The Importance of Creating your Own Diabetes Network

Posted by sean on Thu, 09/27/2012 - 14:03 in

Diabetes can take a toll on us emotionally. In this video, I talk about how to avoid
“diabetes burnout” and what I gain from reaching out to the diabetes community.

After I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2004, I was unsure of whether I could still compete in snowboarding on a professional level. After losing more than 30 pounds, I tried to soak up as much information about type 1 diabetes as I could.

I came across the JDRF’s website and read stories from the Children’s Congress. I read a story from a 16-year-old who had to explain to his date why he had to give himself a shot before dinner. I read the story of a dad who had to go over to his daughter’s sleepover in the middle of the night to check her blood sugar. I read countless stories—all inspirational and all that showed me I was so fortunate to have lived 19 years free of diabetes. Most of the kids I read about knew no life other than one with diabetes, and I thought to myself, “Surely, if a 5-year-old can do it, so can I.”

Motivated by what I read, I set out to regain my strength and eventually began competing—and winning races. But I never forgot the stories that showed me I could do anything with diabetes; I wanted to give back to kids everywhere for being an inspiration to me through one of the toughest times in my life. I set out to give back to them in the best way I knew how: snowboarding. Thus, my Riding On Insulin ski and snowboard camps were born.

It’s not just the fact that I get to snowboard with kids at these camps all over the world that I love – it’s the ability to meet, talk to and learn from others who are just like me, living with diabetes every day. That’s how I continue to get through the toughest times. I’ve always said that having friends with diabetes to talk to when the going gets tough is the best medicine for me, next to insulin, of course. So here are some suggestions for creating your own diabetes network:

1.  Go to camp!

It doesn’t matter your age or your location. Nothing should stop anyone from attending camp. Whether you seek out a winter camp in your area like Riding On Insulin or one of the countless, amazing summer camps across the globe, camp is camp and it’s a great place to meet others who are going through the same things as you. There are also tons of great financial assistance programs, such as the Iron Andy Foundation, through which you can apply for camp scholarships.

2.  Never stop going to “camp.”

Think you’re too old for summer camp? Not true! Traditional diabetes camps thrive on volunteers and if you’ve got some time to spare, chances are they would love to have you attend as a counselor, mentor or some other helpful role. Additionally, there are some amazing organizations out there, such as Connected In Motion and Insulindependence, that host events of all kinds for young adults and adults living with diabetes.

3.  Find your niche.

For me, that niche is Riding On Insulin. Snowboarding is what I love, so teaching kids with diabetes how to ski and snowboard is where I fit. But perhaps you love canoeing, raising money or simply creating a community forum on Facebook—wherever your passion lies, there’s a spot for you in the D-world. You just have to find it!A great place to start is speaking with your local JDRF chapter about local events and groups. If you need to expand your reach to a national program, they can point you in the right direction as well.

4.  Give back to get back.

On all my snowboard expeditions to remote mountains across the globe, I incorporate a community component where I host satellite phone broadcasts to diabetes groups. I tell them a bit about my story and then tell them all the amazing things I’ve been seeing on my trip. The message? Anything is possible with diabetes.

My point here is that even the smallest gesture pays it forward, for example e-mailing with a newly diagnosed teen your age, or for parents, speaking over coffee with the parents of that newly diagnosed teen. When you give back to others in this community, you stand to gain and grow on your own journey with diabetes.