At just 17, Havering Sixth Form College student Rosemary Allen has amassed close to 100 medals and awards for her sporting achievements – which is perhaps of little surprise when you consider she trains four times a week, competes most weekends throughout the season and is currently the top ranked U20 player for all three badminton disciplines in Essex.
But Rosemary’s dedication to her sport goes beyond the hours of training and travelling she puts in. She also has to juggle staying fit on the court with staying healthy off it – and in the teenager’s case that can mean having to inject herself up to 10 times a day, as she has Type 1 diabetes.
Rosemary was diagnosed with the condition at just eight years old. She has had to keep a close watch on her diet and lifestyle every day since. With her pancreas unable to produce insulin, her body cannot regulate blood glucose levels, and so Rosemary is forced to do it herself.
For the average person, that can be challenging enough. But for a youngster who excels in sport, the diabetes can play a far bigger role in Rosemary’s life.
“If her blood glucose levels are too low she can't play at all, if they are too high she will not perform at her best,” said Havering’s Sports Coordinator, Graham Hall. “It's a constant balancing act.”
Rosemary added: “If I'm ever hypo [having hypoglycaemia, or low blood glucose] while playing I have to stop training and eat until my blood sugar goes back to normal. This is difficult as it often means I lose out on training time while I'm dealing with hypos and is why I try my best to prevent them.”
‘Preventing’ a hypo means the 17-year-old has to test her blood and inject every time she eats, which can be between four and 10 times a day for an athlete of Rosemary’s standing.
But so far, she is coping admirably with the demands of sport, college and controlling a lifelong condition – so much so that the Havering Sixth Form College Sports Personality of the Year has been accepted to compete in the Senior English Nationals in both singles and doubles.
In the Badminton England National Women's Singles ranking tables she has been placed this season between eighth and 12th in the country for her own age group (U18) and she is currently ranked 28th in the country for all women.
Rosemary is also hoping to go one better at this year’s AoC Sport National Championships, having won the silver medal in Bath last year.
Her achievements to date certainly show that diabetes shouldn’t prevent any young athlete continuing to aim for the top.
“She is an excellent role model for other diabetics; showing that you don't have to let the condition stop you living life to the full,” said Graham.
Quite the contrary in fact. Rosemary says the level of exercise she undertakes plays a big part in helping her control the condition – and even believes that her knowledge of nutrition through dealing with Type 1 diabetes also helps her sport.
“The exercise means I can eat more and inject less than most people as the exercise burns off lots of sugar. It also keeps me very fit and healthy,” she said.
“I have had to control my diet from a young age, which means I am very knowledgeable about the nutrition of certain foods and what effects they can have on your body.
“Sometimes I will need to eat loads of sugar to deal with a hypo before playing. However, I generally will eat the same diet that most other athletes would.
“I've met parents of diabetics who are worried about their children playing sport. I always tell them that as long as you test your blood regularly, you will be fine.
“It may be that occasionally you will go hypo during sport, but as long as you catch it early enough, you will be able to join back in with the activity quickly.
“Never let the diabetes stop you doing what everyone else does.”