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Get to know Ellen Brown: How she manages her type 1 diabetes while pursuing her love for sport

July 07, 2022

20-year-old Ellen Brown was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 10 years old, however, her diagnosis didn’t hold her back from pursuing her passion for sport. Earlier this year, Ellen competed in the ACT Women’s Youth Futsal Team, with her team winning the grand final at the Australian Futsal Association (AFA) National Championships. Ellen has since been selected to join the Australian Under 21 Women’s team to play at the prestigious Costa Blanca Cup in Spain this year.  

We caught up with Ellen where she talked about her journey with type 1 diabetes, how she manages her condition during a game, and her advice for anyone living with this condition who also wishes to pursue their dreams of playing a sport. Let’s dive in! 

How long have you been living with type 1 diabetes?  

I was 10 years old when I was diagnosed and have been living with type 1 diabetes for 12 years this year (in June). 

When did you discover your love for soccer and futsal, and how did your type 1 diabetes diagnoses affect this? 

I have been playing soccer since I was 4 years old and started playing futsal when I was 13 years old. I have always had a love for both sports and can’t picture myself doing anything else. If it ever came down to choosing between soccer and futsal, futsal would win every time as I enjoy the fast-paced game and the high adrenaline rushes I get from it. 

Receiving my diagnosis impacted my life dramatically at first as I had to adjust my life around the diagnosis. However, once my family and I had gotten our heads around my management, I was able to continue with my life as normally as possible and get back to the thing I love the most – soccer and futsal. I check my levels regularly when playing as I need to keep my blood sugar levels in a safe range, so I don’t go low or high before, during and after a game.  

How do you manage your training and sport while living with type 1 diabetes?   

For me, I use an insulin pump, which has provided greater flexibility and accuracy to help me manage my type 1 diabetes.  For soccer, as it is played in winter, the cold weather tends to drop my blood sugar levels so I tend to run a little bit high in the lead up to the game. 

I have sport drinks available in case I start to go low and connect to the pump at half time should I need to make any corrections. After the game, I put on a temporary basal to avoid going low. 

Futsal requires different management as I usually play during the summer, so the warmer weather and humidity tends to send my blood sugars high. Using the pump, I put on a slightly higher temporary basal so that I am not needing to make a huge correction just before the game if I am too high. I have even used Continuous Glucose Monitoring technology that has helped me with even better control. Going to play overseas is another level altogether – having to deal with different time zones, long haul flights and the challenges of getting through customs, x-ray machines and airplane security with insulin and the insulin pump. 

Do you have any advice for others living with type 1 diabetes who are pursuing a love for sport? 

I have a saying that, “I don’t live with diabetes, diabetes lives with me”.  

Don’t let diabetes stop you from doing anything. No matter how hard it gets, just keep your head up and focus on finding a way around it, because it is possible. 

Whenever I have a day where things go “south”, we look at what happened and see what we could have done differently. Some days there aren’t answers. But that’s ok. 

Do you have any sport idols that you look up to or that help inspire you?  

Nacho Fernández is a Spanish footballer who lives with type 1 diabetes and plays for one of the European club giants in football – Real Madrid.