We’re delighted to welcome Sam Brand to the Sportside team. Sam is a member of the all diabetic cycling team Novo Nordisk. Read more on his inspiring story and how he quickly became pro despite only being an amateur 4 years ago!
Hi Sam, it’s so exciting to have you onboard with us here at Sportside! How are you doing?
I’m good thank you. Super excited to be onboard with Sportside!
From being diagnosed with Type I Diabetes at the age of 10, to becoming a professional cyclist with Team Novo Nordisk, you have such an inspiring life story. Can you tell us a little bit about your amazing journey so far?
My journey really began at 10 years old. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes following symptoms of increased thirst, weight loss and increased urination. The tell-tale symptoms of Type 1 diabetes. I was in fact diagnosed on World Diabetes Day (14/11/01). I grew up on the Isle of Man doing every sport I possibly could. I was football mad in my early teenage years but I loved to run, athletics and cross country. With my parents involved in the local cycling and triathlon scene, I got the triathlon bug but opportunities were limited with only 1 small kids race a year. I think I didn’t see it as more than just an isolated race. I did the occasional triathlon in my mid-teen years and was competitive with no specific training although I kept the running up through football and weekly Thursday night club sessions.
It was mainly football on my mind though. I maintained my interest with cross country throughout school and qualified to represent the Island at the Merseyside Schools Cross Country. Through that race I gained selection to represent Merseyside at the English Schools Cross Country Championships. When I moved to University in September 2011, my love for playing football was dwindling and wanted to use the routine I had developed with diabetes to fit alongside a sporting routine, so I decided I would join the Triathlon Team and see what I could do. I wanted and most importantly needed an outlet from the work aspect of University that had a positive impact on me. Triathlon offered me this. Having competed at county level in Football, Basketball and Cross Country, I had a hunger to compete at the highest level possible. Due to injury I missed part of the 2012 season, having to change my goals to local races at the back end of the season and aim for the 2013 season as my first competitive year in the sport. During my first competitive season I qualified and raced the 2013 World Age Group Triathlon Championships in London, going on to further represent Great Britain the following year at the 2014 World Age Group Championships in Edmonton, Canada. During this time I was asked to represent Team Novo Nordisk, an all-Diabetes sports team racing to “Inspire, Educate and Empower those affected by Diabetes”, as part of their ‘Elite Team’ (Triathlon/Running branch) which is led by our Pro-Cycling team.
My love for Triathlon only grew with 2015 seeing me represent Great Britain again at the European Championships (AG) in Geneva, Switzerland as well as representing the Isle of Man at the 2015 Island Games held in Jersey. My 2015 season culminated in finishing second at the British Triathlon Championships. For the 2016 season I chose to pursue my Cycling ambitions solely and was asked to move to the Team Novo Nordisk Development Team. Following 18 months of racing and training with the Development Team at the team’s base in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, I was moved to the Professional Team as a Stagiaire (Trainee). Following a successful stint in the pro-team for the second half of the 2017 season, racing in the Tour of Utah, Colorado Classic, Tour of China 1 & 2 and the Tour of Hainan, I signed my first professional contract in 2018. 2018 far exceeded my expectations and was almost a dream first season competing in three World Tour events, including the ‘monument’; Milan-San Remo. On top of this I was able to represent the Isle of Man at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
What first attracted you to cycling in the first place?
I’ve always been attracted to cycling. I love the sport. Growing up, my parents were both involved in cycling with my dad organising local races. Although I was always around cycling, it wasn’t until I completed my degree in 2015 and the opportunity came up to join the Team Novo Nordisk Development Team in 2016 that I really saw an opportunity to step into the world of cycling as an athlete.
Tell us a little bit more about your racing team, Team Novo Nordisk, which is an all Diabetic sports team racing to “Inspire, Educate and Empower those affected by Diabetes”. For us, that sends out such a powerful message that anyone can achieve their dreams, no matter what!
It means the world to me to represent Team Novo Nordisk. Every day isn’t easy, but such is life, I often tell people (mostly parents of a Type 1 – I think it helps them the most) that my diagnosis was the best thing that ever happened to me; which always brings a strange look – but here’s why. It’s given me a community, a family and a mission to fight for. To invest all of my soul into. I have gained the greatest friendships and done things beyond my wildest dreams. I want to use my experience and platform to benefit others and allow them to grow and dream bigger. I am now a professional athlete – my biggest dream as a child and probably something most kids dream of – and with that I have raced in the highest ranks in cycling, competed in some of the biggest races in the world and represented the Isle of Man at the Commonwealth Games all whilst living with diabetes. I want to make sure that others have the opportunity to realise their dreams no matter what. Diabetes shouldn’t be a factor towards not accomplishing them.
You have built up such a wealth of knowledge and life experience of living with diabetes from a young age. What would be your advice for any young people out there with diabetes who would love to pursue a career in sport?
Dreams are the most powerful motivation and nothing should stop us from dreaming. If I have learnt anything from my journey it’s that boundaries aren’t fixed. We can push them and it’s more than we realise. Stepping out of our comfort zone, although scary, is an exhilarating feeling. For anyone out there with Type 1 diabetes, at a young age, dreaming of being a professional athlete, take one breath, one step, don’t look back and smile along the way. You’re stronger than you know and you’ll realise all is possible. The enjoyment of the journey is just as important as the end goal.
While your definitely an inspiration to others, who do you look to as a role model in life, an in sport?
That is a great question. To me, big role models in my life are my family. My older brother, Matthew, although I would never have admitted this years ago, really helped shape the person I am today. I’ll be forever grateful for that. My parents, Alison and Ian, really helped show me the right path and allowed me to make mistakes and helped me to learn from them. In sport, it’s a tough one, I respect every athlete no matter if they’re the best in the world or just starting out.
With everything that has been going on in the world this year, is playing sport and staying active more important than ever before?
Yes, of course. Global pandemic or not, staying active is vitally important. Not every activity needs to set World Records though. I often find fun the crucial part of it. Staying active is often overlooked and when I can, I try to help and encourage others. For health, for the body and mind.
OK, now for a few fun questions…what’s your ultimate three-course meal?
Anyone who knows me knows I am an absolute food-fiend. Starter: Tiger King Prawns with Sweet Chilli Sauce (This is my favourite starter from my favourite restaurant at home. I’ve been away for a little over 4 months so that’s why I chose this). Main: A good steak, cooked rare obviously. Dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding
And how about your ideal dinner party to eat it! 5 guests allowed…
1. Sir Alex Ferguson 2. Will Smith 3. Brian Cox (Physicist) 4. Sir David Brailsford 5. Robert Downey Jr ** Stephen Hawking (But I assumed they had to be living) Please can we make this happen!!
You’re living the dream as a professional cyclist, but if you had to name another dream job, what would it be?
I’d love to be a fighter pilot. I love going fast and the way they fly is out of this world. Incredible. Beyond that, I’d love to be a Physicist but I have no qualifications on that other than an A-Level in Physics. I am fascinated with space.
What attracted you to Sportside?
From the outset the vibe I received from Sportside was incredible. I was hooked. Family is so important to me and from the start, and my first call with the team, it felt like family. I felt welcome and part of a close group. I love it.
What’s the next big goal on the horizon for you Sam?
I have huge goals and ambitions. I often have to pinch myself that I have come to this stage in professional cycling so quickly having only started as an amateur in 2016. It’s all so crazy. I want to get on the podium and take victories. It’s step by step. Continuing to Inspire, educate and empower everyone around the world affected by diabetes is huge to me too. Watch this space.