By Amy Mercer
When you hear the name Nicole Johnson, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? I’m guessing that most of you will say former Miss America, and you’ll be correct. But what you may not know is that Nicole Johnson is also the founder of an organization called “Students With Diabetes” (SWD), and an associated conference, now in its eighth year.
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in college, Johnson was told that she would never be able to have a career or become a mother, and thankfully she didn’t listen to that terrible advice. Instead, she went on to pursue her goals, which included being awarded the Miss America crown in 1999. She was the first woman with diabetes in pageant history, and she even wore her pump on stage, which I think is incredibly brave. Johnson used the Miss America platform to travel the country and raise awareness of life with Type 1 diabetes. Today, she has a doctorate in public health and continues to advocate for people with diabetes.
Part of Johnson’s advocacy focus is research, and that’s where the idea for the Students With Diabetes/Young Adults With Diabetes Conference came from. Johnson was working on a diabetes research project with nine participants who didn’t want to stop getting together when the focus group was over. So she devised the idea for an annual conference and the first year had a small group of maybe 50 students with Type 1. The conference has grown over the years, and today, Johnson expects about 200 participants from the ages of 18–30. Some will be first timers and others have been coming to the conference for years.
“I began to fear diabetes and hate the changes it put into place. I, like so many others, thought that diabetes was simply a matter of food. But schoolwork and exercise kept me lower than expected, and even when I factored these into my equations, the results were far from perfect. I wanted my control back. I wanted my life back. I despised diabetes and what it did to me. I am so glad I discovered Students With Diabetes. It showed me that I don’t have to be perfect and has introduced me to a community of people just like me.” — Young adult with Type 1 diabetes
The three-day conference takes place on Memorial Day weekend in Orlando and includes performances, skits, songs, and poetry. “We want to get the attendees to collaborate and share crazy stories about living with diabetes,” says Johnson, who believes education mixed with fun and laughter is the key to a successful experience. Speakers include Adam Lasher of American Idol, Kyle Cochran of American Ninja Warrior fame, and Dr. Aaron Kowalski, PhD, Chief Mission Officer for JDRF, who will talk about diabetes research in a realistic and approachable way. Breakout sessions include: “Alcohol and College Behaviors With Diabetes,” “Health Insurance and Finances,” “Relationships, Intimacy, and Pregnancy with Diabetes,” “Diabetes Advocacy,” “Creating Your Own SWD,” and “Eating Disorders and Depression.”
The 2017 Students With Diabetes/Young Adults With Diabetes National Conference will be held at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, Orlando, Florida from Friday, May 26, 2017, through Sunday, May 28, 2017.
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Source URL: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/nicole-johnson-students-diabetes/
Amy Mercer: Amy S. Mercer is a freelance writer living in Charleston, SC, with her husband and three sons. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 14 years old and has written two books about living well with diabetes — The Smart Woman's Guide to Diabetes: Authentic Advice on Everything from Eating to Dating and Motherhood, and The Smart Woman's Guide to Eating Right with Diabetes: What Will Work. (Amy Mercer is not a medical professional.)
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