Angus Hamilton has been a star of Victorian rugby.
The Harlequins Rugby Club hero consistently represented both the Victorian Senior State Team and the Melbourne Rising over a decorated 20-year career.
However, off the field, Angus has been living with Type 1 Diabetes since he was 10 years old.
“I was doing a few sport clinics and peeing a lot and drinking copious amounts of water,” Angus said.
“I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. It was a shock.”
Diabetes is a chronic autoimmune condition that means the body is unable to produce insulin – a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Those with Type 1 Diabetes depend on insulin every day of their lives to replace the insulin that the body cannot produce and to regulate this, they must test their blood sugar levels several times throughout the day.
Angus reflected on the level of dedication required to manage the condition both physically and mentally day-to-day.
“It’s tricky because I grew up with diabetes and playing rugby, so I never really saw them as separate,” Angus said.
“I found rugby as part of my day-to-day activities. Sometimes it was tricky and there was trial and error. I would meet with my Endocrinologist every three months. We would talk and try to adjust my insulin levels and blood sugar levels depending on my training activity. The older that I got, the better equipped I became to manage it on my own.”
“We would meet at the hospital, and I would show them the history of my blood sugar levels and they would look for trends. When you are at school you have quite habitual routines. If you have a low glucose level at 2am or 7am on a Wednesday morning, and you train every Tuesday night then there might be something relating to you having too much insulin following a training session because it is quite taxing on your body. You are always discussing this with the specialist. They’re highlighting the trends that they see and asking you questions why that might be.”
“There is a strong dialogue between yourself and the doctor in order to get the best results. It’s definitely not something that you can go to them and they tell you what to do – there are always two sides of it.”
Angus started his decorated rugby journey as a budding 10-year-old junior for Harlequin Rugby Club.
The Scotch College product represented the Australian Schoolboys in 2009 on their tour to Wales, England and Ireland, playing alongside current day union and league stars Scott Sio, Luke Jones, Liam Gill, Tyson Frizell and Chris Feauai-Sautia. The 197cm lock went on to represent the Victorian Senior State Team from 2010 to 2019 and spent a year overseas in Scotland playing for the Glasgow Hawks, in what was the “best thing I’ve done for my personal development.”
However, his biggest highlight in over 100 games of senior rugby was his remarkable four Dewar Shield titles with the Harlequins.
Winning his first title as Captain at the age of 22, Angus played in a total of four Dewar Shield Premierships (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017) - capping off a remarkable twenty-year career at the Quins as leader of the most successful team of the decade.
“It was a special occasion,” Angus said.
“Each year after that the people changed and the coach was different, so each title win was unique.”
“The Australian Schoolboys tour was so memorable; I still look back and think how cool it was. I also still talk to a lot of people I played with in Scotland and even got invited to one of their weddings the other day.”
“It’s been a really good opportunity to meet a diverse range of people. People that I never would’ve met otherwise and now that I’m really good friends with. That has been a driving thing for me and a significant factor in me playing.”
An extreme level of energy and physicality is expended during a rugby game, which requires aerobic endurance over a long duration of time. Players with diabetes need to keep a detailed log of their blood sugar levels and trends by taking frequent tests during training and matches.
It is a delicate balance, but thanks to a positive diabetes management plan, Angus has been able to complete the rigorous training and achieve the physical standards of a professional athlete.
“You need to be monitoring your blood sugar closely to prepare for and recover from games,” Angus said.
“I have a management plan I set up with my diabetic specialist. I would test my blood sugar levels a few times before a game, at halftime, after the game and a few hours after. Exercise that lasts two hours can have quite delayed effects on your body, because your body obviously is still recovering 10-12 hours later.”
“It depletes your body of other nutrients. Not just in the acute stage of the exercise but also half a day to a day later it is important to be aware of your body, your blood sugar and watching what you eat.”
To be an elite rugby player, it is critical to prepare your diet and look after your body to maximise performance. According to Angus, these qualities make for a perfect storm with managing diabetes – giving him more discipline to become a better professional.
“I would meet with a dietician and a nutritionist when I went to a hospital when I was going through my intensive sport,” he said.
“I would be eating quite consciously the night before, the day of playing and afterwards. Sometimes you need sugar, whereas other times I wouldn’t be eating sugar. I probably reduced the amount of sugar I was consuming as a result of diabetes – which I don’t think was a bad thing at all.”
“Diabetes gave me more of an awareness of what I was putting into my body, because you have to. You need to know how many carbohydrates you’re eating because it is your source of energy. It was definitely a good thing regardless of diabetes, to have more of an appreciation for.”
Despite a detailed management plan, challenges can arise at any time for people living with the ever-evolving condition. Angus believes it is critical for anyone diagnosed with diabetes to garner the help and support from family and friends.
“Going through puberty can be quite hard as your body is already in a state of high flux. That’s a period of time that I noticed,” he said.
“The image of diabetes can be intimidating to some young people because they don’t want to be ostracised. It can be quite tricky as it’s not something like high cholesterol that you can take a tablet for each day and not have to worry about it. It changes day to day and week to week. If you do a different amount of exercise on a Tuesday, that’s going to affect how your body reacts to insulin. It also depends upon seasons, I’m more sensitive to insulin in summer than I am in winter.”
“Often the perception of diabetes is that you’re unhealthy. There are some circumstances where that is applicable, but the entirety of Type 1 it isn’t. You just don’t have a working pancreas – it’s a genetic thing. As a younger kid you’re less aware of those nuances. That’s why it’s so important to have the support of your coaches and family because it definitely makes it easier.”
Angus hung up the boots in 2019 to tackle his current profession as an architect; however, he is “open to a return to rugby.”
After achieving incredible success on and off the pitch, he has a clear message for anyone with diabetes wanting to chase their dreams; “Don’t let diabetes stop you.”
“Diabetes is in no means a restrictive condition and it doesn’t inhibit you from doing anything you want to.”
“Like anything through life, it is something you can discuss the best management strategy with your doctor, parents and coaches so everyone is aware of the situation. The more people that know, the easier it will be to manage diabetes and your mental health through it.”
“It is important that people understand diabetes and are better educated around it.”
“It is important for people to know that you can comfortably live your life with it and it doesn’t prevent you from doing anything.”
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