Sticking with yesterday's theme of physical activities that help people cope with diabetes —please meet Chloe Steepe, who like many of us diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as adults (she was 18) didn't know another single soul with this illness. For Chloe, it wasn't until several years later, when visiting Australia on an outdoor adventure trip, that she found herself surrounded by PWDs just like her.
Upon returning home to Canada, she was inspired to launch Connected in Motion, a non-profit organization that uses outdoor adventure and physical activity as a forum for "experiential diabetes education." This is not extreme sports for athletes only, but rather fun outdoor activities for anyone looking to move and connect. There is no membership fee; participants pay only for the cost of the activities themselves, which include hiking, cycling, canoe trips and 10K races. Since the organization is based in Toronto, Ontario, the majority of participants are Canadian. But Chloe notes that a few folks from the U.S. are starting to cross the border.
We talked with Chloe earlier this week:
DM) You were diagnosed as an adult. What was that transition like for you?
CS) I was diagnosed 10 years ago at age 18 in Canada, which meant I went straight into the adult health care system. I never had an opportunity to meet anyone my own age with diabetes. I always took diabetes on as a challenge, and keep doing things that I love to do, which included a lot of sports. I would ask my doctors questions and get puzzled looks or get answers that I didn't want to hear like "well don't do this" or "I don't think that's a good idea." I did spend a bit of time being really frustrated. There was nothing here. There's some big diabetes organizations but I didn't feel that there was anything for me. I could fund-raise or volunteer, but it wasn't really what I was looking for. So you can be angry or you can do something about it.
Tell us more about the inspiration for Connected in Motion ...?
My boyfriend and I were traveling to Australia on a cycling tour. Before I left, I found an organization called Hypoactive, a group of Australians with type 1 diabetes. I thought this was so cool and I wanted to meet these guys when I was down there. Monique Hanley (the founder) invited us to come ride with them in a fund-raising ride. That was the first time that I had been surrounded by other people with type 1 diabetes. During the relay, I had the opportunity to ride in my first 'bunch'. On my second shift, our small group of three Hypoactive riders caught up with another cycling group, which caught up with another, and so on, until we composed a large mass of riders cruising down the road. In any bunch or group of riders, the cyclists at the front of the pack take the brunt of the wind and air resistance, creating a slipstream or reduced resistance behind them. The bigger the group, the easier it becomes for the riders in behind.
Meeting the Hypoactive crew and spending 48 hours with thirteen other Type 1's was like sliding into the slipstream of a thirteen rider bunch. Although I was working hard to keep my blood sugars in check, it was as though suddenly the resistance had eased. Everyone around me was doing the same thing. Everyone had diabetes, everyone was managing their blood sugar and everyone was excelling out on the road, pushing their physical limits. Before I knew it, I was cruising. Seeing everyone testing, and hearing the beeps and buzzes. I was in a slipstream for my diabetes as well. It was the first time that I had been surrounded by other people with type 1 diabetes!
I decided this is something I need back home. I couldn't be a diabetic loner. There's too much to be gained and learned from other type 1s. After I came back to Canada, I booked some space in northern Canada for the first annual Slipstream event. I just had this vision for a space for people to come together. We had 27 type 1s for a weekend of snowshoeing and ice skating and great meals. It has 'snowballed' into different events, like cycling, hiking, beach volleyball, and adventure races.
What kinds of activities do you organize?
We have a series of programs. We've had almost monthly events in southern Ontario, like a rock climbing day or a cycling day or getting people together to go bowling. There's a wide variety of activities that we've been involved in. We've done a lot of running, 5Ks, 10Ks, full marathon, working with people to get ready while being in a safe environment.
There are a lot of the people who have come on board just for their own personal interests, so we often have nurses or endos out at our events. It's been really neat in that regards, but we don't have anyone on staff per se. We've had tons of discussions and what we're really about is trying to empower people and bridge the gap between the hospitals and real life. For a lot of people, it means being on your own, problem-solving on their own. We can live our lives without always having a medical professional looking over our shoulders. The ultimate goal is to manage your own diabetes and figure out what you need to do to be safe and live your life the way you want.
Why do you think outdoor adventure experiences are important for people with diabetes?
We need to learn in the clinics and hospitals, and regularly coming to get caught up on things, but when it comes to heading out, we can do this as a group of people with diabetes. An often overlooked piece is this motivation and inspiration. How do you find it within yourself to do what you need to do every minute of every day to live with this thing? Without that motivation, the technology doesn't mean very much.
What are your plans for the future of Connected in Motion?
I have this dream of having a bus, a Connected in Motion slipstream mobile, that would be packed full of amazing people and amazing education tools and provide the types of programs that we're providing in Canada. We would take people out and make them inspired to live diabetes to the max.
In the short-term, registration is now open for our 3rd annual Winter Slipstream Event this coming January.
Chloe, I just love your take on life with the Big D! Very cool what you're doing. We need that over here, eh?