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During school holidays, twelve year
old Frida is asked by a boy to play rugby league on his team. She
can’t believe it. Didn’t everyone know that she was a type 1
diabetic? No one ever picked her for sports, much less rugby
league - only boys played that. Encouraged by her father, she
accepts the boy’s offer and has a try. To her surprise, she ends
up having fun.
Frida wants to play more, but that’s tough. She gasps for breath
after running for a few seconds. Exercising makes her blood
glucose levels erratic. What’s worse is hardly anyone seems to
care. Her mother thinks rugby league is too rough for a girl. Her
best friend is annoyed, because it’s only stupid sports. The big
girls on the team say Frida is too small. Oddly, Frida seems to be
the only one worried about her diabetic condition.
Nah, none of that matters. Frida only wants to have fun. She’s
ready to try something different. What’s wrong with that?
Yet everything isn’t about Frida. Rugby league is a team sport.
She must understand how to fit in and play with her teammates -
especially the surly girl she dislikes so much. The only way Frida
will win is to learn how to respect her and earn respect in
That goes for the other boys and girls on the team, too. Somehow,
they each have to put aside what they want and don’t want. The
only way the team will win is to learn how to become better,
Win-Win For The Win!
Chapter 2 - Nice Try Chapter 3 -
Trains and Conductors Chapter
4 - Hover Mode Top
Needles didn’t scare Frida Osthen. Nor
did the drop of her own blood on her finger freak her out. She
sighed as she set down her glucose meter. Her blood glucose
level—sometimes called blood sugar level—was a bit high.
No. She didn’t like needles for a
different reason: they were tedious.
She wiped the drop of blood from her
finger and picked up a special pen, attaching the needle to the
plastic bit at the end of the pen.
Insulin pumps were okay. Those were
handheld devices that people could “plug” into themselves using a
small rubber tube with a needle at the end. The device itself
contained insulin to regularly dose its wearer. Wearing an insulin
pump was better in some ways, but that routine also became tedious.
She had to wear an insulin pump or use
needles every day. Every single day, for the rest of her life.
Last year, she’d been diagnosed with
type 1 diabetes. The doctor had told Frida her body could never
again make its own insulin, the way everyone else’s body did. She
had to inject insulin by using pens or wearing a pump. Without
insulin, her body couldn’t use the energy, glucose, from food and
drink. If her blood glucose became too high, or too low, she would
suffer from symptoms like dizziness, becoming weak, fainting …
All that once frightened her. Now any
scary thoughts about diabetes had been worn away by the daily
drudgery of injections and checking her glucose. Now she did these
things because they were routine. She did these things so she
wouldn’t be hassled by a parent or a teacher.
Holding her pen ready, Frida
double-checked her injection site using a nearby floor-to-ceiling
mirror. Seeing herself was an unpleasant reminder of how small she
was. She had recently turned twelve. Hopefully, she would start
growing soon. Her eyes were a welcoming amber colour, at least. She
wondered whether they offset her hair or skin, both being different
hues of an earthy brown. A medical bracelet encircled one of her
Cold metal pricked Frida’s skin,
making her twitch. She’d forgotten about holding the needle, now
drooping in her slackening grip. She usually wore an insulin pump at
all times, except during school holidays, like now, when she wanted
a break from it. Whenever she did wear it, it would be covered by
her shirt. The device would clip onto the waist of her pants. A
small tube came out from the device. The tube had a needle attached
to insert into her skin, usually at her side, near the hip. The pump
automatically dosed her with a small amount of insulin every few
hours. That was more convenient than having to stop whatever she was
doing and inject herself throughout the day.
Wearing a pump all the time did become
tedious in different ways though. She had to be careful not to
dislodge it or knock it around. She had to take it off to do certain
activities, like swimming. During holidays, ditching the pump
liberated her from its constant presence for a few days. The
discomfort and sting of injections were a small price to pay for
After Frida injected herself, she
replaced the needle pen in its case. Her father’s flat was empty,
and private. She stepped outside.
The sun was setting, almost touching
the horizon. Trees and houses cast long shadows. As it was January,
the mellow sunlight wouldn’t disappear entirely for another hour or
so. The apartment building where Dad lived was empty. He and his
friends were across the road, sitting around a local sports field.
