A few months back I “met” Steve Richert on Twitter. He commented on a link I posted–completely non-D related–and we got chatting. He introduced himself and told me about what he was planning to embark upon come the new year. I was instantly intrigued and impressed.
Steve is an avid rock climber who has started an initiative called Project 365. He plans to climb for 365 straight days in some of the most extreme environments our continent has to offer. With the help of his wife, Stefanie, he will document the journey.
Oh! And he also happens to have type 1 diabetes.
People like Steve fascinate and inspire me and I knew I had to keep in touch with him and watch his progress while he attempted to achieve his goal. As much as I want to believe in a cure for Jenna, the reality is that she may very well have to live with this disease for the rest of her life. I certainly don’t want her to sacrifice a single dream or ambition using diabetes as an excuse. Fortunately, there is no shortage of inspiring people in the diabetes online community and Steve is a shining example of just such inspiration. He is living proof that a person can do anything, be anything and live a rich and fulfilling life with type 1 diabetes. His determination and courage give me hope.
In mid January Steve and Stef began their 365 day mission. In between climbs Steve found time to answer a few questions I had for him and I am thrilled to share his words with you here:
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Sherry: How long have you had diabetes? Would you mind sharing your diagnosis story?
Steve: 13 years as of January 16 2012. I was away from home, living in alaska at age 16. I came down with what felt like the flu and it just kept getting worse instead of better. Blurry vision, thirst, headaches, loss of coordination and I was constantly fatigued. After about a month of this I wound up having seizures and being hospitalized with encephalitis–which resulted in a concurrent diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. There were two days that I completely don’t remember and I just woke up in the ICU. I had been under an incredible amount of stress and it was all pretty disorienting–but once I got out of the hospital, it felt so good to not feel like complete shit, that I welcomed the application of insulin and the whole learning process that went with it.
Sherry: What prompted you to decide to embark upon this incredibly ambitious mission of 365 straight days of climbing in some of the most extreme terrain North America has to offer while managing your type 1 diabetes and what do you aspire to accomplish?
Steve: I want to empower people with type 1 diabetes and other chronic illnesses to think big. To not let a medical condition constrain their dreams–also I want to demonstrate the benefit of being active and eating a fresh, high quality, plant based diet and connecting with nature. Doing more with less (drugs/meds, “stuff”) is both possible and beneficial.
Sherry: You and your wife have taken some risks to make this adventure possible. You have sold almost all of your possessions and are using your savings to help finance this mission. Can you explain what emotions you experienced while you went through the process of preparing for this year long journey? Was there ever a “HOLY SH–! Are we crazy?!” moment? Any epiphanies?
Steve: Risk is an inherent part of life. Living in a conventional setting with an unfulfilled dream in our heart was deemed to be a bigger risk–so we decided to at least try. I think failure and struggle are vital components of human development that we as a society have managed to avoid to our great detriment. I am ok with failing or having to pick up the pieces if the money runs out. You definitely have to go all in and commit fully or else what’s the point? No one lives forever–so do what you can, while you are able!
Preparation has basically been DAYS spent on the computer, wishing I could just go out and climb. Trying to make other people care about this project. The most emotionally taxing part of this has been leaving our home and realizing that if this fails we literally have no home to go back to. Leaving our cat has been SO painful because in our absence he hasn’t adjusted to his new home and has run away several times for a week at a clip with no contact with anyone. It may sound weird but he is my little friend, not just a pet. I have never been a very social person and he (we call him Mr. Kitty or Mr. Bear) has always been there for me when people let me down and it rips my heart out knowing tht he is scared and feeling abandoned. I try not to dwell on that part.
Holy Shit moments? Every single day. Especially at night when your mind just goes to those dark places.
Epiphanies…yes…the little things, the small steps–those are where we succeed or fail ultimately in the big picture of things.
Sherry: You are on injections (pens?). Have you ever been on or considered using an insulin pump?
Steve: I am on pens–never been on a pump. I am not against the idea of a pump but I am used to taking shots and I don’t mind it. I am a fan of simplicity and the fact that it is a lot more affordable. I was offered a sponsorship deal from a pump company that would have cost me 400 bucks a month…needless to say, insulin pens started looking a lot better! I am sure that there are advantages to both–I am just more clued in to the advantages of my system because that’s what I know.
