to share experiences, great things happen.

One of my challenges in life was sport and diabetes. But I would advise others that whatever their own personal challenge is -whether it’s living with diabetes, overcoming difficulties or reaching your goals- just do whatever you can to overcome it, and you will succeed eventually. As the saying goes, you never know what you are capable of until you try.