Type 1 diabetes affects over 400,000 people in the UK. Daniel Allison is one of those people. The 24-year-old fitness enthusiast from Beverley has dedicated the last six years to challenging stereotypes and creating a safe space for other diabetics to share their stories. He talked to Ellie Houghton.
“The nurse said I was way too sweet, just full of sugar,” explained bartender Danny about his diagnosis at the age of ten. “It was quite a traumatic experience, I didn’t really know what was going on and was having loads of tests. I don’t really remember much else, but I was in hospital for a week in a diabetic coma.”
The avid footballer has been diabetic for over 14 years and never let his illness hold him back when it came to his sporting pursuits. “I’ve always been into sport, I have no idea when or why my love started, but it’s always been there.” His first memories of sport make him chuckle. “I was such an active child. There’s family videos of me sprinting around Clumber Park in Nottingham as a young kid, pre-diabetes, I never stopped!”
In a way, the law graduate considers himself lucky that he had ten years without the diabetic label. “I managed to get all my swimming grade certificates before I was diagnosed, and threw myself into judo when I was seven or eight,” he recalled. “I did it until I was 17, even after my diagnosis. It’s all about technique and not how strong you are, and that has stayed with me since, I love it.”
For a child as active as Danny, discovering you have a lifelong condition that impacts all aspects of your life, including sport, was a huge blow. “Managing your diabetes is very difficult during sport, it’s so confusing and there’s so many serious things that can happen.” The powerlifter shares the dark side of diabetics and sport. “It’s so unpredictable, and there’s a complete lack of knowledge, care and support in a group setting. There’s never a comprehensive plan in place when a diabetic needs help. No one knows what to do, and it can cost a life.”
Danny believes many people, although not intentionally, are completely oblivious to the severity of type 1 diabetes. “People can be very ignorant, and don’t know that type 1 and type 2 diabetes are completely separate illnesses. When I tell someone I’m diabetic it leads to questions like “should you be eating that?” and “I didn’t know diabetics could play sport!” It’s not malicious, people just have no idea.’
I grew up learning to manage things myself and it could be really lonely
The lack of knowledge from other people meant that Danny had to learn about his illness on his own terms. “I was having lots of issues after playing sports, like night-time hypos, where your blood sugars soar during the night, but if you don’t wake up, it can kill you. I know people who have died this way.” Keen to continue his sporting pursuits, he was referred to a specialist support team. “When I went to the support team, no one really knew what was happening and I had no answers. I grew up learning to manage things myself and it could be really lonely.”
This loneliness is what pushed the activist to create The Athletic Diabetic on Instagram. “I didn’t want other people in the same position as me to feel alone. I wanted to create a support network to help other diabetics pursue their sporting passions and share their interests with like-minded people.” And that’s exactly what he did.
What started as a small Instagram page is now a pioneering site for active diabetics, and the platform is continuing to grow. “I ended up getting some specialist support in Liverpool and suddenly had all this knowledge that I wanted to share. I was so fortunate and I knew I had to help other people.”
I asked the keen cyclist if there was any experience that stayed with him. “Before I started The Athletic Diabetic group properly, I was in a Facebook group for diabetics in sport. A young girl on there was a fantastic trampolinist but was close to giving up as she was finding it harder and harder to control her illness. I wrote her a letter filled with advice and encouragement.” It’s clear how passionate he was about this encounter. “She wrote me back and explained that she stuck with her sport and was filled with so much joy. I knew then that I wanted to help more diabetics like her.”
Danny started the page as a hobby, but it has now become his passion. He maintains the page alongside his full-time job as a bartender at a local pub. “I’ve done exactly what I intended to do with the page. I’ve been on podcasts in both the US and the UK and been on BBC radio talking all about my story.” He recognises that he was lucky to access the specialist care he did and understands that a lot of diabetics are not that fortunate.
As well as supporting other sufferers, Danny was keen to change perceptions of the condition. “People have an image of diabetics in their heads, and it’s not always accurate. Just because you’re diabetic, doesn’t mean you are overweight. It just means you have to look after your body a little differently.”
I ask the influencer whether COVID has had an impact on his ongoing treatment. “It’s so hard this year with hospitals being closed. I’ve only had one appointment so far and I should be going every three months.” Has this year been isolating for diabetics with reduced face to face consultations, especially those who are newly diagnosed? “Oh definitely, mental health issues are already rife in the diabetic community. You can’t take a day off from your illness.”
So, what does the future hold for The Athletic Diabetic? “You’ll have to wait and see! I have so many plans!
“I know I definitely want to expand onto other platforms, like Youtube. My website is also in the process of being created, and I’m hoping I’ll have other diabetics writing for me on there.”
It’s clear that the future is bright for the young activist, and he’s nowhere near finished yet.
To keep up with Danny and his work, follow @the_athletic_diabetic on Instagram.