Sherry: As a substitute pancreas myself, I have a keen interest on the specifics of how you plan to manage all that diabetes will, no doubt, throw at you while you are dangling from a cliff in the wilderness. What challenges does having type 1 diabetes present while you are climbing and how do you plan to address them?
Steve: Type 1’s biggest challenge is the variability of insulin sensitivity that goes with varying levels of activity. Also, not being able to carbo-load before a big day of climbing can make it a bit tougher to recover AFTER that big day. Otherwise, you just have to be consistent and check a lot. I find that the quality of the foods I eat makes a HUGE difference in the consistency of my sugar. Low GI foods like Clif Bar Builders Bars and raw almonds keep me from spiking or tanking and give me energy when I really need to pour it on. Basically though I have found that everything is based on cause and effect. If you want to be all ready to roll in the morning, you have to take care of your meal the night before. Consistency is key.
I have redefined my relationship with food as part of being a type 1 diabetic–which is something I see others struggle with or refuse to do. That is their choice, but I can tell you without a doubt that I could not do what I do if I was unwilling to view food as fuel rather than entertainment or comfort. That is part of what I want to communicate to others throughout this project. YOU have the power–no, it’s not easy, but it’s POSSIBLE and you will be better off for taking control of yourself!
Sherry: Although I have never rock climbed before, I would think that it takes a well-planned, methodical, controlled approach–much like managing diabetes does. And yet the unexpected can, and indeed does happen with diabetes. Can the same be said of rock climbing? Do you feel the mental and emotional coping skills you have learned from climbing reflect or enhance your approach to managing your diabetes and vice versa?
Steve: Yes. Climbing is not about some RedBull commercial with a generic heavy metal riff playing in the background. Climbing is about self control, discipline and simplicity. That is the same approach that I have chosen in managing my diabetes and the two are inextricably linked, in my mind. Also, both have risks as a very real part of the equation–which is great motivation not to be lax.
Sherry: What suppplies do you pack with you while you are climbing and how do you tote them?
Steve: I usually take a pack of glucose tabs but I have never opened them. I think I have eaten 2 of them in 13 years. I avoid shooting fast acting insulin when I am climbing–I let my activity lower my blood sugar, which keeps the hypos reasonable and treatable with normal snacks. I carry a couple Clif Builder Bars and my meter–depending on the length of the climb, I may leave the meter down at the base of the climb. If it is one long route that will be an all day affair, then I will bring a small backpack that has enough food to last for several days, as well as my meter. When I was guiding, I would always have plenty of Clif bars to give to my clients because I always pack significantly more than I would eat in a given day.
Sherry: The physical demands of this project will, no doubt, be a challenge to manage and your diet will, undoubtedly, require as much careful consideration as your insulin dosing. Can you explain a little about what you will be eating throughout the year?
Steve: As much whole foods as possible. This means food whose identity can be discerned through simply looking at it, not reading a list of ingredients. Fresh, Raw (when possible). Predominately vegetable matter.
Breakfast: usually raw almonds and some form of oatmeal. Possibly part of a Builder Bar too or a little cheese. Eggs with mushrooms are an option too since eggs in their shell will keep for a good amount of time if you are careful with them. Onions, spinach, work great as add-ins.
Lunch: raw nuts, seeds, a salad (yes greens keep without refrigeration if you are creative!) carrots, crackers, Builder Bar, tuna fish with mustard or sardines, trail mix.
Dinner: salad, veggie stir fry (cabbage, broccoli, sprouts, peanuts, hot sauce, black beans) lentils, whole wheat pasta, raw almonds, sweet potatoes, garlic…and so on.
Fruits are always good too–apples and pears keep magnificently, strawberries…etc.
A few miscellaneous items I have recently explored are kale chips, almond butter and nori–and OH MY GOODNESS I am officially addicted. Sadly I am not going to be able to afford that stuff on a consisten basis, but it is super healthy and GOOD when I earn a treat!
Sherry: The publicity you are receiving by doing this gives you a great opportunity to send a message to other people with diabetes or other chronic diseases. What is the message you want to send?
Steve: YOU have the power to be healthy. Diabetes is a challenge but it does not have to stop you from being healthy. It is our responsibility to avoid adopting a victim mentality.
In the words of Captain Sub-text, “ A little suffering is good for you. If you embrace it instead of bitching, you will be better off for it!”
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Thank you, Steve, for sharing your story with me. You ROCK! (pardon the pun. ;))