Coming up any day now, for the first time ever, six swimmers with diabetes — all wearing Animas insulin pumps — will take part in a relay race across the English Channel!
The team is led by Mark Blewitt, an accomplished swimmer and marathon runner, along with five others: Matt Cox, Callum McGhee, Claire Duncan, Jake Glasby, Sara Gardiner. Starting in Dover, England, each team member will swim for an hour in a relay that could take anywhere from 12 to 17 hours to complete! (exclamation point required!)
Because English Channel swims are conditional on the status of the water and the tides, Mark and his team are looking at swimming the Channel sometime between now and July 18th, and it’s likely they won’t know when they are heading out until 24 hours before! That’s not much lead time!
But if you think you need to be a lifelong athlete to swim the English Channel, think again. Mark was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1980 at age 13, but didn’t commit himself to fitness until he was an adult, when he was working in marketing for Sony in their video games department. “I thought about how unhealthy my lifestyle was, and when I saw an article about the London Marathon and how policemen and firemen are more likely to take part than marketing professionals, I knew I needed to do something about my lifestyle.” Mark joined a swimming club in his native England and began participating in a variety of endurance swims.
In 2002, Mark already swam the English Channel while he was on multiple daily injections. Now, he and his crew have joined forces with Animas to participate in the relay while raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. How did this happen? Mark connected with an Animas rep during a swim in New Zealand, and later Animas suggested putting together a team to swim a fundraising relay across the Channel.
“Animas put their net out to find people in the UK who were interested,” Mark explains. “The difference in ability is absolutely tremendous. We have some people who don’t swim so well, and one swimmer who is in the national swim squad, and everyone else is somewhere in between. Once we’re in the cold water, that will be the real the test.” (No kidding — despite wet suits it’s pretty chilly; average water temperature at this time of year is around 60°F)
The team members hail from all over the UK, including cities like Birmingham and London, and even from Scotland. Mark says they’ve coordinated most of their training over email and social networks like Facebook. That’s pretty neat.
Although swimming the English Channel with diabetes might sound terrifying, Mark says doing the relay won’t be as challenging as swimming it alone because each swimmer will only be in the water for a limited time before getting out and being able to test their blood sugar and eat if necessary.
Mark explains his own method: “What I want is to make sure that my basal rate is slightly lower, because as soon as you use your muscles, your blood sugar drops as your body is burning ketones and fatty acid. The way to do it is to make your body act like a non-diabetic’s. First burn up blood sugar, and then use ketones and fatty acids.”
Mark is a big advocate now for people to get fit, especially those with no experience.
“What I would say to the person who does want to get fit is that they will notice straight away that their blood sugar control will become fantastically better,” Mark says. “They will feel physically much, much better. And this is whether they are on pumps, MDI or a type 2.”
Whatever sport you’re into, Mark’s main point is: never give up. He says, “People have got to stop thinking like ‘a diabetic’ and get on with life. There will always be some reason why you won’t do something. I did swim from England to France on my own, and around the Manhattan island, and from Spain to Morocco. So I’ve done those big swims. When I swam the channel, my diabetes nurse went to the chat groups to get the best medical advice to assess the chances of getting across. Everyone said we couldn’t do it. And we said, don’t give me 10 reasons why we can’t do something, tell me one reason why we can do it.”
Good luck to Mark and his team, and we can’t wait to hear the results at the end of the month!