By Victoria Holden

Impact is everything. So when a big, brave Olympic hero like Sir Steve Redgrave says he’s afraid, you’re on to healthcare public relations gold.

Sir Steve – 6ft 5ins of muscles and motivation and the holder of five Olympic rowing gold medals – is the man who famously joked after gold No4 that anyone who saw him near a boat could shoot him.

Then, after being diagnosed with diabetes, he got back into a boat a rowed to that fifth gold.

He had no fear of assassins. But the realisation that his health condition could lead to blindness left him genuinely shaken.

steve redgrave specsavers

That’s why he joined forces with Specsavers and their eye health partners the Royal National Institute of Blind People to talk about the dangers of diabetic retinopathy during Diabetes Week (11 June – 17 June).

Like he said this week: “Going blind is, unfortunately, a very real threat to me. Until I was diagnosed with the condition, I was totally unaware of its implications on sight and having lived with diabetes for more than 20 years now, I can’t stress enough the importance of regular eye tests.”

Sir Steve has Type 2 diabetes, which people usually associate with being overweight or not doing enough exercise. At the time of his diagnosis in 1997, he was still a competitive athlete, training hard and eating hard to build muscle and endurance.

Claiming the glory

He defied his illness and advancing years to win that fifth consecutive gold medal at the Sydney Games in 2000, before going on to push younger athletes to claim glory for Team GB.

As one of the 4.6million people in the UK with diabetes, he has learned to manage his condition. And at the forefront of his thinking is that fear of blindness.

He hammered home that message about diabetic retinopathy for Specsavers with the same power he put through each of the millions of oar strokes he made during decades as a top athlete. He said: “An estimated 1 million people in the UK are living with the condition without even realising it – meaning they’re at huge risk or developing serious eye health complications and even sight loss.”

A man of Sir Steve’s strength – both of body and of character – talking in those terms, laying bare his fears, can’t fail to move an audience.

As rates of diabetes rise due to the obesity crisis, diabetic retinopathy will become a growing problem. Poor management of the condition, whether by diet or insulin, increases the risk – so it’s even more important that eye health is closely monitored.

That’s where Specsavers’ highly trained optometrists come in – in spotting the disease during routine eye tests.

Living with diabetic retinopathy

At the moment, roughly one in three diabetes patients are living with diabetic retinopathy. The other two-thirds are still at risk.

Sometimes, the only way to get through to people is to scare them. The threat of blindness is not a health issue to pussyfoot around – it has to be met head on.

If people can help themselves avoid it, shocking them into action may be the best healthcare public relations strategy to do it. Especially when the first action they have to take is simply booking an eye test.

steve redgrave specsavers

After all, if people don’t act when you ask them nicely, perhaps a large, muscular man with an unsinkable will to win expressing his fears can motivate them on a more emotional level.

Sir Steve’s a born winner. And this is a battle he’s dedicated himself to. The impact of his brave admission of fear will be that people’s sight is saved. 

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