Andrew McWiggan has travelled a long way to play volleyball at the University of Saskatchewan, but he hopes to bring more than just skill.
The 19-year-old from Sale, Australia was diagnosed with type one diabetes when he was 16 and is now an ambassador for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He wants to show diabetic children around the world that they too can succeed in sports.
“It’s one of the largest epidemics in the world. All the kids think that when they get it they can’t do things and they can’t be active, but I’m a living, breathing version of what a diabetic can be,” said McWiggan.
He has never considered his condition a problem and has never let it interrupt his involvement in sports.
One week prior to a national tournament McWiggan was selected to play in, he was diagnosed. Disregarding his physician’s wishes to remain hospitalized, he flew to Sydney for the tournament.
Following five consecutive days of volleyball, McWiggan was selected as one of the top-seven players in the country.
“I educate kids on how diabetes doesn’t affect sport and how you can live with it and be an athlete,” said McWiggan. “My health is fantastic and there’s nothing I can’t do and no challenge I can’t take. For me it really hasn’t been a hurdle.”
Huskies men’s volleyball coach Brian Gavlas has been impressed with McWiggin’s resilience and the work he has done for the JDRF. He’s convinced his new recruit will bring a lot to the team.
“There’s more to him than just coming and playing volleyball. He’s gone through a little bit back home. Through that process you can certainly tell he’s well rounded and he’s going to be able to do more things than just be involved in the sport,” said Gavlas.
McWiggan’s ambition to reverse the stereotype that diabetics can’t play sports stems from the disease hitting so close to home. His dad and sister have been near-lifelong diabetics. Both of them are athletes as well and have faced diabetes in their respective track and field careers.
“They are my inspiration for being here,” said McWiggan.
McWiggan now has the big task ahead of changing the Huskies’ reputation as one of the worst teams in the Canada West conference. They have missed playoffs the last four years.
Gavlas is eager to see how McWiggan will adapt to Canada West volleyball.
“Time will tell as to the impact he’ll have on our team,” he said.
Gavlas, who transformed the Green and White into a volleyball powerhouse in the 1990s, hopes McWiggan chooses to stay at the U of S for his entire Canadian Interuniversity Sport eligibility.
“I think he’ll have an impact on our team this year. He has some good physical attributes: he’s left-handed and he’s pretty physical. He’s going to make our team stronger and provide us with quite a bit of depth in the setting position and potentially the right-side,” said Gavlas.
However, Gavlas indicated that nothing has been set in stone yet for who will emerge as the team’s top setter — McWiggan will be competing with Chris Gilbert for the slot.
Spending most of his career as a right-side attacker, McWiggan acknowledged that he is an “unconventional” setter.
“I’m pretty aggressive in my setting style and run a really fast offence,” said McWiggan. “I like to think I’ve taken that hitter’s body and mentality and turned it into a setter.”
At six-foot-five, he’s the tallest of any recent and current Huskies’ setters including Gilbert.
McWiggan and the Huskies travel to Winnipeg on Sept. 17 for a string of exhibition games in preparation for the upcoming Canada West season.
photo: Dorian Geiger