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Kids from UHL Ark Centre inspired by diabetic cycling team

Stephen Clancy inside image

A diagnosis of diabetes need not mean the end of the road for athletes and patients alike.

That’s according to Limerick Stephen Clancy, a member of the world’s first all-diabetes cycling team Novo Nordisk.

Stephen is also a diabetes ambassador and told his inspirational story to patients and clinicians on a recent visit to the Children’s Ark at University Hospital Limerick.

Growing up in Dooradoyle, Stephen was a sports-mad youngster and decided to focus fully on cycling at 16.

Following a breakout U23 season, he signed with Ireland’s top domestic squad, Dan Morrissey-Speedyspokes. While at a team training camp, routine blood tests indicated abnormal blood sugar levels. After a follow-up test, Clancy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

“My consultant told me that it was one of the most difficult conditions to manage and that I should limit myself to one mile per day, where I had been doing 200 miles per day the previous week. In short, for me it was career death. The only question on my mind was what it would mean for my cycling career. I started researching online and that was how I found out about Team Novo Nordisk,” said Stephen.

Team Novo Nordisk is a global all-diabetes sports team of cyclists, triathletes and runners with almost 100 athletes from over 20 countries.

After Stephen made contact, he was invited to train with the team’s development squad in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Six months later I had signed a professional contract. I rang home and quit college and my job in the bike shop back in Limerick,” said Stephen.

Since joining the team, Stephen has scored some impressive finishes at home and abroad including 4th in the U23 Irish National Road Race Championships; and a fourth place finish on a stage of the Tour of China I.

With Team Novo Nordisk, he is hoping to qualify to take part in the centennial edition of the Tour de France in 2021 and to quality for the Giro D’Italia before that.

“It feels great when you are in races around the world and some kid will come up to you and say to their mum or dad ‘Look he has the same pump as me’. It’s great they are able to see a 250km, six hour race is not something that’s beyond them and that I can spread that positive message,” said Stephen.

Prof Clodagh O’Gorman, Consultant Paediatrician in Diabetes and Endocrinology , University Hospital Limerick, said: “It was a great privilege for us all on the Ark to welcome Stephen and to listen to his story. It gives huge encouragement and inspiration to the children and teenagers who attend our paediatric diabetes services here at UHL and indeed to the staff of all disciplines who provide those services.”

“Stephen shows that while diabetes is a lifelong condition that needs intensive management, young people with type 1 diabetes can still go on and achieve their goals whether in education, in sport or in life in general.

 “At UHL, we have about 190 children and adolescents attending our service. They range in age from about one to 18 years old. Diabetes in children is an unremitting, life-long condition with a very high lifetime rate of complications. Intensive education, intensive management and frequent regular contact with the diabetes team are the mainstays of improving therapy to minimise the risks of complications.

“We expect that modern therapies, and close attention to achieving near normal blood sugars will protect these children and adolescents from the risks of diabetes complications in their future. The young people with type 1 diabetes who attend our clinic display great courage and tenacity, facing insulin injections every day of their lives. It is wonderful to introduce them to someone like Stephen Clancy, who is proof for them that they can achieve their goals, even if they have diabetes,” said Prof O’Gorman.