Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 18 May 2022

How diabetes 'saved' my life

US-based motivation speaker and elite powerlifter, Chris Rudden, describes his experience of living with an incurable disease.

RECEIVING A DIAGNOSIS for an incurable disease can be a harrowing experience. But it’s not the end of the world.

When you first get diagnosed with a chronic illness like diabetes, you get overwhelmed with multiple emotions all at once — anxiety, panic, anger, sadness, and more. You feel everything caving in inside you and your whole world crumbling down all in a matter of seconds.

And you start mulling over questions that you’ve never even thought of before. How are you going to live with it? How could you possibly achieve your dreams now?

I was 19 when I went through this exact experience. It came as a shock when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I was distressed for a while but then it became clear to me that this diagnosis is just what I needed to turn my life around. This might sound shocking but let me start from the beginning so you can get a clear picture of my life before diabetes.

Life before diabetes


I was born with a congenital birth defect that left me with a shorter left arm and only two fingers on my left hand. So naturally, I was struggling with a lot of body image issues and was lacking in self esteem. To make up for it, I tried whatever I could to live the life of a normal teenager. I used a special glove on my left hand so I could insert a drumstick and play the drums. I got into martial arts and even started break dancing.

Despite all this, I was still battling my inner demons. You could say that these demons were unleashed when I got into college. I started drinking more and more and even began taking drugs at one point. I was slowly self-destructing so I could hide my problems. If I had kept going at that rate, things might have turned out horribly for me. But with my diagnosis, I received an unexpected leg up…a reason to change my life for the better.

A changed life after diabetes

With Type 1 diabetes to motivate me, I started working out to get a fitter body. I felt the determination to become a bodybuilder although I was quite weak and somewhat small at the time. Within one year, my muscles became stronger and I managed to put on about 20lbs. People witnessing this change would even come to me for fitness advice and help with their training.


So you can imagine how significantly my self esteem grew. As I experienced positive change after positive change, my interest in health and fitness was piqued. Eventually, I decided to make fitness training my profession and switched my major to Exercise Science from Political Science. I’m now a four-state record holder in powerlifting and a professional fitness trainer.


Get closer to the stories that matter with exclusive analysis, insight and debate in The42 Membership.

Become a Member

Challenging the challenges of fitness training as a diabetic

Living with an incurable disease is unimaginably difficult. With diabetes, there are so many limitations and challenges that prevent you from doing what you want to do. It’s not just about the food restrictions. Some people may even be afraid of exerting themselves with physical activities due to the fear of blood sugar fluctuations. This is perfectly natural and you should be aware of such risks when you’re living with diabetes. But don’t let that fear prevent you from achieving your fitness goals.


Here’s what I’d advise you if you want to get into fitness training as a diabetic:

Self-tracking – I can’t stress enough the importance of tracking your blood glucose levels. While self-tracking is crucial for every diabetic patient, it’s especially necessary if you plan on training your body. You’ll be exerting your body during intensive physical exercises, which means you could experience significant fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.

With excessive blood sugar fluctuations, you could experience hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, both of which can result in serious complications. Monitoring your blood glucose regularly can help you take action in time — whether you amp up the levels with some snack or you lower them with a shot of your Epipen.

Nutrition maintenance – As a diabetic, you’re probably already controlling your diet and managing your intake of specific nutrients. You might have even learnt to stay away from certain nutrients like carbohydrates entirely. But as a diabetic fitness trainer, you will have to re-consider your dietary plan.

For building your muscles, you’re going to need plenty of proteins but you also need a significant amount of carbohydrates to fuel your body for intensive exercises. Excessive restriction of carbohydrates from your diet can result in decreased performance and muscle loss, hindering your fitness efforts.


Most people are surprised when they hear me say that diabetes saved my life. I know that diabetes is a dangerous and horrible disease that shouldn’t exist at all and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. The main idea behind my expression is that learning to accept my condition, to accept reality, has helped me change my life for the better. For me, diabetes was a much-needed wake-up call that has motivated me to be where I am today. What’s the biggest challenge diabetes has imposed on you? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

Chris Ruden is a US-based motivation speaker and elite powerlifter. Read more about him here.

Coach of Olympic champion to lead Ireland’s swimmers to Tokyo 2020>

Souness fears ‘scary’ Chelsea could end Liverpool title bid>

About the author:

Chris Ruden

Read next: