I thought diabetes would end my sailing career but a blood glucose meter saved it

Alone in the Atlantic, with crashing waves around me, managing a 40ft sailing yacht and trying to break a world record, there are of course many things I have to watch out for.

From weather charts to wave patterns, sail configuration and navigation gear, there are a million and one things to consider.

But there’s one reading that feels more important than the others—my glucose readings.

Because not only am I a professional, competitive ocean sailor, racing around the world, crossing oceans and battling all sorts of brutal conditions, I also have Type 1 Diabetes, a lifelong disease.

I need to be aware of the amount of glucose in my blood because my body no longer regulates it for me and when it goes outside the safe range it’s not only bad for performance but potentially life threatening.

And thanks to a bit of innovative technology, it’s easy to monitor no matter how far I am from the nearest port.

Jack Trigger out on a boat, with a gray sea and sky behind him, in red sailing gear

I knew it was the right choice for me to keep racing (Image: James Tomlinson)

I put a small sensor on my arm called the Flash Glucose Monitor that allows me to check my glucose levels at any time so I can make better decisions about exercise, diet, and whether I need insulin.

This helps me manage my diabetes, especially in the absence of routine and in a rapidly changing environment.

The verification takes seconds, and the sensor is connected to my phone, making it even easier.

Having previously had to use a finger prick method on the boat despite being battered by wind and waves, I certainly prefer the more technological approach that my Freestyle Libre allows me to do.

Jack Trigger out on a boat, out at sea (land nearby), wearing sunglasses and pulling a rope

My love affair with sailing began when I was six (Image: James Tomlinson)

My love of sailing started when I was six years old – my mum took my brother and I to a local sailing club and I just hopped on a dinghy.

I took to it straight away – I was on the boat right away with someone else and within a few days I was even on my own.

I wanted to progress quickly and with the infrastructure of the local racing clubs I was able to do that – I had my first taste of competitive racing when I was just eight years old and by the time I was 13 I was competing in British competitions.

My journey from the local to the national level shaped much of my teenage years in school – I was immersed in that life, spending my weekends traveling the country and developing my skills.

Jack Trigger checks his glucose monitor while standing in the cabin on a boat and looking down at the monitor.

Verification takes seconds and the sensor is connected to my phone, making it even easier (Image: James Tomlinson)

I went to university but left shortly after because I decided that what I really want to do is sail professionally.

There was something about these huge boats, these technological marvels that are up to 70 feet long and the enormous distances they cover, that just caught my imagination.

I began attending events around the world, but at 21, shortly after completing a particularly grueling adventure around the Arabian Gulf, I finally received the diagnosis that would change my life.

In many ways it should have been obvious what was wrong with me – my symptoms were the classic diabetes warning signs of fatigue, constant thirst and frequent trips to the toilet.

James is sailing, standing out on the boat navigating a difficult wave

Something about those huge boats caught my imagination (Image: James Tomlinson)

But I took part in this challenge and worked in temperatures north of 40 degrees, so some of it felt natural.

It wasn’t until I got home and jumped on the scale and realized I’d lost 40 pounds, almost a quarter of my body weight, that I knew something was seriously wrong.

I was immediately hospitalized for diabetic ketoacidosis — a dangerous condition that can occur when type 1 diabetes is left untreated and blood sugar becomes very high. I was severely dehydrated and at risk of falling into a diabetic coma. My priority was simply to get better.

But in the few weeks after the diagnosis, I began to worry about my career.

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I knew my onboard mindset could also help with this struggle – when I’m on the boat there’s so much going on that I try to focus on what I can change and try to get the noise in my head over external ones Turning the power down and the things I can’t do anything about.

Knowing what to focus on, how to prioritize and getting a sense of what is the right choice in a stressful environment is one of the greatest skills of sailing.

And I knew it was the right decision for me to continue racing, even after my diagnosis.

Jack Trigger inside on a boat checking a monitor on a screen

Armed with this technology, I know I’m not limited by my diabetes (Image: James Tomlinson)

So that’s exactly what I did. There were initial snags to overcome, not least the rules and what I was allowed to do in the competition – and the challenges of being treated more “analogously” with finger sticks and injections.

This is why the technological marvel of the Libre was so crucial – even outside of the sailing world, I remember the entire diabetes community exploding with excitement around 2014/15 that this innovation could improve things so much.

Not only has it improved my quality of life, but also my performance on the boat; The sensor has an alarm that sounds when my glucose levels are low, a real safety net as I navigate the ups and downs of my career.

It has enabled me to achieve so many of my goals and helped me focus on the ones I’m still striving for.

In 2018, I competed in the notoriously difficult Route du Rhum race between France and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, an 18-day transatlantic crossing, becoming one of the youngest competitors and the first with type 1 diabetes to complete the course.

My ultimate goal is to compete in the Vendée Globe, a solo sail around the world that can take almost three months to complete.

In sailing, it is a generally accepted fact that the limiting factor in ship technology is the sailor herself; the variable that can cause something to go wrong.

But for me, armed with this technology, I know that I will not be limited by my diabetes, I will continue to help people who have the same disease and will constantly seek to advance, challenging myself on the ocean and throwing myself into new ones competitions.

There will be a lot of uncertainty – there is no way you can complete a challenge on a yacht without it – but I will never be left in the dark on how to manage my diabetes.

For more information on type 1 diabetes see diabetes.org.uk

The technology I can’t live without

Welcome to The Tech I Can’t Live Without, Metro.co.uk’s new weekly series in which readers share the piece of gear that has proved indispensable to them.

From gadgets to software, apps, and websites, you’ll read about all kinds of innovations that people can really count on. Part of the series

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https://metro.co.uk/2023/03/12/i-thought-diabetes-would-end-my-sailing-career-but-a-glucose-monitor-saved-it-18415388/ I thought diabetes would end my sailing career but a blood glucose meter saved it

Justin Scacco

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