By Wynne Gray
Three weeks ago, young rugby enthusiast Caleb Riding spent five days in hospital after collapsing at a school camp.
A diagnosis of diabetes brought some despair, but yesterday the youngster found All Black inspiration.
His dad brought him down from Snells Beach, north of Auckland, to meet a fellow diabetic, All Black Dylan Mika, and their discussion and a pile of autographs had the nine-year-old Caleb buzzing again about a long sporting career.
This Saturday he is playing JB5-grade for Mahurangi, while Mika is on the side of the scrum in the only All Black change for the test with the Wallabies at Eden Park.
It was just the positive feedback Caleb's father wanted for his son, who is top try-scorer for his team and mad about his rugby but a little unsure if his diabetes would limit that pursuit.
Mika came up trumps. He has met lots of people, as the All Blacks have taken their training sessions to Nelson, Masterton and Tauranga/Mt Maunganui, who suffer from diabetes.
He has offered help, advice, comfort and is a great example of a sportsman who has reached the top despite his condition.
The 27-year-old discovered his hereditary problem back in 1992 on an Auckland development tour to Tonga. Coach Graham Henry kept ribbing him about his nerves because Mika made regular visits to the toilet after drinking lots of fluid - one of the telltale signs of diabetes.
"We played the game and the next day I flew back, went and saw my GP and he rang up and said I had to go to hospital," Mika recalled.
Rangy loose forward Mika and national cricketer Craig McMillan are the most prominent New Zealand sportsmen with the affliction, but Mika has discovered that Hurricanes captain Jason O'Halloran and Brisbane Broncos league star Steve Renouf are fellow sporting diabetics.
McMillan sorts out his problem with jellybeans. Mika's supplement is bananas and chocolate bars.
He also checks his blood sugar levels about six times a day, probably double the readings someone with a more sedentary life would take. He regularly fields questions about his medication and advice on how to stay in shape.
"Before, I used to be tired and lethargic all the time but now I am fine," he said.
He and the All Blacks will need to be in top shape for Saturday as they tangle with the Wallabies at Eden Park. It will be Mika's fourth test for the All Blacks after his brief international career with Samoa in 1994 and 1995.
An Auckland rep for a number of years, injuries and a lack of form cost Mika a place in the Blues Super 12 squad this year as he was drafted to the Hurricanes.
Curiously, Saturday will be his only game on Eden Park this season.
He said: "It has always been home for me. It looks very different with the new stand but it should be a great night."