It's not unusual to see sports stars turn brand ambassadors or activists for a cause once the sun has set on their playing careers. But few have the sort of credibility that Wasim Akram has when he talks about diabetes.
The Pakistani fast-bowling legend, regarded by many as the greatest left-arm fast bowler of all time, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 31 and at the peak of his powers. He took more than 250 wickets after the diagnosis and by the time he finally retired from international cricket at the age of 37, he had more than 900 international scalps. These days, Akram is happy to lend his support to any initiative that helps promote diabetes. He is scheduled to flag off (and lead) the Diabetes Walkathon organised by Landmark Group on November 18.
Here's an excerpt from a little chat we had with the 45-year-old about living with diabetes, and of course, cricket.
Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 31 must have been tough. How did you fight back?
I was devastated. I was 31 and was at the apex of my cricketing career and with no family history of diabetes. I thought I was done with playing cricket. My wife was extremely supportive. It took some time to accept the fact that I was diagnosed diabetic. From then on I made many changes to lead a more disciplined lifestyle.
Have you seen a change in people's attitude towards living with a condition like diabetes over the years?
Looking back, I'm glad I listened to my doctors at that point. The problem with people back home is that they don't necessarily listen to their doctors.
Everyone's got an opinion; people would rather listen to their driver than their doctor. I got on insulin straight away. Most young men don't think they are going to be affected by diseases like this.
So what's a typical day like for the insulin-dependent Wasim Akram?
I have to have four shots of insulin every day - one before each meal. No sweets for me and no matter where I am, I always make sure I get enough exercise. I do a lot of cardio exercises every day. And this really is my message to those diagnosed with the condition - by regularly exercising and watching your diet, most people can lead normal lives despite being diabetic. If I could have done this after being diagnosed at31, anyone can.
What has living with diabetes over the last 15 odd years taught you?
Each day is different. There are days when you are motivated to do everything right, while at other times you tend to let go. Of course, there are things that become part of your routine more easily - others can take some getting used to. But what is important to understand is that anyone can take control of diabetes if it is detected early.
Moving away from diabetes, how does Pakistan produce so many fast bowlers?
I think Pakistan, like any other country in the Subcontinent, has a huge cricket following.
Every country worships its star cricketers and invariably the youth try to emulate them. I suppose our history of having produced pace bowlers meant that more young cricketers were inspired to become pace bowlers.
If you could go back and change any incident in your career, what event would that be?
Looking back, I am only thankful for all the good things that have happened. Over time, one learns to focus on the good. That's essential for every sportsman.
Why does a cloud of controversy always loom over Pakistan's cricket?
There is a lot that goes into competitive sports at the international level and there are many parties involved. There are so many personalities and opinions and a lot of money involved. Everyone has their own idea about how to run the game, with minimal flexibility. I suppose that is where all controversies stem from.
A test bowler who has really impressed among the current generation?
There are so many players who are doing well. I can't pick one or two. But most recently James Anderson displayed great consistency in his performance in the home series against India.
The walkathon in the UAE is scheduled for November 18 and will flag off from the Oasis Centre, Dubai. Registration desks for the walkathon will be set up at Centrepoint, Home Centre, Fitness First, Max and Oasis Centre outlets in the UAE.