Waikato-based musician Ricky Winikerei has tackled a nationwide fitness challenge to help raise awareness around diabetes.

The Type 1 diabetic is keen to use his own experiences to help raise money for Diabetes NZ and educate people about the condition.

The 39-year-old was diagnosed three years ago and recently undertook a 28-day Winter Kick-Start Programme at Anytime Fitness in Cambridge.

The campaign set out to encourage people to get active and to try and raise $30,000 to combat New Zealand’s fastest growing health issue.

The symptoms

“I was feeling tired all the time, always going to the bathroom and I craved sugar,” says Ricky, as he explains what signs first led him to visit his GP.

“I would finish a gig and there was nothing open late at night other than fast food outlets. My water intake was low and I only wanted juice or sugary drinks.

“Being diagnosed as Type 1 has meant a lifestyle change for me. But I’ve learnt that you can’t let it rule your life and stop you doing the things you love,” he says.

“It is a balancing act in terms of fitness, diet, work and day-to-day jobs and making sure I keep my insulin levels in check. I heard horror stories about how hard it is to balance exercising with your insulin so I stopped doing any physical activity until I could get a handle on how to manage my condition.”

Coping with the challenge

Ricky says he went through a period post-diagnosis when he felt quite down.

“It was easy to sit at home and not do anything, but that’s a lot of time to think about my situation and it starts to play on your mind.

“As the year went on and after learning more about it, I got back into exercise and realized that I could use it as a tool to help manage my diabetes. Getting into sports and work again was not only good for me physically, but the social side of it helped too.”

Sharing his story

As Ricky got used to his diagnosis and learnt more about it, he felt confident sharing his story with others.

“I haven’t hidden it. I don’t want to end up dead or in hospital. The more people I can tell about my condition the better as they’ll be there to help me. At the same time, I can educate my friends and family about diabetes too.”

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition. It cannot be prevented, but it can be managed through a combination of medication, healthy food choices and exercise. Of all the people with diabetes, it is estimated that about 10 percent of them have Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. For many people, it can be prevented through following a healthy lifestyle.

Ricky’s motivation for doing the challenge and supporting the campaign is not just about raising money.

“Most people don’t understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, or they assume people have diabetes because of their weight or their race,” he says.

“It comes down to education. I hope I can help challenge the stigma around diabetes and dispel some of the myths surrounding the condition.”

Ricky’s training for the challenge kicked off with a consultation with an experienced coach at Anytime Fitness Cambridge. This ensured his workout was tailored to his fitness level to help minimise any risk to Ricky’s health because of his illness.

“It was great to improve my muscle tone, lose a few kilos and feel good about looking after myself,” he says.

“I’m not the type of person to put myself out there, so the process challenged me and put me out of my comfort zone. But it was worth it to help raise awareness and educate others.”