Get to know Sarah Marriott: Her journey with type 1 diabetes and playing competitive sport
Sarah is a 17 year old high school student who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) five years ago. While living with the condition brought its challenges, that hasn’t stopped Sarah from leading an active lifestyle and pursuing her love for rowing. Over the years, she has rowed competitively for her school and won numerous events and personal achievements including Head of Schoolgirls Regatta, Australian Rowing Championships, 4th place at the World Indoor Rowing Championships, and, most recently, the Prince Phillip Challenge Trophy at the Henley Royal Regatta 2022. Sarah was a member of the 2021 Australian U19 Rowing Team and holds several Australian and World records on the ergo machine. She was recently accepted into Stanford University to continue her rowing and academic pursuits commencing in 2023.
We caught up with Sarah to talk about her inspiring journey with T1D, how she manages the condition when rowing competitively and her advice for anyone living with T1D who wishes to pursue their love for sport.
How long have you been living with T1D?
I have been living with T1D for five years.
I was 12 years old, on a cross-country skiing camp at Falls Creek, when I knew something was wrong. I was constantly starving and thirsty, no matter how much I ate or drank. I’d lost 10kg, was just skin and bone and came last in my race by five minutes – I could hardly move!
I was sent to Royal Children’s Hospital. It was a frightening time for me and my family, but the doctors and nurses were fabulous. We stayed there for less than 24 hours, then were discharged to manage the demands of T1D. The first injection at home remains a traumatic memory for both Mum and me, but I had my JDRF Rufus bear to hug and practice on.
It takes a village to care for someone living with T1D – I have come a long way since those early days. Today I use the Tandem t:slim X2 Control IQ Insulin Pump in conjunction with the Dexcom G6 CGM to manage my T1D. Having the Dexcom and pump ‘speak’ and adjust for potential hypos and hypers provides some reassurance. This combination gives great flexibility and allows me to move between managing the demands of sporty days, intense activity for competitions and quieter days.
How did you discover your love for rowing?
I love many sports and have represented my school in rowing, swimming, cross-country running, triathlon, alpine and cross-country skiing, athletics, gymnastics along with tennis, netball, soccer, badminton and water polo.
My absolute favourite is rowing! I began rowing in 2018 through my school’s ‘Learn to Row’ Program. No one was really sure how my blood glucose levels would react to such intense bursts of activity. I was put in the bow seat (the back of the boat) and was told it wouldn’t matter if I stopped rowing – that was just the inspiration I needed to ensure I never let T1D get in the way or let anyone down!
My passion for rowing didn’t really come until the 2020 lockdowns, where I revelled in the discipline, organisation and time management rowing required to fit in with school online. These demands positively transferred to proactively managing my diabetes to ensure I was in the zone to train and compete – albeit on an ergo machine via Zoom rather than on the water.
I have worked really hard experimenting with different foods, dosing, timing, treatments, etc to find combinations that work for me. Planning, preparation, practice and professionalism are key.
Using my rowing opportunities and achievements, I try to be an example to show that T1D need not hold you back and anything is possible!
How do you manage your T1D while training and taking part in a physically demanding sport?
Over the years of rowing, I have had A LOT of trial and error with my diabetes management and exercise.
I found in more intense activities (e.g. interval training), I would hypo immediately, whereas in less intense activities (e.g. steadystate), I’d hypo soon after the session. Regardless of the type of training, I found I’d hypo five hours after training which luckily usually coincides with lunchtime, so I’m ready to eat, making it easier to manage.
For on-water sessions, I take a small waterproof bum bag with my phone, muesli bars and five glucose drinks that I can drink quickly. During training sessions, I work with the cox to give me time out to treat if needed. Prior to racing, I ensure I’m running between 10-13mmol/L. I keep plenty of glucose drinks and bars in my bag for off-water sessions.
The key things I have learnt are to eat well, sleep well, minimise stress, plan and prepare well by always having more supplies than I think I need. Ensure your coaches (across all sports and events) also carry an emergency bag containing treatment drinks, glucose, bars, glucagon and contact numbers.
What advice do you have for a young person living with T1D who wants to play sport competitively?
Anything is possible if you put your mind to it – do not give up on your dreams! T1D is definitely a road hump, it slows you down to reassess the road ahead, but it’s not an insurmountable brick wall. It takes time and effort, but with trial and error, it is manageable. Planning and preparation are key, work with your village – your family, friends, doctors, educators, teachers, coaches and other diabetics – whatever, whoever it takes, as speaking from personal experience, I’m so much better off with sport than without it!
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