Spain defender Andrea Pereira shares her experiences of being diagnosed with diabetes, the discipline required to maintain a healthy lifestyle and how she can inspire children with the same condition.
Article top media content
Spain's Andrea Pereira knows what it is to reach the top against the odds. When she was a child, the now 28-year-old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and informed that she would need to inject insulin after every meal for the rest of her life.
While there were diabetic professional players, awareness was limited, and her regular ritual set the young Pereira apart from her team-mates. Undeterred, and with the support of her family, her self-discipline has made her a UEFA Women's Champions League winner and five-time champion of Spain's domestic league with Atlético de Madrid and Barcelona.
UEFA Women's EURO 2022 is the defender's second European Championship, and hopes are high in the Spanish camp.
Here, Pereira takes us on her journey from diagnosis to life as a role model for other sufferers, which has led to her writing a book detailing her experiences.
Andrea Pereira on… learning she had diabetes
It was in the summer and I was 11 or 12 years old. It was a strange summer because a lot of changes were happening as a result of puberty and adolescence; we thought that it was nothing more than that.
With time, a few more issues came to light and I had to see a doctor who told me that I had Type 1 diabetes.
The only treatment is insulin. You inject it after every meal. That was the most unusual or strange thing about it for me. At 12 years of age, when they tell you that you have to jab yourself, they tell you to be disciplined, that there are certain foods that you can't eat, it changes you a lot, but I took it as a natural thing, something that I had to go through with.
When I was around 16 or 17 years old, when my footballing career started getting to the level of a professional, my doctor said that I had to take better care of myself because if I didn't, the adverse effects of diabetes would end up manifesting themselves earlier than normal. From that moment on, I changed my mentality a lot and I started to take much better care of myself. I started to improve the way I did things because I wanted to play football. I did everything I could to keep playing.
Andrea Pereira on… family support
I suppose my parents saw the diagnosis differently because they knew more about it but I was just a little girl, so I didn't really know what was happening to me with my condition. I saw it as a natural part of me. Now I've had diabetes for many years, I'm still learning about it but I deal with it quite well.
My parents, more than anyone else, were the ones who were always there. When the news got to my school, they supported me a lot, they worried about me a lot. I have never had any problems in terms of support. I'm so grateful to everyone because everyone always treats me so well.
Andrea Pereira on… living a different matchday experience
When a game is about to start, everyone is thinking about the game, aren't they? I have to think about the game and my glucose levels, if I've injected my insulin, if I need to inject more, if I need to reduce the number of injections or if I need to take more. It can take your mind off the game but I’ve been doing this for years and I deal with it quite naturally. It's a part of my life.
Sport causes your glucose levels to fall over the hours following a game, so after each match, I measure them with a sensor and, depending on my glucose levels, I'll either eat right there and then or I'll wait until my glucose levels go down a bit. My glucose levels can increase quite a bit due to nerves in the game, so I have to keep them under control.
The sensor that I use [main picture, above] has come out recently and it's a game-changer for diabetics because you can send your blood-sugar levels directly to your mobile phone via Bluetooth. You can monitor your glucose levels 24 hours a day without having to prick your hand with a needle, which was how we had to do it previously. It is a great invention for all diabetics.
Andrea Pereira on… how her younger self would react to seeing a diabetic international player
I would have loved to have seen someone wearing this sensor when I found out I was diabetic. It can help you and motivate you to keep going.
It would have motivated me a lot because it would have given me the confidence that I can achieve my goals, even as a diabetic. It is very helpful that it is so visible. You can experience, first hand, a diabetic player leading a more or less completely normal life.
Diabetes is a silent disease. If you don't know it, it's really hard to understand it. But for those who are diabetic, it will be very helpful to see that a diabetic is able to be a professional football player. It is important for those children and especially for their parents, in helping to motivate them.
Andrea Pereira on… offering advice for younger players
On social media, many parents with diabetic children write to me, or sometimes even the diabetic children themselves. Sometimes, they are dropped by their clubs, or have problems at school or with their football.
So for me to have had it so easy throughout my entire footballing career – every club that I've been at has supported me a lot – makes me feel very privileged. Not all diabetic children have such positive experiences, so I would like to be an example showing that anything is possible, especially to people who don't want diabetic children in their teams, so they can learn to take on responsibility for a condition that can be easily managed.
Teams, clubs and schools think the responsibility of looking after a diabetic child means they have to stay with them. For that reason, they end up not wanting them or don't want the responsibility, but actually, the diabetic person themselves has the lion's share of the responsibility. More information needs to be shared by the families, the diabetic person themselves and everyone around them.
Andrea Pereira on… representing her country
Women's football in Spain is growing. We have a great group of people and they can all be role models in many different areas.
To represent Spain with this group of amazing players is great but at the same time, it's a big responsibility. We are willing to take this on and we'll do everything we can to make sure Spain is happy with us.