Valéry de Falbaire: Fighting diabetes in the gym
Currently spearheading a mission to tackle obesity and diabetes on Rodrigues Island in Mauritius as part of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Young Change-Makers+ Programme, Valéry de Falbaire talks about workouts, well-being and his role as a Young Change-Maker at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014.
As a former elite triathlete and international swimmer, Valéry de Falbaire is more aware than most of the importance of fitness, and the 28-year-old is now relying on his own arduous, athletic experience as he rolls out his ongoing YCM+ "Sport To Live" programme.
The problem Valéry is addressing is the alarmingly high levels of obesity and diabetes that afflict the people of Rodrigues Island, part of the Republic of Mauritius, where he lives. The rates of both conditions among the population are among the highest in the world and, by offering his fellow islanders increased chances to exercise and get fit, Valéry hopes to change that statistic.
"On the island, 17 per cent of the population is diabetic and 50 per cent is obese," he says. "Being overweight is one of the main causes of diabetes, and sport can of course help to reduce weight. The population of Rodrigues is highly motivated to participate in sports activities, but there were no sports facilities available on the island and that is why I came up with my project.
"The goal is to offer free sports activities, and to help and motivate the population of Rodrigues. But as we know, sport can also have an impact on unity, respect, friendship and many other values that we want to promote with this programme."
The implementation of "Sport To Live" began in May this year when 20 people were chosen to become sports coaches for the project. An intensive four-month period of training followed, and in August the programme was officially launched with hundreds of Mauritians taking part.
"The new coaches received intensive training from a professional personal trainer, a physiotherapist and a doctor specialised in sport on different subjects," he says. "We then opened 10 sports clubs in different areas of Rodrigues Island where the population can undertake sport activities for free, three times a week. There are two of the newly-trained instructors for each club.
"It is very important to us to promote the Olympic values through this programme, and every week we unite 400 participants. We try to deliver messages so that those 400 can go home and become role models in their villages and towns.
"The main goal is to decrease diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, but we know that we can also have a positive impact on alcoholism and early pregnancy, which are also two big concerns here."
By his own admission, Nanjing was a turning point for De Falbaire, who returned home after the YOG determined to make a difference on Rodrigues.
"After Nanjing, I wanted to be more involved in trying to make the world better. I felt empowered," he says. "I was chosen as the island's Young Change-Maker ahead of 24 other candidates after initially being nominated by the Mauritius Swimming Federation.
My favourite memory was watching young athletes from Russia and Ukraine engaging together in the 'Culture and Education Programme' at a time when there was so much tension between their two countries."
"Sport To Live" may still be in its infancy but its initial success has already been noted further afield, and De Falbaire has plans to extend the programme beyond Rodrigues.
"I was recently contacted by the Mauritius Sport Council to implement this project in Mauritius, so we are going to make it even bigger," he says. "I'd like to thank Panasonic, one of the main sponsors of the YCM+ Programme, because without their financial support this project would not be possible. "I would like to also thank the YCM+ Programme for giving young people like me the opportunity to make a change in our countries and contribute to a better world through sport."
WHAT IS DIABETES?
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes blood sugar levels to become too high. Sufferers are unable to produce enough insulin, the hormone which helps glucose get into the body’s cells. There are two main types of diabetes – Type 1, where the body’s immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin, and Type 2, where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin.
THE GLOBAL PICTURE
According to the International Diabetes Federation, there are currently 365 million diabetics worldwide, 8.5 per cent of the population. Mauritius is regularly ranked in the top 10 for nations with the highest rates of diabetes, along with Pacific islands such as Vanuatu and Micronesia, and Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Countries with some of the lowest rates include Gambia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Angola.