Australian Open 2023 | James Bracey’s daughter Matilda battling diabetes, Alexander Zverev interview
As a young child, German ace Alex Zverev was told he would never be able to be an elite athlete.
He was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes – a chronic disease affecting more than a million Australians.
“My parents were very scared. They were very worried. Mum was crying a lot,” he said in an interview with Wide World of Sports presenter James Bracey, whose four-year-old daughter Matilda was diagnosed at the age of two.
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“A lot of parents get intimidated by a lot of doctors who say ‘your kid is very limited’, which is not the case.
“I always said to the doctors, ‘yeah, well, I want to play tennis. That’s the only thing I really care about’.
“Some of them said, “No, you have to stop … there is no way you can be a professional athlete with this kind of illness. There is no way you can play such a hard physical sport.
“This is what really stuck in my mind, made me quite upset … to be honest.
“I don’t think you should set any limits to kids, because I think that is just not fair to them.”
In announcing he had the disease, Zverev also launched the Alexander Zverev Foundation, which supports children with diabetes and provides critical medication for those in developing countries.
“That was the goal of my foundation, to send a message out there that you can have a normal life,” he said.
“You can become anything you want with this kind of illness.
“There are a lot of Olympic gold medallists with diabetes. There are a lot of great footballers in Europe as well. There’s really no limit to what you can do.”
What it means for Zverev is he has to be far more careful with what he eats, when he eats it, and has to constantly monitor his sugar levels during matches.
He said there have been times throughout his career he has had to give himself an insulin shot during a match, but has done so during bathroom breaks.
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“When sugar levels go low, your head starts spinning. You don’t feel well. Everything is not quite there. You see me taking gels during matches a lot of the times,” he said.
“When your sugar is high, you feel slow. Your muscles are not working. You feel you are tired. You want to go to bed and sleep.
“I have to really take care of what I eat [and] when I eat it. Because that all obviously impacts the sugar levels, it impacts the match and impacts the outcome.”
He said the decision to go public was convenience, but also helped show kids they can still perform at elite levels.
“I was just uncomfortable. I was trying to hide it. I wasn’t checking my insulin levels in public,” Zverev said.
“In matches, you never saw me do a shot or anything like that … I was going to the bathroom to do it, which is not the right thing to do because … you should never be embarrassed of it.”
Bracey admitted he was “ignorant” before Matilda’s diagnosis, and now finds himself apologising for it.
“There was no history of it in my family … it is something that can happen to any of us at any time,” he said.
“Thank you for breaking down the stigma that surrounds diabetes – congratulations to you.”
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