Mobilising for diabetes

At European level, the main advocacy targets of IDF Europe are the EU Institutions (European Parliament and European Commission), the Council of Europe and the World Health Organization European Region. At national level, the Federation acts as a bridge for its Members by informing them on the latest policy developments Europe-wide.

… and suddenly your life and all your priorities change
In 2012, the International Diabetes Federation European Region (IDF Europe) launched its annual IDF Europe Prizes in diabetes recognizing excellence, innovation, dedication and commitment in diabetes. In 2017, IDF Europe recognized the work of two innovative and dedicated young women making a daily positive impact on diabetes: Cristina Cucchiarelli, recipient of the IDF Europe Prize for Long-Standing Achievement, and Dr Shivani Misra, recipient of the IDF Europe Prize for Young Researcher. We are pleased to present them and share their achievements with you.

Today we spoke to Cristina, member of the National Italian Diabetes Association of people with diabetes (ANAID) about dancing, a French philosopher and deciding on your life’s path.

Cristina, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
If I had to define myself in a few words, I would say passionate, determined and eager to discover unknown roads. I love arts, the nature and travelling with my backpack and a map, but my true passion is sport. When I was a child I started playing sport at competitive levels. Figure skating, volleyball, basketball, and finally dancing. From that day on I followed a winding but charming path. A life of changes, full of commitments. Thanks to dancing I travelled around the world, meeting other cultures and different ways of life, so different from my own vision of life and even love. I felt strong, I was strong. Nothing could undermine my self-confidence. There were just me and my dream to face the whole world and my dream was big: I wanted to become one of the best dancers in the world.

I never had any health problems, was always healthy, strong and full of life. Then, after a trip to Poland at the age of 14, something changed deep inside me, but I could not understand what was happening. I was always tired, thirsty and had the inexplicable need to go to the toilet at least every hour. Nobody could help, explain to or understand me. Even though I constantly underwent tests and analyses, there was no precise reason for my distress. I continued in this way for at least eight months, and despite the suffering and the tiredness I did not give up dancing. I still remember my teachers making fun of my endless hunger, but eventually realized there was something wrong: I was not the first one arriving and the last leaving from training anymore. Actually, during a training, I had to stop several times as my legs became as heavy as lead.

It must have been a frightening period for you. How did you react when you were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes? How did you adjust your life?
During those eight months, I was really lost as nobody in my family had ever suffered from diabetes, it was not on our radar screen. Therefore, the diagnosis came as a shock for my parents. On my side, ironically, I felt relieved. Finally, someone had answered my questions. I knew I was not crazy and my disease had a name: Type 1 Diabetes, and there was a treatment! After the explanations given to my parents about the disease and its therapy, I took my backpack and cheerfully went back home with them who could not believe my reaction.

Honestly, for me, it was a problem solved. I had a diagnosis and a treatment, therefore life could go on as normal, I could start dancing again! And I did. Four months later I won the Italian Championship in Latin-American Dancing. Obviously, I did not understand my disease completely or how to manage it, but I knew for sure I could not let it have the upper hand. I think the foolishness and naive carelessness of a teenager helped me face the problem in the best of way. Even if that means after some years of feeling the tiredness, and when the psychological stress became too heavy, even for my dream, that I finally gave up my dancing career for good.

Looking back, I was just a child willing to go ahead without all of a sudden giving up my life; all my priorities changed, turned upside down, but I succeeded in keeping up with the new rhythm and perspective. Today, I am more concerned and involved with my diabetes than as a child, but I know how to face it with proper maturity. I am still that dreamer, but have just changed my priorities, devoted to other people’s wellbeing instead of my own.

In the last 20 years, I met thousand faces of an invisible and silent disease that never lets you go. These faces have a name, a smile, a look, all different from one another but living with the same inconvenience. Therefore, I asked myself – and I am still doing so - “What makes us sick? The sickness or ourselves?” Voltaire says: “I decided to be happy, because it is good for my health”. I started to think in the same way.

You decided to be happy and make other people happy by matching your passion for sport and your dedication to other. Can you tell us more about PRONKING, the programme you developed?
We all know sport is one the three mainstays to treat diabetes. In my personal experience, I found that sometimes we follow unhealthy ways just to keep our balance and pleasure in life. It is necessary to break with those unhealthy ways and create brand new ways. It is maybe hard and difficult to start, but the result is great and the combination of insulin treatment and appropriate physical activity is important for proper diabetes management.

Even though I gave up my professional career as a dancer, I continued to be highly involved in physical activities. I am a Personal Fitness Trainer ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association), specialized in FT (Functional Training) and BCS (Body Composition Specialist). Basi Life Support and Shiatsu practitioner. For some years I have been working on specific training dedicated to people with type 1 diabetes using a “combined formula” that gives the right balance between figures and reality. A formula studied and continuously tested with my counsellor and supervisor Prof. Felice Strollo. It is built around quality and quantity and is based on the ability, skill, need and availability of each person. A “one size fits all method”” does not exist, but the whole training rotates around the person and his/her needs. We can say it’s a mix-training based both on strength and on aerobic and anaerobic resistance. Together with a medical team in Latium (in Rome), we start by testing and evaluating various data linked to metabolic control including HbA1c, FSI, FIG, LBM (Lean body mass), BM (body mass), ECW (extra cellular water), BCM (body cell mass), VAT (Visceral fat). We then build the twice per week 3-month programme based on the results. The outcome is really impressive in terms of physiological and therapeutic results, reducing in most cases the needed amount of insulin by up to 40-50%.

As for the name, it is an interesting story. One day I was watching a documentary on South African springboks, and the way the males jumped to show their strength and vitality. I was totally fascinated. That movement, made up of repeating jumps up to 2 meters high, called PRONKING, was exactly the symbol of strength and vitality I felt while doing sport. It was a great show to watch and I found the name of my programme!

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