When I was a young high school boy as well as dreaming of being a professional cyclist I also possessed a dream to represent my country- Australia in the sport I love. Most athlete’s see representing their country either at an Olympic Games or a World Championship as a lifelong goal I was no different especially given the Sydney Olympic Games were one of the things that first inspired me to pursue sport in my life. With the Olympics coming to Japan in 2020 I can envisage many young (and old) people being inspired to one day represent this wonderful country.
My path to representing my country was by no means a smooth or short one. Even after finishing my time as a professional cyclist the dream of representing Australia still lay there in the recesses of my mind. Although the older I got the more distant this dream felt from being fulfilled. In 2019 as a 33 year old I saw a chance to chase this goal. Since 2015 I had been accruing points as a ‘marathon mountain bike’ athlete in Australia. I had a good year athletically in 2018 and the possibility of gaining selection for the Australian world championship was becoming more evident in 2019. After putting in some hard training and making some sacrifices in my work life I made the selection! Receiving this email from ‘Cycling Australia’ was surreal, my wife and I celebrated with a special dinner that evening. This was a 19 year dream that was becoming a reality.
But the selection was just the start, the real hard work and the lessons to be learnt from chasing this goal lay ahead in the travelling to and competing in the actual race.
The 2019 Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships were held in the town of Grachen in Switzerland. A very beautiful village high in the Swiss Alps. 187 riders were starting the 97km long race that climbed over 4200m in elevation gain (that is nearly half the height of Mt Everest!) so getting prepared for this race posed many challenges for every rider on the start line. As a rider with T1 Diabetes I had a few extra challenges that were unique to this situation:
Racing at a high altitude was something I had done only once before and had given me many struggles in the management of my blood sugar levels. The thinner air at altitude forces our bodies to work in different ways subsequently effecting the sensitivity to Insulin. I had just 4 days in Grachen before the race so a lot of this was spent trying my best to discover the best way to adapt my insulin regime to cater for the altitude. I discussed with my Health Care Professionals back home over the telephone and email to ensure I could manage the blood sugar levels best as possible at higher altitude.
2. Time Zone Changes:
This is something I have a lot of experience in and can manage myself with the strain this puts on my blood sugar level management and fatigue levels. Regardless, this still puts a lot of extra stress on the body especially when preparing for intense physical activity. This also adds to the stresses/ anxiety levels preceding the big event.
3. Anxiety/ Nerves:
This is a challenge that comes to everyone preceding something important. It can be embraced and turned into positive energy when managed properly, however when living with T1 Diabetes this challenge can throw our blood sugar levels into a spin. This was one of the biggest profile races I had ever competed in, the stress of the competition along with the stress of managing points 1 & 2 really forced me to be very, very methodical with my diabetes management in the days preceding the race,.
The effects of dehydration are exacerbated by the previous 3 points. Again as a T1 diabetic experiencing dehydration places a stress on managing blood sugar levels. I struggled with staying hydrated during the world championship race with about 35km remaining I was so depleted I thought I was not going to be able to finish the race.
These 4 points are just some of the elements of not just racing but life in general that us with T1 Diabetes will find more challenging than those without T1 Diabetes. Subsequently I believe it is important for us in the Diabetes family to give ourselves regular congratulations for getting through daily life. It can be a lot to carry and deserves regular encouragement from ourselves and others. On the start line of the world championship I had already had to conquer my own mountains within my body and mind just to be there. So when you see a rider from Team Novo Nordisk cross the finish line, remember they have not just overcome the course and the competition but they have also overcome the challenges of their T1 Diabetes which can traverse many aspects of our lives.
In the 2019 MTB marathon world championship I finished in 156th position out of 157 finishers. As far as performance is concerned this was one of the worst of my career! But I am VERY HAPPY with this result! I knew crossing that finish line I did my ABSOLUTE BEST! I was completely empty!! I gave my all to finishing that race, confronting those 4 challenges sapped me of energy, but DESPITE these I did my best!!
This is all we can ask in whatever we do in life. We do OUR BEST possible despite our challenges.
After receiving a diagnosis of type1 diabetes at age ten, Justin’s dreams and goals in life were threatened. Turning to cycling to help him cope with type1 diabetes quickly proved to not only be beneficial but also the start to a successful pro cycling career. Justin spent five years as a professional in road cycling travelling the world racing his bike. Dealing with the challenges of sport and diabetes across five different continents has given Justin a wealth of stories and knowledge about dealing with challenges on and off the bike.
Having since transitioned from a pro cycling career to completing two university degrees in psychology and education from Macquarie University in 2015 and being awarded with a University Blues Award for excellence in sport and academics. Justin continues to fuel his competitive streak with multi day mountain bike racing for team SubarumarathonMTB.com, having achieved podium finishes at The Crocodile Trophy, The Simpson Desert BikeChallenge, The Pioneer in New Zealand and The Mongolia Bike Challenge.
Since 2011 Justin has complemented his cycling career with sharing a message of hope, empowerment and overcoming adversity to audiences internationally.