DUBAI // As professional cycling teams power through the streets of Dubai this week, one group of riders will carry a special message of hope for the country’s many diabetics.
Team Novo Nordisk is making its third appearance in the Dubai Tour, which begins from the Marina Club on Tuesday with a 181-kilometre opening stage.
The team is the world’s first all-diabetic professional cycling outfit and was the idea of co-founder Phil Southerland, who has lived with diabetes all his life.
Like most of the cyclists racing for Team Novo Nordisk, Southerland was born with type 1 diabetes.
He wants the team to inspire others to take up cycling as a way of reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is often a result of inactivity and poor lifestyle.
The UAE has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the region, with one in five people living with the condition.
Spanish rider David Lozano is in his fifth year with the team and has overcome his initial fears after receiving the diabetes diagnosis.
“At the start I was feeling a little bit upset because I didn’t want to have the same disease as my father,” he said.
“But here I am, racing with the best guys in the world. Look at our team and look how strong we are, on the bike, or off the bike.
“Because you have been diagnosed with diabetes doesn’t mean you have to stop fighting for what you want to do.”
Participation in the region’s flagship cycling event by diabetic riders comes ahead of the largest diabetes study in the UAE, which is scheduled for release this year.
Doctors predict the prevalence of the condition is expected to increase in the Middle East by 263 per cent by 2030.
The aim of the UAE National Diabetes and Lifestyle Study, conducted by the Rashid Centre for Diabetes and Research, is to determine the prevalence of diabetes and risk factors in a representative sample of Emiratis and expatriates aged 18 years and over, from Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
Abu Dhabi is not participating because a comprehensive population-based screening is already under way as a prerequisite for compulsory insurance. The results are to be released this summer.
Risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes are obesity, hypertension, physical inactivity, age, diet and smoking.
According to the World Health Organisation, five million people die each year from diabetes and its complications.
This year marks the fifth season the all-diabetes men’s professional cycling team is racing on the International Cycling Union Professional Continental Tour.
The team is racing in countries around Europe, the United States, Asia and, for the first time, New Zealand, as they continue delivering the message on diabetes.
Southerland will be attending the Dubai event for the first time this week.
Fitzalan Crowe, who is in Dubai working with the team, said Southerland had shown that diabetes should not stand in the way of ambition. “Phil didn’t just overcome the odds, but fulfilled his dream of becoming a professional cyclist,” Ms Crowe said.
“His ability to take control of his diabetes at a young age and grow up healthy sparked the idea to start a business that encouraged others with diabetes to manage their condition, using sport as a platform.
The cycling team has received a wild card invitation to next month’s Abu Dhabi Tour and hopes to compete in the Tour de France.