Justin Groenewald – doing the unthinkable

Type 1 diabetes patient, Justin Groenewald, tells us about his dream of doing the unthinkable – to be the first person with diabetes to complete Roof of Africa Enduro 2020.


Justin Groenewald (38) lives in Bellville, Cape Town. He is divorced and has a daughter.

Ever since Justin was young, he refused to sit on the sidelines. He is a go-getter that will do anything to achieve what he wants. Even when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 10, his attitude stayed the same. He continued competing in school sports and doing everything he wanted to do.

Though, he admits that he has not always been the best example when managing his blood glucose. “I didn’t follow diets ever. I smoked and managed my glucose via symptoms, not testing. If I felt terrible, only then would I test, inject or eat,” he explains.

This changed when he needed to get a motorsport license. “I needed a specialist to sign off a medical letter and that would only happen when my diabetes was under control,” he says. “Managing my diabetes well includes three steps: First – exercise is core, secondly – avoiding unnecessary food and snacks, and thirdly – laughing. There is no perfect diabetes patient, when things go wrong, just smile and fix it.

Six years ago a specialist signed off that Justin was medically fit to compete in endurance motorcycle racing. With that Justin has competed in many races, Roof of Africa bronze qualifier and Motorsport Cross Country events, to name a few. Though, further goals lie ahead.

He has had an on and off battle with smoking but is proud to say he has stopped smoking again this year. He adds, “It limits my performance. It stinks and I cannot live my dream whilst smoking. It had to go.”

So, what is his dream?

Justin tells us in his own words:

For 28 years, I have been a Type 1 diabetes patient. I have injected more than 31 000 times (now Apidra and Basaglar), tested my glucose level about 25 000 times (now Accu-Check instant), had approximately 3 400 hypoglycaemia events and 4 300 hyperglycaemia events.

Yet, my life has been filled to the brim with adventure and doing things that people said I could or should not do. There should be no reason for our condition to stop us from doing the unthinkable.

We, people living with diabetes, have lives filled with routine: testing glucose and injecting, limited diets and even getting into a habit of counting calories. Our bags are filled with glucometers, injections and low sugar meds. We freak out when we realise that we have lost or forgotten our diabetic paraphernalia on a trip to the shop, never mind a weekend away.

High expenses

We often incur unnecessary costs by purchasing emergency items and our daily expenses are slightly higher (additional vitamins), and due to higher likelihood of getting sick, we have additional medical costs. Medical aid (Discovery Coastal Saver) is essential for me but life insurance is just too expensive.

My medical aid covers most of the costs. The only issues I have encountered has been towards the end of the year when I need to pay for my glucometer strips. I test at least three times daily and this runs over their minimum prescribed benefit.

The other issue is that I used to receive disposable pens. However, the medical aid now only covers the cartridges and I have already broken two of the permanent pens. Luckily, a pharmacy replaced them without charge.

Constant worry

As people living with diabetes, we are uncertain how far or how long we can run, cycle, play hockey, rugby and surf before our glucose level drops.

We constantly live off the feedback from our lifestyles. We feel weak, angry, irritated, get the dreaded cold sweats, or pins and needles from hypos and hypers. Sometimes just getting up takes all our effort and sometimes we just don’t want to care anymore. We get tired of the constant worry of our diabetes being under control.

Stop and take a deep breath

It is at exactly this point that I say stop. Take a deep breath and understand that you are able. Understanding your body, looking after your glucose levels to the best of your ability means that you have very few limitations.

I have done many crazy things and didn’t manage my diabetes as best as I could. I have over a hundred scars on my body; broken both my wrists, one twice; broken my arm twice; ribs several times, at least three toes, fractured a vertebra and chopped part of my finger off.

I have spear dived and been with sharks, with blood in the water. At provincial hockey trials, I kept vomiting next to the field  after waking up in an ambulance from a hypo. I have taken on every challenge and I am still here in one piece. I admit this is not the wisest and safest way of doing the unthinkable.

Manage your diabetes properly

So, I realised that if I want to achieve all my dreams, I had to start with managing my glucose levels properly. I have changed my lifestyle as mentioned above. The next step in my journey cannot be taken lightly. I am about to do the unthinkable.

All the silly and crazy things I have done in the past was just me fighting against people saying I can’t. The next step will be done to prove to all my fellow people living with diabetes that I can and so can they.

What is doing the unthinkable?

A journey that will start with Roof of Africa Enduro 2020 (Silver Category). I will be the first person with diabetes to complete this race – a race considered one of the world’s hardest extreme motorcycle enduros.

The next steps will take place in 2021 and 2022. I aim to complete Red Bull Romaniacs and then the big one, The Dakar Rally. Each event will be used as an opportunity to drive diabetes awareness.

The question is why?

The answer is simple…It is for each parent of a child living with diabetes to realise that their children can. Their children can play rugby, hockey, run long distance, play chess, race mountain bikes and surf. Their children can compete in any event with their parents’ support.

It is for every diabetic child to realise that they can do the unthinkable. The only person to stop them or slow them down is themselves. Their future is not limited by their condition.

The future might require a bag with medicine. It might require them to pay attention to what they eat and managing their glucose levels. But there are diabetic athletes in SA that have ridden some of the hardest mountain bike races. There are diabetic runners, swimmers and none of them allowed their condition to slow them down.

Preparation

Competing in any endurance event takes months of training. I keep fit by doing Muay Thai three times a week and then at least one day, increasing up to three days’, seat time (on bike). Anything from three hours to nine hours on the seat per session.

The Roof of Africa consist of three days riding. So, your body needs to be used to the pain and going past its limits. I travel with a bag on my back; it contains three litres of water, two litres of Powerade/Energade, two sandwiches, hardboiled sweets and three to five protein bars, my glucometer and my insulin pen. My bag easily weighs an additional 3 kg’s more than the average riders.

Justin already has a sponsor: WaldCon. His agent will enter him into the race once entries open early next year. We wish Justin all the best and hope he achieves the unthinkable. Follow his journey on www.diabetics-do-it.com

MEET OUR EDITOR


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on [email protected]


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