Sir Steve Redgrave v Diabetes

Sir Steve Redgrave Statue at Marlow
Sir Steve Redgrave Statue at Marlow

Those of us who follow sport will be well aware of the feats of Sir Steve Redgrave and the fact that it has been mentioned on numerous occasions that he is diabetic.

However, there is more to the five times Olympic gold medal winner than just rowing and diabetes and this is an inspirational sports superstar who continues to inspire many people even after his retirement.

We will now take a look at the life and times of Sir Steve Redgrave as you will be amazed at what he has overcome to reach the top of his profession.

The First Shock Came At School!

When Sir Steve Redgrave began school he was filled with the hopes, aspirations and ambitions of your traditional youngster in the UK.

He looked up to sports stars, he looked up to his parents and he was the life and soul of school. However, very early on in his school career it became evident that he had problems reading and writing which were immediately diagnosed as dyslexia.

It is very difficult to understand what dyslexia means to a child who is only 10 years old and unable to read and write to the same level as his friends. It is very difficult to mix in social circles when perhaps you are having trouble reading and understanding what your friends are talking about.

This was the very early days of Sir Steve Redgrave and while many in his position would have been bullied and ignored by their peers, because he was already large in stature, he seemed to avoid the worst of the bullying which very often follows dyslexics.

Extra Lessons

Due to his size he received the backing of his fellow peers in the playground and indeed some of his teachers went out of their way to offer additional tuition to allow him to “catch up” with his friends.

He himself describes dyslexia as a condition whereby it takes him four a five times longer to read and understand a passage that it would somebody with traditional reading skills.

This illustrates the fact there is misunderstanding about dyslexia because dyslexics can read, it’s just that they often see the words in different shapes and different formats therefore it takes longer to translate.

Who would have guessed that these early challenges in the school life of Sir Steve Redgrave would be a perfect rehearsal for what was to follow in his adult life.

Diabetes And Colitis

For many children the trauma of dyslexia at school would have forced them to backtrack, go into their shell and not fulfil their ambitions and their potential.

However, Sir Steve Redgrave is none of these and having taken this dyslexia by the scruff of the neck and made his way through school he set his sights firmly on becoming a sportsman with rowing his preferred route.

It is perhaps a little known fact about Sir Steve Redgrave that he actually began in the single sculls back in 1985 where he was confident but not a worldbeater.

It was 1989 that was the turning point for his career and indeed his life with a move towards a different style of rowing which involved being part of a team.

From 1991 onwards all of the teams in which Sir Steve Redgrave was involved were powerhouses, had immense consistency and basically blew everybody before them out of the water. While he was working his way to the pinnacle of his sporting career unbeknown to team Redgrave he was about to be struck down with a severe illness.

In 1992 he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis which is in simple terms an inflammation of the bowel. It is very uncomfortable, can be debilitating and has many similarities to Crohn’s disease – just exactly what you do not need in the world of high-power and high-energy sport!

Despite the fact that this is a very painful and very uncomfortable condition which can rear its head at any time, Sir Steve Redgrave continued his painful training regime initially unaware of the condition. After his diagnosis various medications were made available and it was effectively brought under control as much as it could be.

However, in September 1997, just after attending a physically exhausting training camp with his fellow rowers, he began to experience extreme thirst which is a tell-tale sign of diabetes.

Diagnosed With Diabetes

During their time in various training camps each of the athletes were given a number of dipsticks which allowed them to monitor their urine for dehydration. After the initial bouts of extreme thirst he decided to give himself what would turn out to be a life changing test which indicated a very high blood sugar level. It was within hours of this test that he was rushed to Wycombe General Hospital where he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

When you bear in mind the difficulties that many diabetics have in regulating their blood sugar levels in “normal life” many people thought it was impossible to put together the extreme training regime of Sir Steve Redgrave and the demands of life as a diabetic. However, by the time he reached his swansong at the 2000 Sydney Olympics he had amassed 5 Olympic gold medals, one Olympic bronze medal, 3 Commonwealth Games gold medals, 9 World Rowing Championship gold medals and in 2011 he received the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.

Life With Diabetes

In his heyday Sir Steve Redgrave was a 6’5″ giant who weighed just over 16 stone. His body, due to the physical nature of rowing, is as highly tuned as you could ever hope and while he retired after the 2000 Summer Olympics this was not the end of his training regime.

It is widely quoted that Sir Steve Redgrave’s heart is the size of an ox and while the average human heartbeat is around 70 to 90 BPM at rest, his resting heart rate is all of 30 bpm. Due to the fact that he has pushed himself to the limit with this training regime over the years many experts believe it will take at least 10 years of “de-training” to bring his heartbeat and his heart size down to traditional levels. If he was to stop training immediately, his heart would very slowly begin to collapse which would then lead to death.

Due to his diabetes type I condition he is forced to inject himself with insulin six times a day as a means of regulating his blood glucose level. This is now a matter of course for the world rowing champion and he has undertaken charitable work for diabetes causes and indeed is a regular sight at the London Marathon. Despite the fact that he has retired from rowing he is still very active on the training front, he is still extremely fit and while some of this is to do with the fact his heart needs to downsize, it seems as though it really is in the blood.

An Inspiration To Others

Sir Steve Redgrave is one of the most high-profile diabetics in the UK and we can only imagine the impact he has had upon the way in which people look at diabetes today and in the future. He has brought diabetes to the masses, he has shown that diabetes does not mean the start of the end of your life and he has shown that it is a beatable and manageable condition. When you take into account his dyslexia, colitis as well as his diabetes type I condition you begin to wonder how he ever made it to the top of his profession!

There is also another well-known sporting diabetic in the UK by the name of Gary Mabbutt who was responsible for another major hurdle in the world of diabetes. Gary Mabbutt appeared on the children’s show Blue Peter at the height of his footballing fame with Tottenham Hotspur and England to inject himself live on-air with his lifesaving insulin. This action may well have initially shocked people but many began to sit up and think about diabetes, about their lifestyle and about their diet. Between them, Sir Steve Redgrave and Gary Mabbutt are likely to have helped thousands upon thousands of people avoid the development of diabetes by changing their lifestyle and perhaps given many more the confidence to come forward when they spotted the tell-tale symptoms.

In the modern world there are many sports stars out there who attract negative press comment and are not necessarily role models for young children. However, when we flip the coin there are those such as Sir Steve Redgrave, and other high-profile diabetics, who have been there, done it and continue to lead the way. Inspirational!

This was a guest post from Diabetes Forum. If you are looking for advice about diabetes, the latest news or you are struggling to cope, visit the and join our 25,000 strong forum community.

Further Reading

Photo of Sir Steve Redgrave statue by Snapper five.

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