If your life is dependent on insulin, and you like to work out hard, here's some very inspiring news: there are lots of other PWDs out there working hard to break ground for you.
I knew about Dr. Matthew Corcoran's diabetes triathlon training camp, and of course I've interviewed a number of competitive athletes here who share our condition, but recently I learned about another cool group supporting "everyday athletes" living with Type 1...
InsulinDependence is a San-Diego based non-profit "global network of outdoor enthusiasts working together in an effort to promote healthy, proactive lifestyles to diabetics lacking financial resources, positive role models and/or adequate guidance in professional healthcare."
The group was founded by two athletes, Canadian Olympic rower Chris Jarvis and his buddy, Ironman Triathlete Peter Nerothin, when they cooked up the idea of organizing an adventure travel trip for teenagers with diabetes to Peru in 2005.
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Chris and Peter are obviously no "everyday athletes" themselves, but they wanted to encourage average teenagers -- even to show them it was possible to hike the treacherous Machu-Picchu, despite the challenges of insulin dependence. They found that the kids were "transformed" by the trip, and so began their quest.
InsulinDependence now has about 500 supporters, and they've grown from one expedition per year to about six planned for 2008, open to kids and adults -- ranging from a 3-day canoeing adventure in Wisconsin to a couples wilderness hiking tour, in which non-diabetic partners will be encouraged to "open up and discuss." InsulinDependence also supports numerous subgroups including a surfing club, a marathon training group, and a project called Triabetes for people training for triathlons," Peter says. In the latter, they're working to solicit researchers and pharma companies to get involved in clinical trials.
"Being an athlete with diabetes is just such a new thing. People are doing extraordinary things, but there's not a lot of clinical research to support it. We want to get some rigorous scientific studies going, ideally using heart rate monitors, CGMs, and other new systems."
The expedition trips for kids and adults are paid for entirely by individual fund-raising. Average requirement is about $2000 in donations to cover the basic cost of the trip. "You can usually raise that amount in half a year without too much trouble," Peter says. "Friends and family are very supportive when you can explain how important it is to 'stop life' and spend some time interacting with others living with diabetes, and that's transformational."
"Our very first trip was funded by a grant from the Balance Bar company. But we learned pretty quickly that it's not easy to raise big money. So now people do their own fundraising -- they set up events, conduct letter-writing campaigns. You can explain that these excursion are not just about having fun, but about getting the type of support you can't get from healthcare professionals nowadays because the appointments are generally about 7 minutes long. They're trying to identify your trends in a few minutes, and then give you advice in about 30 seconds. That just doesn't work."
Peter also explains that the trips are not meant to be a strict "diabetes boot camp" setting; nobody's doing any scolding, and the food is a variety of everyday dishes. "When you're out in the wilderness for 7 days, you're pretty much doomed to eating rice and noodles and things that are generally challenging. This kind of forces a conversation and a strategy around that."
Most people respond to the diabetic camaraderie immediately, but there are a few who struggle, like a young law student last year who kept sneaking off to the bathroom to test her blood sugar and dose insulin. Old habits are hard to break. But eventually she too could relax and enjoy the great outdoors without too much diabetes stress.
- Founded - 2005
- Current email list - 500 members, from all over the world
- Diabetes intervention strategy - "We do encourage everybody to keep a log book, and some days we pair people up with a 'diabetes buddy.'"
- Most diverse trip - "On the Missouri River in Montana, we had an age range of 15-61, and the group had about 100 years of diabetesexperience combined."
- Reason to join - "Anybody who has an outdoor interest or proactive lifestyle interest can find other people with diabetes who want to do same thing..."
Pretty cool, I'd say.
Need more inspiration? Go visit member Aaron Perry over at DiabetesRebalanced.org. He's the first African American insulin—dependent diabetic in the world to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon. And he's got the Congressional letter to prove it. Nice.