Diabetic boy braves the waves to paddle The World

For 13-year-old Guy Welchman, participating in the Paddle Round The World event in Dubai will be particularly challenging as he has type 1 diabetes

Thirteen-year-old British expat Guy Welchman is paddle-boarding around The World Islands in Dubai as part of a charity event to raise awareness about Type 1 Diabetes which Welchman has. Clint McLean / The National
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DUBAI// Stand-up paddling through the sea for 30km would be challenging enough for most people.

But for 13-year-old Guy Welchman, taking part in the Paddle Round The World event on Friday morning will be even tougher.

Not only is the course through The World islands off the coast of Dubai considerably farther than he has ever stand-up paddled (SUP) before, he also has type 1 diabetes.

Despite being an SUP champion, the longest paddle the British schoolboy has yet completed lasted an hour, while this one could take him about five hours.

So, to make sure he’s not feeling unwell, his parents will be on a nearby support boat keeping a close eye on him.

But he is determined to finish the paddle: to raise money for diabetes charities and to prove to other diabetes sufferers that they can still lead active lives.

“Doing this I hope will show that even with type 1 diabetes, I can still do big distances like this,” said Guy, a pupil at the Dubai English Speaking School.

“I’m excited but a bit nervous because it will be hard to monitor my blood sugars, but I feel confident now.”

He will have to get up at 4.30am for the 6am event and begin preparations from a long list of instructions given to him by his doctor, including taking a long-lasting insulin shot.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, whereas type 2 is usually caused by being overweight or unfit.

Despite Guy’s condition he is very sporty. He was a keen rugby player until he decided to focus his time on competitive SUP. Now he races at least once a month. He also enjoys rock climbing and skate boarding.

“The diabetes hasn’t stopped me doing anything and the reason I’m doing this is to show it doesn’t stop you. If there has been an obstacle, I’ve found a way to overcome it,” he said.

It is the fifth year of Paddle Round The World, which raises money for Red Crescent, the humanitarian aid charity. This year, Surf Dubai, which organises the paddle, has requested that the Red Crescent gives some of the funds towards diabetes organisations.

Scott Chambers, one of the founders of Surf Dubai and one of Guy’s trainers, said: “The numbers of participants have almost doubled each year. It’s so popular with everyone, from families to individual competitive athletes.”

He says the ease with which people can get started in the sport is its main appeal, unlike surfing or kite surfing that take longer to master. “People can also notice the benefits of the sport quickly too,” he said.

He said Guy is an inspiration to others with diabetes. “I know he can do it,” Mr Chambers said, “but if for any reason he can’t, he can just jump on the support boat and watch everyone else.”

Guy’s mother, Louise, said she was proud of her son.

“A lot of people think you have to be so careful. You don’t want to make him feel disabled and be too protective,” she said. “You don’t want to make a big deal of the whole thing but you have to because it’s a serious disease.”

She has seen her son’s confidence grow since he took up SUP two years ago. “His trainers have really built his confidence and he loves this,” she said.

Awareness raising is still something she feels is important for the condition. “There is so much focus on type 2 diabetes here, but there are still many type 1 sufferers,” she said.