IN the last of three exclusive interviews, Argyle defender NIALL CANAVAN talks openly for the first time about how he can continue as a professional sportsman while suffering from type 1 diabetes.
GIVEN the scrutiny that Argyle players come under from the all-seeing eye of fans and media, it is remarkable that Niall Canavan’s diabetes has previously been known only to a relatively few number of people.
Since being diagnosed with the condition nine months ago, the Pilgrims defender has worn a Dexcom G6 Continuous Glucose Monitoring System on his arm, clearly visible in games, which measures his blood sugar levels. The relatively new non-invasive method replaces the traditional ‘finger-prick test’, which requires the sufferer to draw blood by piercing the skin.
“It’s excellent,” said Niall “I wear it all the time to stop me having to use the finger-prick method, which can be a bit of a pain,” said Niall, 28.
“It fires in a little wire that sits just under the skin and that measures your interstitial fluid, which can tell you your blood sugar levels. You sit a transmitter inside it and then that can connect to your smartphone or smartwatch, or you can get a reader for it. It can tell you which way your sugars are heading.
“My biggest benefit, aside from training when I can check it on my ’phone after and see how it was during a session, is at home of a night. If you’re getting low, it sets alarms off to wake you up and tell you that you’ve dropped.
“I’ve got it set up so it’ll message the physio and it’ll message my family at home. All their ’phones will give off a loud alert so they all know I might need some help. If they know where I am, or what I’m doing, they could ring me and ask if I’m alright, if I need anything.
“The physio can check everything I’m doing. It’s hard during a game because you have to be within range of your receiver. If I’m not within range of that, he can’t check it, but when we get in at half-time, it fires up.
“For games, I generally do a finger-prick anyway, just to be 100% sure of exactly what’s happening. I do one before the warm-up, one before the game, half-time, and then full-time.”
The combination of getting some control over the condition, and a manager who apparently gets the best out him, has seen a renaissance in Niall’s career.
Not that he is taking anything for granted, given the unpredictability of diabetes. When the team arrived in Alicante for their pre-season training-camp, he was ready for the change of environment.
Niall said: “As soon as you get any sort of complacency with it, it’s the sort of thing that can really bite you in the backside.
“Going to Spain was a challenge, especially on the first day, because the increase in the heat affects you. You go from our climate to theirs; you’ve got to then quickly try to pick it up because we’re training and doing some intense work.
“I don’t think it’s something you ever conquer. I feel better but that’s because – one – my body can recover properly and – two – I’m just more aware of the things that might cause me trouble.
“I’m playing better because now I’ve got what I feel is quite a good grasp on it; I feel more confident knowing that I’m alright to go and do what I need to; and I don’t feel completely wiped any more.
“Games are still hard at times because things can change throughout a match, but I generally don’t know about that until half-time when I come off and have a look.
“Things are now is the best they’ve been at any point since I’ve known I’ve got diabetes. I feel like the changes in the long term, month after month, week after week, of doing the right things with it and keeping it in check are only just building to help me out and allow my body to do what it’s supposed to do a little bit more.”
Doing the right things and keeping it in check are going to be a lifetime habit for Niall.
“There’s no cure for type one,” he said, “but I’d much rather I had it than my little boy.
“I get stick off the lads for talking about it, but people ask, and they’re genuinely interested because it’s not something that people are educated on: everyone hears ‘diabetes’ and thinks ‘type 2’, which is down to lifestyle and which you can do something about.
“There’s a whole other host of things diabetes can cause, or can lead to, so it’s a very wide spectrum you’ve got to take care of, particularly having a job like I do – your body and your health is key to doing what you’re supposed to do.
“So, you’d be silly not to invest in yourself and give yourself a bit of time and a bit of research and a bit of knowledge to allow yourself to just have the best opportunities.”
Opportunities that, if this season’s rejuvenated form is anything to go by, Niall is determined to make the most of.
For more information about diabetes, go here. www.diabetes.org.uk