Wasim Akram

How diabetes has not been able to slow a pacer

The first bowler to reach the 500-wicket mark in one-dayers, an impressive 414 wickets in Test cricket… Pakistan cricket legend Wasim Akram takes these and other numbers in his stride.

But what he could not was 470 — the reading of his blood-glucose level in 1997, when Akram was 29. “I was captain of the Pakistan team, at the peak of my career,” says the pacer, recalling his disbelief on being diagnosed with Type I diabetes.

To him, diabetes had meant obesity, unhealthy lifestyle but here he was, one of “the fittest sportsman ever, I used to run 10 km every day,” facing an unacceptable diagnosis. His symptoms — of being tired, sleepy, hungry and going to the bathroom frequently — had made his late father suggest that he take a blood sugar test.

“It took a month to come back into my senses,” says Akram, of the diagnosis and the support from his father, late wife Huma (a psychologist) and his diabetologist, who put him on insulin right away. It was tough to take “three, four jabs a day” and change the lifestyle — but three months on and he joined his team in South Africa, as a player, not captain, he clarifies.

Akram’s message to people with diabetes is simple: accept it, understand it is not your fault, structure your life, and move on!

Jitna tum chaloge, jitna tum kaam karoge utna sugar levels control ho jayenge (the more you walk and work, the better control you will have on your sugar levels),” he says, adding that he’s travelling more than before, but never misses his food at regular timings, his exercise and the frequent checks on his sugar levels.

Akram learnt the “tricks” of balancing his insulin, with the lunch breaks and his bowling spells literally on the field. “I got 150 plus wickets in the one-dayers and Test cricket after being diagnosed,” he says. His sugar shots came from toffees and orange juice, besides support from his teammates.

Zipping around India now for the IPL, Akram sticks to routine: Up at 6-30 am, lunch by 1 pm, and dinner by 8 pm. “I’ve stopped having carbs… if I feel like having rice, I have two tea-spoons,” he says.

But is he disciplined enough to resist the lavish food in “our part of the world”? “I’ve got to be (disciplined),” he quips, devising strategies around indulgent invitations!

Akram urges doctors to give his experience as an example to bust myths and stigma around diabetes. You can live a normal life, be on top of your game, get married and have children, he says, referring to his 14-month-old baby girl. And don’t fear insulin, it improves your quality of life and you can have a long lifespan, he says.

Not shy of taking insulin openly, Akram speaks to children with diabetes and their parents encouraging them to take control. Children should play and parents should stop blaming themselves, he says.

The pacer has a message for doctors too. Take time to explain to your patients why they are taking a medicine and how it will work.

NEO Monitoring Report

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