Children were yelling and running around on neat and tidy grass.
Close to the edge of the field, Dad
and three of his neighbours were talking, sipping from bottles.
Other small groups of people were placed around the field’s
boundaries. Frida recognised some from around the neighbourhood. A
haggard dog with patchy fur and floppy ears snoozed on the grass.
A chubby man in Dad’s group spoke,
shaking his head. “Mate of mine told me his boy will be playing in a
mixed team this year.”
“Mixed?” a thinner man asked. “What
does that mean?”
“Means girls can play too,” said an
elderly woman with bleached-white hair.
“Bloody bizarre,” the chubby man
muttered. “Girls aren’t meant to play rugby league.”
The woman laughed. “What are they
meant to do, then?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Do you?” she pressed.
“Give the man a break,” the thin man
said. “He’s been fixing up his car all day.”
The woman shrugged away the reprimand.
“Hey, pint-size,” Dad said to Frida.
His skin was a bolder shade of hers. His body was big and strong,
the same way he looked when he used to play rugby league. “What’s
“When is Mum coming to pick me up?”
“She called back while you were
inside. She’ll be here in a couple hours.”
“Okay.” Trying not to show her relief,
Frida added, “Thanks.” She loved him, but there wasn’t much to do at
his place, or when she accompanied him to work.
“Ayyy,” the chubby man drawled. “It’s
little Frida! How are ya, girl?”
“Good thanks, Rob.”
“Play any sports, eh?”
“Rob!” Dad protested.
“Not really,” Frida said.
Rob’s impressive belly wiggled as he
turned to the others. “There. See?”
“Twit,” the elderly woman said
casually. “Don’t worry about it, Frida. Just a bunch of grumpy old
men around here.”
“Okay, Vicky,” Frida said to be
“And a grumpy old hag,” Rob retorted
with a chuckle.
Vicky shrugged. “Can’t argue with
that. Oh yes,” she said, apparently remembering something. “Frida,
thanks for helping me out with Facebook earlier. Now my great-nephew
has friend … ed …?” She stumbled over the unfamiliar
wording. “You know what I mean.”
“Not a problem. It was easy.”
Vicky scoffed. “Sure, it is … if
The thin man patted a chair beside
him. “Pull up a stump, Frida. Barely seen you all holidays.” Once
Frida sat beside him, he asked, “How old are you now?”
“A few days ago,” Dad added.
Everyone exclaimed she was growing up,
asking her about how she was doing at school. Frida nodded and
replied in all the right places. Listening to Dad and his friends
talking wasn’t her favourite thing to do, but at least she wasn’t
sitting around in Dad’s empty flat.
“Wanna play?” said a boy’s voice from
Frida looked away to see a tall and
thin indigenous boy waiting. Waiting for whom? “Do you mean me?” she
“No, the dog,” the boy said
sarcastically. One floppy ear raised up, then drooped back down to
“Warra,” Dad scolded. “Apologise.”
“Sor-ry,” the boy—Warra—said
automatically. “Well? You wanna play or what? My team is one short.
There’s no one else.” He elbowed the chubby man. “Unless we put Big
Rob at fullback and kick to him all the time. Make him run.”
Everyone laughed, including Rob. Frida
hardly noticed. She was small. Plus everyone knew she was a
diabetic, didn’t they? No one ever picked her.
“Go on, Frida,” Dad encouraged.
“You’ll be fine.”
If he said so …
Chapter 1 -
Potential Energy Chapter
3 - Trains and Conductors Chapter
4 - Hover Mode Top
Frida started walking, taking short
steps. Warra, seeing she was coming, turned around and jogged back
towards the middle of the field, where the game had already resumed.
Frida heard Vicky’s voice behind her.
“What about that, then?”
A loud raspberry. Then Rob said,
“That’s not real. They’re only mucking around. Not playing to win a
premiership, are they?”
On the field, a burly indigenous girl
with short black curls was running with a football. A boy from the
other team charged at her, dropping his head and shoulders at the
last second to tackle her around her waist. Frida could hear the
burly girl release an “Oof”; then she seemed to fold in half as the
boy drove her backwards. She hit the ground with the flat of her
back, with him on top.
