James O’Reilly is an up and coming trailblazer, or rather a saddle blazer in both the diabetes and the cycling community . He is currently an amateur cyclist with a view to becoming professional.
He was featured in an Irish Times article last December because he took part in the 2015 mHealth Grand Tour which involved a 1,500km cycle with 20,000 metres of climbing over 10 days with 26 riders, all with type 1 diabetes.
He wants to encourage people with type 1 diabetes to follow your dreams, even if it involves professional and competitive sport. There is always a way.
How long have you lived with type 1 diabetes?
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in October 2006. This year, I will have been living with it for a full 10 years. Wow! I didn’t even realise that was happening until you asked me. Suppose I better have a party or something to mark the occasion. Apparently, lots of people with T1D celebrate their diaversaries but that is not something I have ever done. If I want to do it properly I will have to look up the hospital records to get the correct date of diagnosis. And of course I will be expecting presents!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m from Kilkenny, received my university education in law at University College Cork and am now working in Dublin, in the area of alternative dispute resolution within the construction industry. Of course, I still like to get down to Kilkenny as often as I can to get out training with my local cycling friends.
Cycling; When and how did you get into it?
My introduction to cycling started with very humble beginnings. In the summer of 2011, I was on a three week holiday in the U.S. based in the coastal resort of Hyannis Massachusetts and found myself needing to buy a bicycle in order to get from point A to B. On my second day there, I bought a child size rigid mountain bike from Walmart for $110 and struck a deal with the woman on the checkout to sell it to her in three weeks’ time for $90 and she would give it to one of her grandchildren. So there was my transport sorted for the total sum of $20. Everywhere I needed to be I got there on that crappy little bike. From one student party to the next, picking up groceries and going up and down the coast discovering a new beach every day to go swimming.
I bought my first road bicycle, when I came back to Ireland, with the intention of getting out and exploring the countryside on two wheels and that is exactly what it was used for over the next two years. For long periods, the bicycle sat dormant in the shed, but on fine evenings, it saw occasional outings for adventures on roads previously unexplored.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that I started riding the bike regularly, completing the shorter routes on a few local charity events. I started taking more of an interest in my diabetes management and my fitness, finding both endeavours to be complementary to each other.
By 2014, I was completing the more serious charity rides with distances in excess of 100 miles and conquering the most demanding hills available.
My standout memory from that year was competing the 160km Tour de Kilkenny. This event is local to me it was something that I had been aware of for a number of years. It was the first serious cycling challenge that I set myself. The route takes riders over some of the steepest climbs in Kilkenny and on that particular day the weather was almost biblical with a full month’s rainfall coming down on us over the course of the day. Temperatures plummeted and most riders abandoned the route, taking shortcuts for home.
I am not ashamed to admit that there were two occasions during the route where I was close to tears. The first was at around the halfway point when at the furthest point from home and shivering like a leaf I started to question if I could achieve my goal. The second was, when at sight of the finish, the emotions associated with realising how far I had come in my diabetes management and fitness to allow me to achieve this goal almost overcame me.
You recently participated in a cycle from Geneva to Brussels, called the mHealth Tour to raise money for T1D research, could you tell us a little about this?
In September 2015, I completed the mHealth Grand Tour, which was a 1,500km cycle with 20,000 metres of climbing over 10 days. 26 riders with Type 1 Diabetes took part in a medico-scientific observational study conducted by Orange Healthcare in association with the Société Fancophone du Diabete.
An Irish based company called ICON Plc contacted Diabetes Ireland looking for a cyclist with type 1 diabetes from Ireland to sponsor. Icon Plc have a large number of employees all over the world and who specialise in conducting medical research trials. I have been a member of Diabetes Ireland since shortly after diagnosis. They offered me the place which I felt very privileged and honoured to accept.
Participating in the tour and in particular the study, gave me the opportunity to actively help the Diabetes community and spread the message that you can do anything you want with Type 1 Diabetes. I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people that inspire me. And, the fact that I was sponsored meant that I had the opportunity to take part in something special that I may otherwise not have been capable of resourcing. The gratitude which I have for ICON Plc and Diabetes Ireland in showing such belief in me cannot be underestimated.
Completing this tour was by no means an easy feat. I was in unknown territory having never done back to back days in the saddle of that length or with that amount of climbing. To my relief I was well capable of the distances and discovered that I really enjoy cycling in the mountains.
What are your cycling plans for the future?
My goal is to one day compete as a professional cyclist with Team Novo Nordisk. Why? Because I see this organisation as the best place for me to develop as an athlete and as an advocate for achieving your goals with type 1 diabetes.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that when I discovered this organisation it instantly changed my life for the better, altering my attitude to my diabetes and my outlook for the future. It was a day in the summer of 2013. I remember like it was yesterday. I was sitting at a computer in a university library, supposed to be studying for upcoming exams, and I decided to do a google search for “professional athletes with type 1 diabetes” or something similar.
At this time, I was doing rides of up to two hours in duration and because of the advice from my medical professionals, I thought that it was not possible for a type 1 diabetic to cycle for longer durations. I thought that I had hit my limit on how long I could cycle while maintaining blood glucose control.
What jumped out at me from the search results was two men listed as professional cyclists. I clicked on one of the names. The next webpage listed this rider as a competitor for Team Type 1. I could not believe what I was seeing. Needless to say there was no more study done that day as I proceeded to read everything I could find online about this all-diabetic, professional sports team. I also discovered that there was an Irishman, Stephen Clancy on this team. So, armed with the knowledge that it was possible to be a proper cyclist with type 1 diabetes I set about finding out how to do it.
Later this year, I will travel to Atlanta in the US to attend a Team Novo Nordisk Talent Identification Camp, where I will be aiming to secure an invitation to race on their Development Team. At the very least I will come away with some good information that I will be able to put to good use in my racing and training.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The only thing I would like to add is a thank you to Thriveabetes for the work that you are doing. I have spoken to a number of people who attended the conference which you held last year and they had nothing but good things to say about it. Hopefully this is something that you can build upon and continue. If such an event was to be held again in 2016 I would certainly be going out of my way to attend.
If anyone would like to follow updates on my training and racing they can find me on:
- Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/james.oreilly.3386
- Instagram – james.o.reilly
- Twitter – @semajoreilly
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