Canadian diabetes advocate Jen Hanson helped found a group called Connected In Motion, one that’s probably done more than any other to establish exciting adventure camps for adults with type 1 diabetes in its first decade since being created. They’ve recently joined forces with the non-profit Beyond Type 1 to build out their offerings.

Today, Jen shares… all about the why and how of diabetes camp for adults…

In DiabetesMine’s 2017 PatientVoices Survey, Diabetes Camp was the toprated tool for patient education. Yes, D-Camp ranked higher than Certified Diabetes Educators and Diabetes Coaches, support groups, and even retail health clinics. If you’re someone who experienced diabetes camp as a child, this may not be a surprise — you are probably nodding your head in agreement. You get it.

But if you missed out on that camp experience for whatever reason, then you might be surprised to learn just how big of an impact attending summer camp can have on the psychosocial, physical, and general well-being of someone with diabetes.

Summer camps first appeared as an experience for boys to escape the rigor of urban life back in 1870. At the turn of that century, fewer than 100 summer camps existed in the United States and by 1918, over 1,000 existed — it seemed that something was working! Summer camp was originally focused on helping campers build character, and it began evolving very quickly to serve groups with special needs.

The very first camp for children with diabetes came about in the U.S. in 1925, and this Barton camp for inner-city youth in the Boston area was actually the very first camp for children with specialized needs at all! Amazingly, this was only four years after the discovery of insulin. Today, more than 20,000 children spend their summers at diabetes camp each year.

Which might lead you to ask: If these experiences are so transformative for youth, why don’t more exist for adults? Well, the team at Connected in Motion thought the same thing. Founder Chloe Vance had seen the benefit of experiential learning and camp firsthand and, after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 18, decided to do something about the gap that existed out there in the adult world. The first Slipstream Retreat (read: Summer Camp for Adults with Diabetes) was hosted in 2009 and the movement has been gaining momentum ever since.

This summer, the Connected in Motion team has partnered with Beyond Type 1 to help give more adults in more places access to the summer camp experience. Some of you may be thinking, “Say no more. Where can I sign up?” We’re excited to have you join us! But many of you may be thinking, “Wait a second. I need to know more. Are we talking creaky bunk beds for sleep and wieners and beans for food?”

We hear you. And we want to tell you more.

You’ve got to convince me. What big difference will this make for me and my diabetes?

To answer this question, we went straight to the community. To date, Connected in Motion has run 25 Slipstream Retreats and over the years has collected feedback from over 1,000 adults with T1D. Over and over, we’re told of the amazing impact that camp has had on people’s mental health, diabetes management, and self-efficacy. We’ve seen self-reported drops in A1C, increases in time in range, and improved feelings of well-being.

A typical feedback comment reads: “Spending a weekend with close to 50 type 1 diabetics reminds me that there are many of us living with diabetes and we all treat and control it in our own ways. I left the weekend having experienced new things, having met new friends and with exciting new ideas on how to better manage my diabetes!

OK, walk me through this. What does a weekend camp for adults look like?

You can check out the schedule for Northeastern Slipstream, but in general you can expect lots of choice in sessions and time to connect and learn from great speakers and co-campers. The camp kicks off with introductions and icebreakers. Typically half of the group are brand new to the diabetes community, and half have connected in some way before. We plan accordingly with some team building and get-to-know-you activities, followed by a wine and cheese reception and an opportunity to visit with sponsors and supporters and pick up some sweet diabetes swag!

Early morning optional sessions often include sunrise yoga and stretching, morning paddles, or coffee by the lake. Breakfast typically runs from 8-9 am with two morning sessions following — a choice between activity sessions and education sessions. You can build your schedule out to best suit your needs! The afternoon looks much the same with an hour of free-time. Evenings are spent with social activities and chilling by the campfire.

That sounds good, but what about the important stuff — sleeping and eating?

Connected in Motion and Beyond Type 1 have done their research when choosing summer camp venues. We ensure that sleeping arrangements are comfortable and suitable for adults. Expect to share a cabin with a few other campers — we’ll help you find a cabin when you arrive. Although cabins typically have bunk beds, we aim to have adults sleeping only on bottom bunks, with many venues offering single beds as well. Cabins typically have their own bathrooms, electricity, and ample space to store all of your “stuff.” Although most sites will require you to bring bedding (a sleeping bag or a blanket and pillow), some allow bedding to be rented straight from the camp.