Was that girl all right? Frida felt
the impact through the ground. Alarmed, she increased her pace. The
boy eased himself back, releasing the girl. He said something with a
wry smile. The girl laughed and jumped up, either not hurt or not
showing it. She gave him a friendly shove, then dropped the ball to
the ground. Using her foot, she rolled it backwards for another boy
standing behind her, who picked it up and passed it to one of their
Frida hesitated. They were playing
rugby league, the same game Dad used to play until he got injured.
Rugby league was tough. It was physical. Sometimes it was violent.
Players might start a fight. Girls didn’t play rugby league, boys
On the field, the big girl was jogging
forward with her teammates, shouting something to whoever was
carrying the ball. That girl was playing. She seemed okay. She must
be tough though, to be tackled like that and not get hurt. Frida
wasn’t that tough. She was shorter than that girl, skinnier.
Closer to Frida, Warra was walking
with a few boys, all of them keeping pace with the rest of the team,
who were trailing behind whoever was running with the ball. “Played
much league?” he asked.
Frida matched her pace to theirs. “Not
“That’s all right. If they pass the
ball our way, one of us guys will hit it up.” Whatever that meant.
“Okay,” Frida said, as if she
For the next play, the ball was passed
to someone closer to them. Then it was passed again. The boys beside
Warra tensed, getting ready to act as the ball came ever closer.
“Stay beside me,” Warra told her. The ball reached one of Warra’s
friends, who sped up once he caught it. The others increased their
pace, including Frida.
Warra, looking constantly between his
teammates and the kids in front of him, pointed towards the sideline
and ordered, “Go out there. I’ll put you in the clear.”
Frida wasn’t sure whether he meant
her. She drifted towards the edge of the field anyway. The kids
opposite them focused on Warra, ignoring her. When he received the
ball, he exploded forward. Frida thought he meant to run straight
through them, or over them. Instead, he passed the ball just before
impact, not looking away from the defenders. The ball floated,
spinning through the air, colliding with Frida. Bringing her arms
into her body, she managed to secure the football against her chest.
“Kick it!” someone yelled, so she did,
letting go of the football and trying to swing her leg at it. The
ball didn’t fire away from her foot as she expected. Instead, it
bounced awkwardly off her shin and dribbled along the ground towards
the other team.
This brought a chorus of groans from
everyone on her side of the field. Kids on the other team howled
Warra yelled, “What did you do that
for?” He and someone else ran past to tackle a boy from the other
team picking up the ball.
“You guys told me to,” Frida objected.
“No, we didn’t,” Warra said as he backed up to stand beside Frida.
“They did. To fool you into giving up the ball.”
“Oh.” Her head dropped. She tried not
to listen to the sarcastic comments from the kids on the other team,
calling out their thanks. After they progressed through several
tackles, they had to kick the ball back.
Now that her teammates had the ball
again, they wouldn’t pass it to her. For a few sets of tackles,
Frida didn’t touch the ball once. She felt invisible and exposed at
the same time. Her teammates didn’t want to see her, but everyone
else did. They were probably wondering why she was standing around
out there, doing nothing amongst the chaos. Maybe she should quietly
walk away, leave them to it. She doubted they would miss her.
Her team had possession of the ball
again. They kept staying away from her side of the field. On the
last play, Warra was dodging and weaving opposition players, forced
to roam towards her side. Desperate to avoid being tackled, he
passed the ball to a disbelieving Frida. With two of the other
team’s players focused on tackling him, there was only one boy from
their side moving towards her. His big, expressive eyes, black hair
and bronze skin made him look Middle Eastern.
“Kick it!” someone yelled.
Frida held on to the ball. She
wouldn’t be fooled this time.
“Run!” her teammates screamed.
Frida ran as though her life depended
on it, determined to make up for her error. The Middle Eastern boy
loomed in front of her. She stepped to one side. He tried to move in
the same direction, too late, swinging out a desperate arm. His hand
whacked her cheek, making it tingle. He didn’t stop her. Stumbling
past him, she regained her balance. Two adults sitting close by
Where was out of bounds? Where the
adults were, probably. Nobody else was in front of her. Frida’s legs
pumped up and down. Where was the opposition? Two more kids from the
other team were haring across the field. The thrill of the chase
increased her speed.
