Diabetes and Sports: Support and Education Intersect

Julie De Vos was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 11 years old. She is the Program Director for Connected in Motion (CIM) — a Canadian-based group of people with Type 1 diabetes who share a vision to “create a culture of support and engagement in diabetes self-management through peer-based experiential education, sport, and outdoor adventure.” De Vos is also an Elite Coach for Riding On Insulin (ROI) , a group based in Montana that “empowers, activates, and connects the global diabetes community through shared experience and action sports.”

AM: Tell me about your involvement with sports and how diabetes affects your approach to being active.

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JD: I never really thought about being excluded from anything because of my diabetes. I was diagnosed at 11 years old and started ski racing at 12 years old. I remember diabetes was just another thing I had to think about. Of course there were times when I’d wonder “Am I low or just nervous?” but I was very proactive. I had a strict testing schedule and ate a strict diet. I also played flag football and field hockey in high school and remember having back-to-back games some nights. It was always tough, but somehow I made it work! As I get older I find it more difficult to prevent the large glucose swings as I’ve taken up new sports. A new favorite is scuba diving, and I’ve had a tough time managing diabetes while diving. I’ve never gone low, but it’s been a struggle to keep my anxiety about going low in check. It’s something I love to do and won’t give it up!

AM: Tell me about getting involved with Connected in Motion and Riding On Insulin.

JD: My history goes back to attending Camp Huronda (a Canadian Diabetes Association diabetes camp) as a young child, and then later as a staff member. It was through my love of the camp and skiing that I ended up volunteering for both organizations. I Googled “skiing and Type 1,” and Riding On Insulin popped up. I jumped right in to help with their Canadian ski camps and then went to my first CIM/ROI Slipstream weekend (“a weekend jam-packed with outdoor adventure, engaging workshops, great food and incredible people. The weekend is a “chance to connect with like-minded Type 1s — focused on the positives of what we CAN do with Type 1 diabetes”).

My background is in kinesiology (I’m a registered kinesiologist) and alpine coaching/instructing, so it seemed a great fit for me. I am currently the Program Director for Connected in Motion and the International Programs and Leadership Development Director for Riding On Insulin. My major focus is on Slipstream weekend programming, TeamCIM events, ROIs Elite Coaches and Junior Coaches programs, our international camps, and our program models. It’s something I’m very passionate about and hope to continue doing for a long time!

AM: How do these programs benefit people with Type 1 diabetes?

JD: For Connected in Motion, our flagship programs are called Slipstreams. We use the metaphor of a flying “v” of geese to represent the power of these weekends. Together we can go farther and faster than we could alone. We help propel each other forward, together. Sometimes taking the lead when you’re feeling strong and sometimes letting others lead when you need support.

People with Type 1 know that diabetes is an invisible disease and we spend a lot of our own individual energy pushing through the lows and highs, all while trying to keep up and succeed with everyone else. It’s an amazing comfort to be with a group of people who understand this and live and breathe this every day. For those times spent together, diabetes is for once the normal and not the exception.

AM: How has being involved with these organizations changed the way you think about diabetes?

JD: I don’t think it’s changed the way I think about diabetes; rather it confirmed what I quietly knew all along. Community is one of the best resources for someone with a chronic illness. It educates you, it comforts you, and it makes you feel not alone. I think one of the most important aspects of a chronic illness is your mental well-being. I truly believe having a community of people who understand the nature of what you deal with day in and day out provides an aspect of mental health wellness.

Really what we do is based on learning from experience and from our peers. There is also a ton of research to support outdoor education and the benefits on our mental well-being. We combine these components together, which provides an opportunity for experiential diabetes education. Experiential education is the cornerstone of outdoor education; simply put, it’s learning by doing, with time to reflect and try again. Another key component of these programs is listening to and learning from other’s experiences. We know that diabetes is different for everyone, and one approach won’t work for all. I learn more from my peers than any other single source. I’m not downplaying the role our health-care providers play in our care; I’m saying our peers are a wealth of information.

Once in a while, it’s OK to not be perfect, even for those of us living with diabetes, says Scott Coulter. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to read more.