How England's Six Nations hero Henry Slade learnt to play on with diabetes: 'I've never let it hold me back'

Yahoo Sport UK
England and Exeter Chiefs Centre Henry Slade (Credit: Tom Nicholson)
England and Exeter Chiefs Centre Henry Slade (Credit: Tom Nicholson)

After emerging as one of England’s star performers during the Six Nations, Henry Slade’s impressive displays during the competition are all the more remarkable when you consider he is also diabetic.

The versatile centre was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes by pure chance at the age of 18 when he and a friend fell ill at school.

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“It was pretty much a fluke how I discovered it,” Salde told Yahoo Sport UK. “Myself and one of my best mates in school both had the flu.

“My mate Ollie had all the symptoms. He went into hospital, had the tests and they told him he had diabetes.”

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Suffering from none of the typical associated symptoms himself, Slade had no reason to worry about his own long-term health – that was until his friend returned to school the following week.

“When he came back to school he had his blood testing kit and everyone was playing around on it, testing their blood on his glucose monitor.”

What happened next came as a shock to the future England hero.

“My blood was about 10.4 (mmol/L) I think. I thought that was a bit high but I’d put it down the fact I’d just recently eaten. So I tested myself the next day and it was even higher; about 15/16.”

Slade has was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 18 (Credit: Tom Nicholson)
Slade has was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 18 (Credit: Tom Nicholson)

Slade went home and told his parents who immediately took him to see a doctor. After necessary tests were taken, the diagnosis was confirmed.

“I’d caught it very early, luckily, and didn’t actually encounter any of the symptoms that you get with it.”

Plymouth-born Slade, who signed his first professional contract with Exeter the same year he discovered his condition, spoke about how he manages his body during matches, administering injections at half time.

“I’m insulin-dependent because I don’t produce the insulin in my body so I’ve got to control the blood sugar with injections,” he explained.

The 25-year-old has recently partnered with Dexcom, a company responsible for manufacturing glucose monitors, as he continues to keep his blood sugar in check while training and playing.  

The firm has developed a small device which is inserted under the skin to monitor levels 24 hours a day and Slade has welcomed the innovation.

“Every five minutes it sends a notification to my phone. Which is obviously very helpful as I don’t have to keep on top of the blood sugar way more often than I was before.

“I check it before I go out for training and every match, and it helps me to be in the right spot I need to be.”

Henry Slade in action for Exeter Chiefs against Bath (Getty)
Henry Slade in action for Exeter Chiefs against Bath (Getty)

Slade, who was in action for Exeter in the Premiership this weekend as the Chiefs ran out 29-10 winners over Bath, explained how he had to get used to balancing his condition while playing high intensity, top level sport.

“Before I was thinking I would need a few sweets just before I went out just so my blood sugar wouldn’t drop. But actually what was happening is the adrenaline I get in training or in a game was actually spiking my blood sugar.

“It took me a bit of time to work it out.”

That Slade has not allowed diabetes to affect his game has been no more evident than his breakthrough performance in his maiden Six Nations competition.

Widely considered one of the players of the tournament, Slade was pleased with his own, as well as England’s overall displays, despite a second place finish.

“It was my first experience of playing in the Six Nations so I was just really happy to have done that and have the whole experience itself, really.

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“You watch it as a kid, you watch it growing up, you always aspire to be a part of it and to finally get a taste of that was pretty pleasing for myself.”

Slade wasted no time announcing himself in the competition, scoring two tries in a thrilling 32-20 opening day victory over Ireland in Dublin.

“We got off to a good start as a team and individually against Ireland,” he said. “That was probably the highlight of my Championship.

“Getting a couple of tries was awesome but to go over and win in Ireland against a top side in a tough place was really pleasing.”

Slade scores a try for England against Ireland (Getty)
Slade scores a try for England against Ireland (Getty)

Arguably the best match of the tournament took place on the final day at Twickenham. England and Scotland played out a dramatic 38-38 draw despite the former soaring into a comfortable 31-0 lead at one stage.

Scotland staged a heroic fightback to take a shock 38-31 lead and were only denied a famous victory by George Ford’s last minute converted try.  

England’s newest star was disappointed with the way the second half of the match panned out but feels ultimately it will serve as a useful learning experience for the team.

“I can’t really put my finger on what exactly it was,” he lamented. “It was a very frustrating half to be involved with, obviously we did well to salvage a draw but we were just disappointed because we should have never let a lead like that slip.

“It came at a good time, we’d rather it happened then than in the summer at the World Cup. It probably taught us some good lessons.”

As England look ahead to the Japan 2019, Slade is hoping to be included in Eddie Jones’ final squad and believes the team are well placed to go all the way.

“Obviously we want to win the tournament and do as well as we can do. That’s what every side is aiming for so I’d be lying if I said we weren’t aiming for that.

“We’re in a really good spot as a team, emotionally, physically, in all areas I think.”

Henry Slade alongside England teammates during the Six Nations (Getty)
Henry Slade alongside England teammates during the Six Nations (Getty)

Slade went on the hail the togetherness of the current group of players.

“We made big strides as a team this [Six Nations] championship. There’s been a big emphasis on coming together as a team on and off the field and I think we did that pretty well.

“We spent a lot of time together, we went out to play darts, we did crazy golf, we did bunting on the river, we did loads of different activities outside of rugby and I think that helped bring us together as a squad and obviously that’s very important going out to the World Cup.”

It’s this kind of confidence and determination to succeed that has seen Slade refuse to allow his condition to hold him back.

“I’ve always tried to live my life exactly as I would if I didn’t have diabetes,” he affirmed. “I’ve tried not to let that hold me back in any aspect of life, and obviously that translates to sport as well.”

Dexcom’s revolutionary Continuous Glucose Monitor is increasingly sought-after by people living with type 1 diabetes who want freedom and peace of mind when it comes to diabetes management. For more information, visit: www.dexcom.com/en-GB

 

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