Meet Dirk Visser, living with Type 1 and running for better health. Dirk shares some of the highs and lows, and how running impacts his diabetes on YouTube as The Running Diabetic.
Could you tell us your diagnosis story?
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 17 years ago. While on holiday with my family on the KwaZulu/Natal South Coast, I started experiencing the standard diabetes symptoms of frequent urination, impaired vision, extreme weight loss. It was a scary time. I lost 15kg in 2 weeks and had no idea what was going on.
After a couple of visits to a few doctors in KZN and being misdiagnosed a few times, we decided to drive back to Johannesburg and straight to a hospital. It was there that I called my GP and they ran all the tests needed to confirm that I, in fact, had diabetes. It was very overwhelming but I quickly adjusted to this new way of being.
I accepted that this was part of my life and I could either be upset about it or embrace it and make it work for me.Dirk Visser
Have you always been a runner?
Short answer, absolutely not! I was always the one who would come up with excuses when we had to do athletics in school, or magically have a stomach bug on cross-country days. It was only in my late 20s/early 30s that I started doing the odd 5km run with friends. I only really got into running 2 years ago at the age of 36. I haven’t looked back. To say that I am addicted would be an understatement.
Could you tell us about The Running Diabetic?
I thought to start a YouTube channel to simply document my journey towards running my first marathon. Also as a way to look back and track my progress. I noticed that most of the running content for diabetics is based abroad. I really wanted to see content from South Africans that are in the same situation as me while understanding the diabetes situation in SA.
What advice would you give to others with diabetes who want to start running?
Quite simply: go and do it. It has so many benefits when it comes to managing diabetes. It gives you an outlet to clear your mind and exert some of that pent up energy that we all carry.
The most valuable piece of advice I can give is “Don’t Guess, Test!” It is so important to know exactly what is happening with your sugar levels, both before and after your run.
If you are doing a long run, you will have to check during your run as well. Understanding where your sugar levels are, you can either push yourself on a run or just take it easy. It is going to take some time to figure out how running is going to affect your levels and that will determine the best time to run during the day.
The effects of running will have an impact on your sugar levels for 24 to 48 hours post run. It is important to track the fluctuation in your levels and have a remedy plan to deal with any lows or highs that you may experience. People with diabetes have the advantage of knowing exactly what is going on in their bodies and the direct impact that exercise has on them. Knowledge like this is vital in getting the most out of your run and having the added bonus of getting fit and staying in shape.
What would you say to someone who is struggling with diabetes?
Speak out! Ask for help or have someone you trust to use as a sounding board. The reality is, no one can solve this for you. Knowing that you have someone who you can share your struggles with means your load will be easier. There is no shame in saying that you are struggling.
Keep a journal and write down when you have had an awesome day of good, in range, sugar levels. Write down everything you did that day as well as everything you ate and drank. Then get into the discipline of repeating that behaviour as much as you can.
What’s the biggest challenge of diabetes for you?
My biggest challenge is getting those around me to understand how diabetes affects me. It is difficult for people to understand how important it is for me to eat at regular times. Why I have to say no to doing certain activities when my levels aren’t in range. Making them understand why I can’t share the sweets I carry with me, for lows of course, all the time!
What makes your life sweet?
Knowing that even thought I have diabetes, I live life to the fullest. I prioritize making the most out of every day. Whether that’s with my running, surfing or just being and making people smile.
What to read next?
People with diabetes can do anything! Neve Quail’s story: We were so inspired to hear about teenager Neve Quail, champion archer and living with Type 1 diabetes. We asked her to share her story here.
What does a good day with diabetes look like?: We often talk about the challenges of diabetes with our South Africans with Diabetes community – and that’s okay! Diabetes has many challenges.
22 years of Type 1 diabetes: my story, struggles and tips: Jehaan was diagnosed 22 years ago with Type 1 diabetes. She shares her story, struggles and best advice with us.