MARK ETHERIDGE: Tegan beats diabetes daily to excel at hockey
Her life journey was mapped out at age five but may yet take a turn in Paris
A 2011 medical study showed that about eight in 100 South Africans suffer from diabetes. Hockey ace Tegan Fourie is one of them, but she suffers from the more serious type 1.
KwaZulu-Natal-born Fourie is a fighter, though, and after first being diagnosed in Grade R, she has gone all the way to proudly wearing the green and gold in both indoor and outdoor hockey.
A second-year student at the University of Pretoria shortly turning 24, Fourie is studying foundation phase education having completed a three-year sport development and management diploma in KwaZulu-Natal.
The midfielder was part of the SA hockey team that went to the outdoor Junior World Cup in Chile a few years ago and her sporting dream is to be part of Team SA at the Olympics.
Mom Karen explains how Tegan’s condition was picked up. “She was just over five years old. We’d been to the beach and she complained of just not feeling well. It was Sunday evening and we told her we’d take her to the mediclinic the next day and she looked at me and said: ‘Mommy, please take me now.’
“My husband Dave took her and they were away forever, she was admitted to hospital and that same night we were sent off to a diabetic educator who took four hours to explain the road ahead for Tegan. She warned us that parents of a child with diabetes often end up with their marriage breaking up.”
Not the fighting Fouries, though, and 2022 sees Tegan and sister Cerian, five years her junior, sharing a flat in Pretoria, studying and playing hockey for Tuks and “living their best lives”.
Team SA’s hockey squad are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK, later in 2022 but she is focusing further down the road, on the 2024 Paris Olympics. “That’s my dream. I love indoor and outdoor hockey but outdoor excellence is what will get me to the Olympics.”
“The paediatrician said that sport would be extremely vital to help get her through this and he’s been right,” says Mrs Fourie. “She was raised to believe she could do anything, she just had to follow certain rules.”
Discipline is what dictates daily life for young Tegan, though medical technology has advanced rapidly since her initial diagnosis. Mom often had to accompany her on tours to monitor her sugar levels, going so far as to check them while Tegan was asleep and topping up her insulin if necessary.
Now she has the equivalent of a modern-day car’s computer chip that monitors the engine and electronic works and alerts the driver to possible faults.
Tegan takes up the tale. “I can only really remember life as a diabetic, not before. I used to have very frequent insulin injections and it was tough to get the balance right and as an eight-year-old it was hard to inject yourself. My mom often used to come to school to inject me.”
The life-changer came in the form of an insulin pump that has a subcutaneous canula (medical tube) into her body … and a sensor that provides continuous glucose monitoring and takes much of the guessing game away from Fourie.
Planning is vitally important to her. “Matchdays are different to other days so if I’ve got an 8am-8.30am game I wake up at 5am to eat breakfast. When I start a game I don’t want a lot of insulin in my body. With this technology I can test my sugar levels at halftime and if I need insulin I just connect to the pump and give myself a top-up.”
Nerves also play an important part in the whole dynamic. “If I get nervous or the match is at a high intensity, adrenaline can push sugar levels up so I’ve had to learn to control especially nervous situations ...
“I’ve also learnt that a diet with low GI [glycaemic index] and high protein works best for me but it’s a constantly learning and evolving process.”
Fiercely independent, she says by and large her sporting teammates are accepting of her condition
“Most of them are fully aware and completely accept it, my closest friends and teammates have seen how I change my insulin and so on. For me, the more people who know about it the better, I like educating people on it, simply because it’s a big part of who I am.”
Inky Zondi was assistant coach of the SA side that Fourie was part of in Chile and is also her coach at Tukkies. He says her medical condition is really not an issue. “One of my philosophies is ‘people first — hockey second’. If, like Tegan, a player has a chronic illness, it’s their journey anyway, so it’s important for them to manage themselves, take their medication and communicate.
“Most of our athletes with chronic conditions do tend to be very disciplined because they want to be out on the field and part of the action.
“Tegan is unique in her position but you’d never say so. She’s incredibly disciplined and communicates so well. Her condition has never been an issue, so well have her and her family learnt to manage it.”
Zondi, who was also part of Team SA’s coaching staff at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, sums up: “From my point, she’s one of the finest athletes I’ve worked with in terms of ability, mentality and being able to rise to the occasion and adaptability. Her medical condition is hardly a factor.”
If there’s any advice that tenacious Tegan can pass on to newly diagnosed diabetic sportsmen and women, it would be to never stop believing. “It’s tougher and there are more rules but it’s so worth it. Sure, you get your bad days but then your support system kicks in and I can’t thank my mom, dad and siblings enough for their incredible support.”
Tegan was born to believe and the Fourie family and her teammates are all too well aware that seeing is believing.
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