They weren’t quick enough. Frida
arrived at the other end of the field, where the goalposts stood.
She trotted to a gasping halt past the crossbar, trying to catch her
breath. Her pursuers were decelerating, giving up on the chase.
“Put the ball down!” Dad called.
Whoops, she’d forgotten about that.
She flopped onto the ground with the football under her chest, the
way she’d seen others do it. This produced another round of cheers.
The adults ringing the field were clapping, shouting, laughing with
their neighbours. Frida smiled around at them, stretching her
stinging cheek. She barely felt it.
This was fun!
Chapter 1 -
Potential Energy Chapter
2 - Nice Try Chapter
4 - Hover Mode Top
After the sun dropped below the
horizon, everyone was standing or moving around tables loaded with
barbequed meat patties, sausages and chopped salad. However, Frida
was considering the boxes of pizza. Should she have a slice?
Presented with a pile of pizza, she felt like a browser at a
jewellery shop. She wanted it all, yet she couldn’t have any.
She always had to keep careful track
of what she ate. Pizza would raise a person’s blood glucose more
than meats or vegetables would. This wasn’t too bad for Frida if she
had an injection of insulin before or afterwards. If she didn’t have
an injection, or she ate too much pizza anyway, bad things could
Frida had first been diagnosed with
type 1 diabetes a year ago. Dr Caden, a Certified Diabetes Educator,
or CDE, had explained it to her. “Insulin is very important. Imagine
a train with passengers. It arrives at the station, where people are
waiting. What do you think would happen next?”
The question seemed so simple that
Frida wondered whether it was a trap. “Uh, the doors open and people
get on or off the train?”
“Good answer,” the doctor replied.
“That’s what usually happens. For fun, let’s imagine a particular
scenario. Let’s imagine these people can’t move on and off the
train, because the doors aren’t open. The doors aren’t open, because
the conductors inside the train haven’t opened them yet.”
“Maybe the conductors are lazy. Maybe
they’re busy checking their phones. Soon enough, they realise the
train has stopped, so they hit the button to open the doors. The
people waiting outside now come in. The doors close and the train
leaves, taking the people where they need to go.” Dr Caden raised a
forefinger to get Frida’s attention. “Now, let’s imagine a different
scenario. Let’s say the conductors of the train decide to take the
day off. They don’t report to work. An empty train, without its
conductors, arrives at the station, where people are waiting. The
doors remain closed. What happens next?”
“Nothing,” Frida guessed. “The people
can’t get on or off. They’re locked out. There’s no one to push the
button to open the doors.”
“Exactly. The doors stay closed. The
train leaves, as empty as it was when it arrived. The people are
“What about the driver? Or someone
else? Couldn’t they help the people waiting? Or maybe the doors are
“In the real world, yes. Those are
good ideas. However, in our particular scenario, let’s stay focused
on the conductors and passengers, please.”
Frida nodded. “Okay.”
“So, hopefully, you understand how
important these conductors are. If, for whatever reason, they can’t
push the button, then people can’t get on the train. They can’t go
to work, or school, or see their friends. The train stations and
train tracks would clog up with people. Everything would soon stop
Frida asked, “What does this have to
do with me?”
Dr Caden said, “Something very much
the same happens with type one diabetes.”
“All the blood in our bodies is like
the train. It travels all around our bodies, making stops to the
heart, to the brain, all our organs and muscles … It goes
everywhere.” Dr Caden held up a finger. “To keep this simple, let’s
say the first place your blood goes is to the pancreas. The pancreas
helps you digest food. It’s located here.” She pointed to the upper
part of Frida’s stomach.
“The pang-cree-aas?” Frida echoed,
trying to pronounce the word. “Why does blood go there?”
“To retrieve insulin. Insulin is like
Frida was beginning to understand.
“Insulin lives in the pang-cree-aas?”
