Robin Swindell was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (T2D) in May 2013, and manages the condition with diet, exercise and oral medication. He is a keen runner, occasional cyclist and can usually be found at Oak Hill parkrun at 9am on Saturdays.
My parkrun story came very close to never happening; like many people newly diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, a visit to the GP in the spring of 2013 left me confused, upset and lacking information or support. I was fortunate that the charity Diabetes UK set me off on a path of self-management, something I now understand is critical for anyone living with a long-term condition. As I set out on my life with diabetes I realised that need to improve my fitness and change my sedentary lifestyle.
After a few false starts on the fitness front I downloaded the NHS Couch to 5k course to my phone; it took me most of the summer to complete, furtively running late at night or very early in the morning so no one would see me. Like many (but by no means all) people diagnosed with T2D I was overweight, and intensely sensitive about being seen exercising.
By the autumn the course was complete but my secretive solo running was stalling. The manager of a local running shop suggested I try parkrun; I really didn’t think I was good enough to take part, and although I was much fitter than I had been at the start of my C25K I was still very conscious of my weight and slow speed. I lost count of the number of times I got out of bed on a Saturday morning and got as far as putting on my trainers, only to lose confidence and find something else to do.
It took me several months to summon the courage to go to parkrun, but I knew from my first Saturday morning in January 2013 that parkrun was something special, and I have been a regular ever since. I am a run director and member of the core team at Oak Hill in North London, enjoying my volunteering as much as running. I have been lucky enough to visit a dozen or so other parkrun events, and at every one I have been made to feel welcome.
My parkrun family not only continue to offer me a great deal of enjoyment and support, but have encouraged me to push my boundaries; with their assistance and advice I have gone from running 5k to 10k to half and then on to full marathons, running roads, track, trails, beaches and a bit of cross country along the way.
Living with T2D continues to tax me on a daily basis but running has helped me drop 50 kilograms in weight, to reduce the medication I need to maintain acceptable blood glucose levels and provides enormous benefits to my overall wellbeing.
I would never wish to have diabetes, but the process of learning to self-manage has provided me with new purpose in life, amazing opportunities and some wonderful new friends. parkrun plays a pivotal role in this, and continues to enthuse and inspire me on a weekly basis.
If you know someone who lives with diabetes (of any type), or is at risk of developing T2D, do gently encourage them to come along to parkrun with you – it may be the silver lining they are looking for.
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