Food is prepared on site by professional catering staff. This is something we ask LOTS of questions about before booking a site. We. Love. Food. We ensure camps are fully able to cater to special dietary needs (low carb, celiac, vegetarian, etc.) We work directly with the camp to provide the menu to make sure the food is up to snuff. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

I remember group BG checks and meetings with doctors at D-camp. What is that like for adults?

As an adult, diabetes management is left to the individual, much like it would be when you’re living your daily life. The difference – you are surrounded by a TON of people who have been there, done that. Who get it. They days are structured with diabetes management in mind. We leave time for (and encourage) people to get up and get moving after eating. We’ll often organize a 15 minute group walk around the like following breakfast and lunch. Activity levels will be outlined – You’ll know when the hike will be low, medium, or high intensity with enough time to make insulin adjustments. We encourage conversation, provide prompts, and check-in with the group to make sure everyone has they information they need to have a great (diabetes) weekend. One thing you can be sure of – you’ll learn lots of new techniques for management, you’ll have the chance for practice, and you’ll never be short of options for lows should one sneak up on you.

Do we have camp counselors telling us to go to bed? Who is leading our sessions? What can I expect to learn?

This is where a lot of the magic comes from at a Slipstream. The speakers you’ll be learning from will also be your peers, participating in sessions and heading out on activities. Ever read Adam Brown’s book and amazing resource Bright Spots and Landmines? Adam will be joining us at several Slipstreams in 2018 to teach the latest on diabetes and tech. Want to dig in deeper? Head out on a hike with him later in the day and dig into a great conversation. Have you followed former division 1 college athlete-turned-Nike Influencer, Lauren Bongiorno on her blog? Join Lauren for some morning yoga and pop in to hear from her about the latest in mindfulness strategies later in the day. Have an interest in Diabetes and Exercise? Not only can you learn some strategies from fellow type 1 and founder of Diabetes Training Camp’s Dr. Matt Corcoran, but you’ll also have the chance to get moving with him throughout the weekend.

Of course, we’ll also bring the pros in to make sure we’re staying safe while enjoying the many camp activities. We won’t leave you to learn wakeboarding through trial and error, or figure out how to shoot that bow and arrow on your own. Each camp also is fully staffed with camp activity experts.

What sort of people come out to a Slipstream Weekend? How will I know if I’m going to fit in?

If you’re living with type 1 diabetes, you have nothing to worry about. You’ll automatically fit in. (If you’re NOT living with T1D, but are a member of the diabetes community, check out the CIM Website to see what other sorts of Slipstream Weekends we’re hosting, including a Slipstream for partners of T1s and a Slipstream for seniors!) Over the past 10 years, we’ve had a lot of experience with a lot of different campers. This is what you can expect:

  • The largest cohort of campers are in the 25-35 age range, although we always have several cabins of college age, 35-50 year olds, and seniors as well!
  • There is usually a 50/50 mix between people who have been out to an ‘in-person diabetes event’ before, and those who are totally brand new

  • The majority of people attending don’t know anyone else coming to the camp

  • The majority of attendees leave camp with an amazing network of resources and a vibrant community of other T1s to call on in times of need

  • There is no fitness level required, just a desire to get outside and get moving. At camp, you can define your comfort zone. We’ll also help you find ways to step out of it without too much stress or worry. You can expect to be surrounded by ironman athletes as well as those who are only contemplating the idea of their first walking-race.

And there you have it: Camp for adults with diabetes.

We encourage you to take a chance, step to the edge of your comfort zone, and connect with the diabetes community in real life at a Slipstream weekend. We expect that you’ll walk away feeling re-engaged with your diabetes, supported by a network of people who truly understand, and with a new energy to tackle the daily challenges of T1D. We know that diabetes can be difficult, but we hope that through a Slipstream weekend, things can become just a little bit easier.

Many of us in the Diabetes Online Community find support and resources through social media and on the Web. When we bring the community together in person, in the great outdoors, we take online support networks to the next level. Connections that can become best friends are forged by the power of face-to-face interactions… ideally over a beer while sitting by a campfire.

Register for the Northeastern Slipstream, happening in June here, or sign up for one of the September camps in Southern California and Ontario here.

Other Adult D-Camp Options

Editor’s Note – there are a few other organizations that offer diabetes camps for adults with type 1:

Survive & Thrive Adult T1D Boot Camp

June 1-3 at Camp Nejeda in Stillwater, NJ

ConnecT1D’s Summer Retreat for Adults

June 23-24 at Clearwater Resort in Suquamish, WA

Diabetes Training Camp

Week-long summer camps in Lancaster, PA