The 7-Continent Journey Part 3: Building Mental Toughness with Diabetes

Posted by sean on Wed, 09/24/2014 - 12:14 in

Earlier this year, Omnipod ambassador and professional snowboarder Sean Busby became the first person with diabetes to backcountry snowboard on every continent. Come along for the journey as Sean talks about his experience making history and how having type 1 diabetes may have helped him on his way to the top of the mountain (and then of course shredding powder down to the bottom). Click here for Part 1 and Part 2 of the series, and read on for Part 3.

I believe anyone who has a chronic disease, like type 1 diabetes, has a level of mental toughness that other people do not have. Mental toughness is a way to be able to take "punches" and keep moving. In other words, to face challenges head on and set out with what you want to achieve. To manage diabetes, one must always be thinking ahead of schedule and about what sort of challenges they may face throughout the day, week, month, etc. Just the little action of thinking ahead begins to build the wall of mental toughness.

Learning About Mental Toughness


I first learned of mental toughness when at a U.S. snowboarding coach’s clinic in Park City, Utah a few years ago. Bud Keene, coach of two-time Olympic gold medalist snowboarder Shaun White, spoke about the challenges that White has faced over the years and through his Olympic career. White's skills weren't the only thing keeping him on top of the competition - his brain was doing some heavy lifting too. Going into the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, the halfpipe venue of competition was plagued with horrible snow, warm temps and rain. While many of the Olympic athletes may have focused on the poor snow conditions, Shaun went into the competition imagining the snow to be the best snow he has ever ridden. His mental toughness was on its "A-Game" and he scored a perfect score along with a gold medal at those games.

Now that is a small example of mental toughness and how it led to such a powerful outcome. Everyone has mental toughness, but many find it difficult to find or realize they actually do have it. Those with diabetes definitely have it. It is as simple as fighting through and treating a hypoglycemic event or diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Both are straining on a person physically and emotionally.

Handling Diabetes Burnout

Burnout or diabetes burnout can be another great example of when you use mental toughness. Many people face this situation. Sometimes people are bombarded with it – when it seems like they’re on track and then become overwhelmed by diabetes again. I have battled burnout constantly since my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

What has helped me the most is the type 1 diabetes community who understands exactly what I am going through. Now it is one thing to acknowledge burnout, which is a great first step, but it’s another thing to act in a positive way to fix it (for me it was seeking out the diabetes community and speaking with them). I consider the act of acknowledging a challenge and then acting on it a way of showing mental toughness.

Mental Challenges Experienced on my Expeditions










On my backcountry snowboarding expeditions to all of the seven continents, I have faced multitudes of challenges where mental toughness has come in handy to play in my favor of success. Having large avalanches break out around you on different expeditions in remote regions of New Zealand and Iceland play a huge mental game on you. Being caught in one, which I experienced a few years ago, takes that a step further. Mental toughness has programmed my brain to react quickly and know how to handle out-of-the-ordinary situations without panic.

While in route to base camp in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco for my most recent backcountry snowboarding expedition in Africa, I was plagued with fluctuations of yo-yoing blood sugars which led to electrolyte imbalances, cramping, early stages of AMS (acute mountain sickness) and panic. It would have been so much easier on my body for me to just turn around and quit on that expedition, but I knew I had dealt with wild blood sugars before as I have been living with diabetes for 10 years.

In the end, it came down to my diabetes mental toughness to pull me through all of these experiences. Once we learn how to access that unlimited stash of motivation, there’s nothing that can stop us from accomplishing even our loftiest goals.

Come back for the final installment of this series. Sean will share a video from his journey to Africa where he completed his 7-continent backcountry snowboarding mission.