“Insulin is made in a normal
pancreas,” Dr Caden said, “like mine. We’ll get to yours in a
moment.” After Frida nodded, Dr Caden said, “Let’s imagine I have
eaten something. Any kind of food at all. Ice cream, for example.
The ice cream, like any food or drink besides water, gets digested
in my stomach and small intestine, breaking it down into different
things. One of those things is called glucose. Glucose is a fuel
that our bodies use to function, to do anything at all, so it’s very
important. Think of glucose as being like the people at the train
“Okay” was all Frida said, trying to
“Hang in there. We’re almost finished.
The blood in our bodies is like the train. The blood travels all
around our bodies to pick up and drop off glucose. Each cell uses
insulin as a ‘conductor’ that opens the cell, allowing glucose to
get in and out.”
“So,” Frida said, trying to make sense
of it, “insulin is made in the pang-creas. Then insulin travels
around with our blood. The blood and insulin together pick up
glucose and drop it off everywhere else, so everything in our bodies
“That’s how everything works in my
body,” Dr Caden said, “and for most others.” She leaned forward.
“Not mine?” Frida asked. “Why?”
“Because for some reason, your immune
system destroyed the part of your pancreas that makes insulin,” Dr
Caden said softly. “That’s known as ‘autoimmunity’.”
“Why? How does that happen?”
“I don’t know. Sorry. Nobody does.”
“Is my pang-creas broken?” “Not quite.
It still does a lot of things. But now,” Dr Caden said softly, “it
can’t make insulin. Not ever. That is what type one diabetes means.
Your pancreas can’t make any insulin. No insulin means glucose can’t
get into your cells. Your blood can’t deliver glucose to other parts
of your body, and the glucose just hangs around in your blood. Under
these conditions, our bodies begin to shut down. Other bad things
Frida shivered. “Does this mean
I’ll … shut down?”
Dr Caden patted her on the shoulder.
“It won’t be like that for you, Frida, I promise. There are only two
things you have to do. First, you must learn to be careful about
what you eat, and when. Second, you have to inject some insulin into
your body a few times a day. Once you learn those things, you’ll be
back to normal, just like everyone else.”
One of the doctor’s words pricked her
mind like a barb. “Inject? You mean, like, with a needle?”
“I’m afraid so. There are other
options, such as wearing an insulin pump.” Dr Caden shook her head
sadly. “I understand how difficult this news must be for you. It’s
quite possible to live, to thrive, with type one diabetes, but it
requires some changes for you. Try not to worry. Once I explain
everything to you and your parents, we can all work together to make
this as simple and easy for you as possible.”
For most people, the pancreas could
make enough insulin to use glucose properly. It happened normally,
automatically, without having to think or worry about it.
Not for Frida. Not for anyone with
type 1 diabetes.
The doctor explained to Frida that
type 2 diabetes was similar, yet different. People with type 2
diabetes could make insulin; they just couldn’t use it very well.
Type 2 could be reversed or “cured”, whereas no cure existed for
The platter of pizza beckoned. Unable
to resist any longer, Frida snatched up a slice. One slice shouldn’t
be a problem.
A woman wearing a dress with flowers
on it stepped up beside her, picking up a slice. “Good try, girl,”
she said. “Do you play league?”
“Should think about it. You’re quick.”
She walked away to join some others.
Frida stayed close to the pizza table,
because there were only a few slices of the cheese pizza left. In
passing, other adults praised her scoring the try. She couldn’t
resist a second slice. She was fantasising about a third when she
saw a white SUV out on the road, slowing to a stop.
Mum had arrived.
Chapter 1 -
Potential Energy Chapter
2 - Nice Try Chapter
3 - Trains and Conductors Top
Gina Futerro stepped out of the SUV.
Frida’s mother was lean and athletic. Her cropped brunette hair,
simple blouse and faded jeans made her look as casual as anyone at
the barbeque. Her proud posture and determined stride set her apart.
Coming to a halt beside Frida, Mum
frowned. Crouching, she took hold of Frida’s head. “Your cheek,” she
fussed, twisting Frida’s head for a better view in the dim light.
“Nothing,” Frida said casually, trying
to twist her head away.
