HENRY Slade never set out to be a role model for people with diabetes – nor did he even initially intend to reveal to the public he was dealing with the condition.
But since letting the information slip in a routine interview four years ago, the 25-year-old has shown those dealing with diabetes – particularly young people – just what is possible.
The Exeter Chiefs and England centre, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 18, is an ambassador for Diabetes UK and has not let the condition hinder his rise to the top of rugby union.
“I never really said anything for a while, I just kept it to myself,” Slade told ROAR Sport. “I didn’t actually mean to say anything; one time I remember doing an interview and it just slipped out somehow, and from then lots of people have come forward and asked questions about how I manage myself day to day and on match days.
“If I was a kid with diabetes, growing up seeing someone playing professional sport, I would definitely be interested to follow them. So if I can be someone to help kids or other people, looking up to me doing that, I would be more than happy to help.”
Slade has put his improved handling of diabetes down to his experience of managing the condition – and also paid tribute to the huge technological advances in recent years.
“I think it gets more manageable the longer you have it and the more experienced you are with the condition,” he said. “When I first got it, it took a bit of getting used to and realising what my blood sugars needed to be before I start training and before I start a game, and how training and games affect me.
“It took a while to realise how much adrenaline has an effect on your blood sugars: it raises it up. I used to think before games I would have to have a few sweets, but in actual fact, I have a jab of insulin now because the adrenaline actually raises my blood sugars higher anyway.
“I’ve got a patch on my arm called a FreeStyle Libre – you have to download an app, and you can scan it rather than having to finger-prick blood test yourself.
“When I used to finger-prick test myself, and put the blood on the strip, it would just give you a number. But say that number is 6.2, you don’t know if that number’s going down to 3 or 2, or up to 10, whereas this one, if you scan it, it tells you your score but also tells you which direction your bloods are going. If you don’t know it’s going down, and you go to sleep, you can wake up in the morning and have been low for a long time, which is quite dangerous. It’s a great advancement.”
Slade has long been considered one of the finest talents in English rugby – and will again be expected to play a key role as Exeter Chiefs and their talented young core compete for the Gallagher Premiership title this season.
Runners-up in 2016 and 2018, either side of a first title win in 2017, Chiefs are early second favourites to land the prize at the end of the coming season – while many are predicting them to finally deliver on the European stage too.
If they are to do so, it will be in no small part down to Slade and players such as Harry Williams (aged 26), Tomas Francis (26), Jack Nowell (25), Luke Cowan-Dickie (25), Alec Hepburn (25), Sam Hill (25), Jonny Hill (24), Sam Simmonds (23) and Joe Simmonds (21) – many of whom came through the Chiefs academy.
“It is very exciting; we’ve got a young squad and a young core to the squad, so it does make it exciting,” said Slade. “If we stick to what we’re doing – and obviously we’ve got to add things to our game each other – but if we stick to what we are as a team and keep going together, then we could do this hopefully for a few years to come.
“It does make it that little bit extra special, being successful with such close mates. We spend a lot of time with each other in the club and on the pitch – but we also spend a lot of time with each other off the pitch, away from the club, in our down-time as well.
“Making memories with those boys is really special and a couple of years ago, when we won the Premiership, the feeling that we had as a squad there, winning the league with your mates at Twickenham in front of all of those people, is something you never forget and it’s definitely my favourite moment in rugby to this day. It was disappointing we couldn’t do it last year, but it’s something we will definitely try to do again.”