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#DiAview with a Karate champion

On the Saturday just gone (24th) Karate ace Graham Chamberlain from South Africa prepared for the WUKF National and Afro-Asia open next month in good form, achieving 1st place medals in Boland Dragons Karate League. In also living with Type 1 diabetes, as a member of #DiAthlete "Athletes League" sharing empowerment through exercise, we caught up with Graham for a #DiAview to hear some of his tips and experiences.

We believe activity starts with enjoyment and so first asked Graham what he enjoys doing the most. Graham: "I have two favourite 'sporting activities' that I really enjoy. The first one is of course Karate. I have been practicing Karate for the past 30 years; I love competing and I have my own Dojo in Somerset West, Cape Town. The other activity is Surfing, I started in 2020 and have really become obsessed with it. It does require some planning prior to heading into the ocean but then again, that's nothing new for us in living with diabetes."


What would you say you have learnt about both yourself and diabetes through your active lifestyle?

Graham: "I have learnt that I have the ability to change adversity into advantage. Through a never give-up attitude and a competitive mindset, I can overcome the challenges life throws at me.

With my diabetes management, I try to apply this attitude and mindset when my blood glucose gets out of range and I am tired, weak, irritated or when I feel overwhelmed. Also having a plan prior to any physical activity is imperative, I always ensure to have my medical equipment, supplies or glucose close by whenever I attend physical activities."


What keeps you encouraged in fitness? 

Graham: "For me first and foremost is that I try to be better than what I was the day before. I try to learn something new or push myself harder every time I train Karate or go surfing. I also jog and ride an exercise bicycle to aid my fitness levels and I have found that, I can help myself to try and better my time at every training session.

I don’t always get it right and I don’t always feel strong and up for the task, and that is also okay. I am only human with an autoimmune condition - and for my own mental health - I know that putting too much pressure on myself can also become a burden and lead to diabetes management fatigue. So finding a balance is key."


What do you feel lacks the most in 2024 on the topic of diabetes and exercise?

Graham: "I think in South Africa a big void is proper and consistent diabetes education.

Through proper education comes confidence. This applies to both people diagnosed and their caregivers or parents.

I remember when I was first diagnosed at age 16, an Endocrinologist told me that I should stop Karate because it would spike my blood glucose too much and cause long term damage. The Endo should rather have walked a journey with me and teach me how to manage my diabetes during my training as appose to just tell me to stop.

Without confidence there might be fear; fear of trying new sports or attempting a challenge, due to of lack of knowledge. This is why I want to be part of DiAthlete; I want to educate, encouarge and empower others connected with this to live out their dream and not to hold themselves back from partaking in anything."


Have you ever faced a block / hurdle psychologically on your journey with type 1 and activity?

Graham: "Yes, when I was first diagnosed. I was scared to fight again in Karate competition and only competed in Kata for almost a year. The reason for my fear was based on my body getting fatigued faster when my blood glucose would rise, and that I would be too weak to defend myself properly and also to perform at my pre-diabetes performance level.

It was actually my Karate instructor that encouraged me to get back in the ring and continue fighting at competition level. Mentally it was difficult to overcome that fear but I managed to do it by ensuring I test my blood glucose before and after each fight and that I can micro dose prior to the fighting event starting.

Again, knowledge on how to manage diabetes gave me the tools to regain confidence and overcome that fear.

I also applied that with my surfing, at first I was scared to go into the ocean knowing that my medical supplies are not as close to me as it would normally be. My insulin pump is disconnected and the glucose I normally have on me, is now on the beach or at the surf shop. Knowing my blood glucose level prior to going into the ocean and also consuming some glucose before I start surfing ensures that I do not go into a hypo whilst in the water and I do not surf longer than an hour at a time."


What would you like to see more of in support exercise and type 1 diabetes care?

Graham: "I would like to see diabetes sports educators or companions; I would like to start that in South Africa.

Having a person that walks a path with you on a regular basis by supporting, encouraging and being there not just physically but helping with developing the correct mindset to ensure confidence through knowledge and education."


What’s your message to others with type 1 diabetes who may need some encouragement at this moment?

Graham: "My message would be not to be too hard on oneself and not to rush things. It is okay to start slowly, from there confidence will come and you will gain momentum which will evidently lead to progression both mentally and physically.

Empower yourself with knowledge and don’t be scared to experiment to see what works for you and what might not.

Although living with diabetes is an everchanging challenge and every day is different, we can use knowledge through experience to better manage diabetes and have the confidence to take on what ever goal we set our mind to."


Graham's upcoming Karate tournaments:

  • Cape Town Summer Challenge (9 March)

  • The World Union of Karate-Do Federation (WUKF) National and Afro-Asia Championship (21 to 24 March)

  • The Western Cape Karate League Championships (25 May, 14 September and 26 October)

  • Cape Town All Styles Championship (22 June)

  • Winelands Championship (17 August)

  • (WUKF) Western Cape Championship (9 November)


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