“Don’t try to brush it off. It’s
obviously something, or I wouldn’t be able to see—Kamen
Osthen,” she said when Dad approached. “What happened to
“It’s all right, Gina,” Dad said as he
approached, limping slightly, as he usually did. “Some kid tapped
her on the way past is all.”
“Tapped? It looks worse than—”
Mum stopped talking to compose herself. “Frida, go back to your
father’s flat and get your things.” She looked around at the
barbeque banquet. “Have you eaten much? Have you had a corrective
“Yes, Mum, I’ve had two slices of
pizza. And I was about to have an injection.”
“Off you go, then. I’ll catch up as
soon as I’ve had a chat with your father.”
Frida made to leave, then doubled back
to approach her parents from the far side, obscured by the leaves
and branches of a eucalyptus tree.
“… out of your mind?” Mum was saying.
“Frida could have been injured. She could have had an episode!”
“Gina, I understand the risks. Frida’s
fine. She’s a capable girl. She’s got diabetes, not brittle bones.
She won’t break if she plays sports.”
“I’m fine with her playing sports,
Kamen. Not a contact sport. Did you see her cheek?”
“Bloody hell, it’s only a small
bruise. Nothing serious. It’s barely noticeable.”
“It could have been a lot worse.”
“And it could have been fine,” he said
louder, then gasped in sarcastic astonishment. “And what do you
know? It was.”
“Steve Renouf played rugby league with
type one diabetes, you know. He was part of a premiership-winning
team and played for his state and country.”
“Steve Renouf probably had friends,
family and teammates to help him manage his condition, not a bunch
of guys sitting around.”
“That’s below the belt, Gina.”
Frida heard a sigh, then Mum saying,
“I’m sorry. You’re right. I shouldn’t have said that.” Her tone
hardened. “You know what I mean. What if something serious had
Patiently he said, “And what if it
hadn’t? You know, the way things happen usually.”
“Which is exactly my point. Usually.
He sighed. “Give it a rest, already.”
“Anyway, since when do girls play
“Women and girls playing rugby league
is a thing. Kids play in mixed-gender sides up to Frida’s age.”
Silence. Then Mum said, “I didn’t know
“Learn something new every day,” Dad
“That we agree on. Is Frida ready to
“Give her five minutes. Knowing her,
there’ll be some last-minute packing. You want a burger?”
Frida crept away when they started
discussing how she’d been behaving over the holidays. She wished
that she hadn’t texted Mum about picking her up early. How was Frida
to know what would happen this afternoon? As she packed up her
things, she wondered whether she could leave tomorrow instead.
When Mum arrived at Dad’s flat, Frida
“After you texted me, pleading to go?
Why the change of heart?”
Frida adjusted her backpack. “I was
really having fun just now. We all might play another game.”
Mum pushed a thumb and forefinger
against her nose. “First your father,” she said. “Now this.” She
dropped her hand. “You asked me to come; here I am. I had to swap
shifts with someone to come out this afternoon. I’ll be going in
tomorrow morning to cover for him in return.” Gently she asked.
“Would you still like to have a go on the helo simulator?”
“Ooh, yes, please,” Frida said. She
had forgotten about that.
Mum smiled. “I’m glad. There will be
hardly anyone at the hangar tomorrow except for you and me.”
During the drive home, Mum asked, “How
were the holidays with your father?”
“Okay, I guess,” Frida said, pulling
at her seat belt. Except for today, her time with Dad could get
boring. Whenever he went to work as a boilermaker, Frida had to tag
along; otherwise, Mum would freak out. She didn’t like the idea of
Frida being alone for long, because of her diabetes. Dad’s job
involved working with steel, so Frida had to stay in the office,
where there wasn’t much to do except play with her phone, or the
secretary’s computer during lunch break.
Long ago Dad had suffered a
career-ending injury playing reserve-grade rugby league. Since then
he had worked at various jobs here and there. Frida usually lived
with her mother. During the holidays, she would spend time with her
The SUV was slowing down. Mum steered
them into a familiar driveway. “Home sweet home.”
These are the first four chapters from Better Together, the first
novel in the Win-Win For the Win series. Copyright (c) Geoff O'Brien,
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