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Aberdeenshire’s David Jarvis on battling back from diabetes close-call to share golden Invictus Games moment with family – and Prince Harry

Following a near-death experience, David took a cycling gold medal in Germany, with a heartwarming video showing the Jarvis family's celebrations with the Duke of Sussex.

Aberchirder athlete David Jarvis with the Saltire following his 2023 Invictus Games gold medal success. Image: Royal British Legion.
Aberchirder athlete David Jarvis with the Saltire following his 2023 Invictus Games gold medal success. Image: Royal British Legion.

Aberchirder’s David Jarvis said it was “surreal” to celebrate his Invictus Games gold medal with his family and Prince Harry – just months after suffering near-fatal consequences from undiagnosed diabetes.

An Army veteran of more than two decades who served three tours in Afghanistan before being medically discharged due to knee injuries in 2022, David was selected to compete in cycling for Team UK at this year’s Games in Dusseldorf.

The Aberdeenshire athlete won Friday’s men’s IRB3 time trial – while also recording the fastest time of around 120 participants competing across all of the categories.

However, between selection for the UK team in March and the Games starting in Germany on September 9, David almost lost his life.

Symptoms including losing 13.5 kilos of bodyweight in just a few weeks from late April to mid-May led to the 41-year-old being diagnosed with type-one diabetes on May 19.

Medics told David if he had waited any longer to seek emergency help, he would have likely been “in a box”.

David said: “The doctors think it maybe came on as early as March. I was feeling lethargic and struggling with my motivation.

“At the end of April, I weighed 85.5kg, but, by May 15 – and this was the final straw and the point where I felt I needed to call the doctors – I was 72 kilos. I’d lost all that weight and couldn’t explain it.

“I was drinking so much water, going to the toilet every 90 minutes, day and night, and didn’t get a full night’s sleep for two weeks.

“I was also getting a horrible burning sensation in my chest up to my throat, which the doctors said was my body trying to exhale ketones. My body couldn’t process the sugar I was producing in my bloodstream, so it was burning the fat too quickly, hence the massive build-up of ketones.

“It was making my blood too acidic, and the doctors said if I’d left it much longer, I would’ve been dead within days.”

David’s health deterioration was so serious doctors tried to get him to give up his Invictus Games spot and focus on recovery.

However, despite the “steep learning curve” of living with diabetes while also attempting to regain his fitness for the Games, he says trips to regular Royal British Legion training camps south of the border provided the perfect “controlled environment” to simultaneously get back in the cycling saddle and get used to the requirements of his health condition.

He added: “They had medics and physios, and we were training on closed tracks every other weekend, so it was kind of the best place to learn and adapt to the new way of living.

“I’ve had to change my diet completely, change my daily routine, and – up to mid-July – I was on five injections of insulin a day.”

Win shocked David – as he hails Prince Harry for making family’s moment even more special

Despite his determination to still go to the Invictus Games, David admitted when he travelled to Dusseldorf his previous confidence in his own abilities on the bike had been replaced by doubts telling him he could never be as competitive.

On Friday, there were several other competitors still to take to the course after he had completed the time trial run which would ultimately see him claim the gold medal.

Sitting, waiting and replaying every twist and turn of the course in his head, David ended up being the last person to know about his success – and initially did not believe he had won.

He explained: “My wife actually knew the result before I did.

Aberchirder athlete David Jarvis following his 2023 Invictus Games gold medal, with wife Steph and daughter Sophia. Image: Royal British Legion.

“I didn’t think I’d actually done it. It was only when my coach came up to me and said: ‘you’ve gone and won the gold’.

“When it sunk in, I just collapsed to the floor and turned into a blubbering mess.

“It was like all of the work and pressure I’d put on myself trying to get back fell off me and I just felt that elation.”

The medal ceremony which followed came with the surprise the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry – the founder of the Invictus Games – would be presenting the prizes. And it was similarly emotional.

With the cameras rolling, not only did the Prince put the medal round the Aberdeenshire winner’s neck, but he also helped David’s four-year-old daughter Sophia over the barrier to see her dad in heart-warming scenes.

David and Prince Harry – who turned 39 himself on Friday – also both took the time to wish David’s wife Steph a happy 34th birthday.

David revealed the excitement of the way the day unfolded led to a “massive spike” in his blood sugar, and he said: “When he (Prince Harry) went over to the barrier, I’d already mentioned the fact it was my wife’s birthday.

“I was playing on the fact she thought I’d forgotten – I hadn’t actually said happy birthday at that point and had the present I’d bought her weeks ago just under my kilt waistband.

“We had a running joke beforehand her present would be a medal if I won one.

“When I went up to her and we’d had our little emotional moment and calmed down a bit, I handed her the box, and I said: ‘happy birthday, I bet you thought I’d forgot’, and then she got a cuddle from Prince Harry as well – it was all a bit strange.”

Prince Harry even draped David’s Scottish Saltire back over his shoulders after he accidentally dropped it – and the Aberchirder athlete hailed the Royal’s approach, adding: “We weren’t prompted or anything like that – he gave us that space to calm down ourselves and have our moment, then he came in, talked to my daughter and said happy birthday to my wife and gave her a bit of a cuddle.

“He’s under time pressure, all the cameras are there because of him, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him for that.”

David is fundraising for the Royal British Legion. Donate here: