I met Sierra Sandison, Miss Idaho 2014, last fall at a JDRF event in Columbia, South Carolina, where she and I were speaking, and I wrote about her in a previous blog post. Sierra may look like a beauty queen, but she also happens to be funny, and down to earth, and smart, and strong. Her physical strength is being put to the test this summer as she bikes across the country (from New York to San Francisco — 4,248 miles) with Team Bike Beyond. I reached out to Sierra to ask her about this latest adventure.
ASM: How did you get involved with Team Bike Beyond?
SS: I think the route was originally supposed to go through Boise, so someone from parent organization Beyond Type 1 reached out to see if I could help with organizing an event here when the team passed through. I didn’t know what the logistics were, but I immediately asked how I could be on the team instead, and filled out my application immediately!
ASM: Were you previously a bike person? If not, have you been training?
SS: So, one huge reason I wanted to be on the team so badly was that my dad rode his bike across the country with a team when he was 16. We grew up hearing crazy stories from him, and I’ve always wanted to do it myself. When I got diabetes, I was sad because I thought it would be too complicated or difficult to take on an epic, but strenuous, adventure. My dad bought me the book Not Dead Yet, by Type 1 role model and athlete Phil Southerland, which encouraged me. But still I thought, there is NO way I will ever be good enough for Team Novo Nordisk, the professional cycling team cofounded by Phil and fellow racer Joe Eldridge. I was thinking that being with other people who had Type 1 was the only way I could cross this item off my bucket list (it’s number one on the list, by the way).
However, diabetes didn’t stop me from continuing my love for long-distance cycling. In fact, in preparation for Miss Idaho and Miss America, I would often ride my bike 50–100 miles every weekend! It is one of my favorite ways to work out. It is much gentler to your body than running is, plus you are going way faster, so that is exhilarating. It is rarely extremely miserable aerobically, like most exercise can be, and it is always an adventure because of the huge distances you can cover in one workout.
I’ve been training though. In an hour, I am driving to Sun Valley to hopefully get in at least a 65-mile day. The team is required to ride at least 500 miles outside (not just on a spinning bike at the gym) before the trip.
ASM: What are your goals for this trip?
SS: This year was my fifth diaversary, which was a huge reason I wanted to do the trip. The five-year mark is a big one because we are told at diagnosis that a cure is “only five years away.” Spoiler alert: It’s not here yet. So I knew I had to get serious about helping raise money for a cure, and Beyond Type 1 was a perfect organization to do that with, because I am also extremely passionate about education and advocacy. Beyond Type 1 splits their funds evenly between finding a cure, education, and advocacy — which are all things the diabetes community needs RIGHT NOW. Beyond Type 1 has a constant flow of content that is always inspiring me to live better, reminding me I am not alone, and providing the resources I need to successfully manage my blood sugars. The advocacy part is especially important this week with the possibility of the American Health Care Act passing with such a small budget set aside for those living with preexisting conditions. And I don’t even need to tell you how important research for a cure is! The best part, though, is that Beyond Type 1’s founders (including Nick Jonas) pay the overhead for the organization, so every penny we donate goes directly towards these promising diabetes efforts. My goal, in honor of my fifth diaversary, is to raise $5,000 for Beyond Type 1 before I finish this epic adventure across the country!
Aside from fundraising, though, I want to show newly diagnosed kids who are now living with Type 1 that this disease will not hold them back from fulfilling their dreams! I was so scared the first day. What did living with diabetes look like? Would I even live? Would I have to stop eating my favorite foods? Would I be able to keep doing the things I loved? When I asked Google these questions, I was inspired by people like Nicole Johnson and Phil Southerland, who hadn’t let diabetes hold them back, but rather let diabetes push them to do great things. I hope this ride and the documentary we produce during it will be able to show kids and families facing new diagnoses in the future that they will be OK, and a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis is not the end of their life as they know it.
ASM: Do you have any fears about riding across the country?
SS: Oh, geez. So many. I try not to think about them too much, because no fear is going to stop me from going. First and foremost, I am going to be so homesick! Seven weeks is such a long time to be away from the people I love so much. I have training fears — what if we do some super-steep hill that everyone but me is prepared for? And packing fears — what if I forget something super important?! What if I get sick? The list could go on forever. The team and Beyond Type 1 are always there to answer my questions and calm me down, though, and nothing is scary enough to stop me from embarking on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
ASM: How can we help?
SS: You can check out the Bike Beyond section of Beyond Type 1’s website to look at our route and schedule, and volunteer to help us when we pass through your city by filling out the “Get Involved” form! And most importantly, the easiest way to help is to donate to my fundraising goal to help me raise money for this incredible organization.
Diabetes doesn’t take a vacation just because you do. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow for guidelines on traveling safely.