Thanks to our periodic correspondent Joanne Milo (who blogs at The Savvy Diabetic) we're happy to feature a special interview today with fellow type 1 and advocate Cassidy Robinson, a young adult from Orange County, CA, who's part of a 22-person team of PWDs biking across America this summer. The program, organized by the nonprofit group Beyond Type 1, is dubbed Bike Beyond, and runs from June 2 - Aug. 11.
We're thrilled to hear more about this ride and Cassidy's personal diabetes story today.
A Guest Interview by Joanne Milo
I met Cassidy Robinson years ago at a JDRF Type One Summit on a beautiful Sunday morning in Orange County, CA. It was a morning filled with inspirational speakers and informational sessions… and then finally lunch! I ended up sitting next to this 20-something T1 and we struck up a conversation. She was diagnosed at age 2 but didn't really start taking her diabetes management seriously until her early 20s, she told me. She got connected to a local support group and the Diabetes Online Community, and the rest is history!
Cassidy and I stayed in touch. She was born, raised and living/working in Southern California, but the next thing I knew, she had upped and moved to Manhattan! I’m a native New Yorker and was so excited for her to experience NY and the East Coast.
When I had an opportunity for our local D-support group to participate in a pilot program for online counseling to discuss resiliency, Cassidy jumped right in, even though it meant going online every two weeks at 9pm NY time (yeah, she’s young, it really wasn’t keeping her up late!).
And then, the next thing I hear: Cassidy is one of 22 T1 bike riders participating this summer in the Beyond Type 1 Bike Beyond program. This is a ride from New York City all the way to San Francisco -- really, about 4,300 miles over the span of 70 days (60 riding and 10 days of events and PR).
Before we get into the ride itself and all that Cassidy's doing on that front, here's a quick intro to her personal journey in diabetes.
Early Days of Diabetes
As noted, Cassidy was born and raised in Orange County, CA. Her folks still live in the home where she grew up. She was diagnosed with T1 early, at age 2 years and 4 months, in January 1993. She was and remains the only T1 in her entire family.
She obviously doesn’t remember much at the time she was diagnosed but her parents tell her that in late December 1992, both she and her two brothers had chicken pox. They recovered but she didn’t. Her pediatrician knew instantly that she had T1 because she “smelled like maple syrup.”
Her life has taken turns and twists, probably because Cassidy is curious about life. Her degree in sociology from the University of California San Diego exposed her to classes in gender politics, mental illness (which helped her navigate her own emotional journey with diabetes), and alternative religions. And you gotta love her senior research thesis subject: nudists at Black’s Beach!
She worked in publishing in the construction industry which led to work in an event production company, expanding her knowledge into the music industry.
Then the epiphany! Move to New York City… so she did, two years ago now, to work in public relations in the fashion and lifestyle industry. As she says, “It’s funny, I started my career in male-dominated and machine-centric industries, but I’ve found myself in a female and image-centric industry!” She always lands in a good or even better place!
She’s active! I mean, really active! Having grown up in Southern California, she’s a beach and water lover. She runs and loves a good game of softball. But her passion is hiking, and she's even hiked Half Dome last fall with her dad. When she slows down, she’s an avid reader and photographer, loves music and attending live shows -- and most of all, hanging with friends and her loving family.
So here's the rest on Cassidy and the Bike Beyond event, in Q&A form.
JM) Are you a major bike rider, aka a "gear head" in the biking world?
CR) I’ve actually been scared of riding a bicycle my entire life. I didn’t learn how to ride until I was 11 years old and haven’t ridden much in general. The last time I rode a bike was in college and I was riding my grandmother’s 30-year-old Specialized bike! I’m learning about road bikes and team riding from scratch while I train for Bike Beyond. Honestly, it feels like I’m learning how to ride a bike for the first time – but hey, there’s a first time for everything!
What flipped the switch?
My dad actually cycled cross-country from New York to California after graduating college. I grew up hearing the stories from his ride and his bragging about it to anyone who would listen. For most of my life, I’ve had this notion in the back of my mind that it would be cool to replicate his ride with a few of my friends. The desire to ride cross-country has just been getting stronger in the last couple years. When I drove cross-country with my dad in the fall of 2015 we talked a lot about his ride and even more about my desire to do the same thing.
But with the challenges of T1D, did you have to think long and hard about signing up for this rigorous biking trip?
Not a wink!
I had no hesitation in submitting my application to be on the team! As soon as I saw the post for applicants on Nov. 1, 2016, I stepped out of work, ran up to the roof and filmed my application video. I knew that I would do whatever it took to make the ride happen – be it fundraising, training or planning. I was on pins and needles for a month and a half waiting to find out if I made the team. It was all I could think about!
What's the most exciting part of this upcoming ride?
I’m excited about so many things it’s hard to contain it!
I’m really excited about connecting with T1Ds across the country. Most of our ride will be through cities and towns I’ve never been to and I’m jazzed to meet T1Ds in those places. I have so many questions about what kind of care they receive, what communities they participate in and how their experience with T1D is similar or different than my own.
I’m also super excited to have roughly two dozen new DiaBesties in the form of my teammates. I have so few T1D friends in my life, but this summer is going to be 22 of us bonding over every quirk and trait. I feel like the best day of my life will be meeting everyone in New York City before we start, and the worst day will be saying good bye in San Francisco.
What about the training?
I am training hard! I found out I made the team on Dec. 23, 2016, and I’ve been in the gym six days a week since. I’ve been alternating between indoor cycling classes, weight lifting, yoga and Pilates. My body composition is changing: I’m stronger and more muscular than I’ve ever been.
I’m excited to start riding outdoors when we receive our bikes from Specialized! They are sponsoring our cycling gear including beautiful bicycles, helmets and shoes!
Are you hoping for NO rain and NO headwinds?
I’m nervous about rain and wind! I think the only way to prepare is to experience riding in them, which I haven’t yet. I have no doubts that rain, wind and dust will be tough on us all this summer but we’ll overcome! Just keep pedaling…
[From my riding experiences, I'd say be careful to avoid the painted lane stripes in the rain, as they are slippery!]
Do you have any particular fears or concerns?
I’m completely terrified by my lack of cycling experience! I’m working as hard as I can to prepare, but only day after day on the bike will show us what we’re made of.
How about the fundraising part?
I hit the $4,800 fundraising requirement in just 8 days! And since then, I've raised my personal goal of $6,800, to match my most recent A1C of 6.8%. The team goal is $100,000 and we are halfway to that goal with a little less than two months to go. Any donation is gratefully and enthusiastically appreciated!
For the ride itself, I will be wearing a GoPro (another sponsor of Bike Beyond) for a documentary to be released in November 2017.
Any final thoughts, Cassidy?
I get really emotional thinking about how supportive my friends and family have been. Everyone I’ve talked to about the ride has been so excited and interested in what we’re doing! I can’t wait to share our experiences with everyone this summer!
For those interested, you can donate to Cassidy's ride through her fundraising page and/or donate to the overall Bike Beyond fundraising page. During the ride, Cassidy will be sharing tidbits on social media at @TeamBikeBeyond and @CassidyJaye on Twitter, and also @BeyondType1, @BeyondType1Daily, and #BikeBeyond on Instagram.
Cassidy, we are all so excited for you, wishing you sunny days and tail winds, and great T1D connections, and much fun!!