Dad of A Diabetic Daughter Doing Difficult Duty Running Ragnar Right

I would highly recommend every parent of a young child with type 1 diabetes spend some time doing something difficult -- immersed in a group of grown adults with type 1 diabetes.  Last month I had the privilege of running Ragnar Trails Cascades with Team ConnecT1D. The run was AMAZINGLY fun, of course, but the experience of being the only person on the team with a fully-functional pancreas really had an unexpected impact on me. It was a little bit depressing - and yet tremendously inspirational.

My INTENT was to show my nine-year old daughter Darcie, who has type 1 diabetes, and LOVES to run, that she doesn't have to slow down, even though exercising, and distance running in particular, can be a little tricky for someone with type 1 diabetes. In particular, it is common for someone with type 1 diabetes to experience a 'low'* (hypoglycemia) when running, or at least have to carefully plan ahead to avoid it. I am regularly seen at Seattle-area 5K runs and CYO cross country meets, cheering Darcie on, yelling for her to check her blood sugar, and occasionally throwing rolls of Smarties candies at her.

To understand why running with Team ConnecT1D could have been a little bit depressing, it's probably helpful to understand a little more of my relationship with diabetes going into the weekend. Darcie was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a little over a year ago, and in that time our family has learned a lot. We've learned just a ton of technical stuff about blood sugar and carbohydrates. We've also learned a ton of practical stuff, like how to keep insulin cool while hiking. And we've also learned a lot of really obscure stuff, like mold grows scary fast around the water line in the toilet bowl when her glucose runs high. I feel like we've already learned just a whole lot of _stuff_ - and yet we've still got a very long way to go. We also know a handful of adults with type 1 diabetes, including some very close friends, who we knew well before our daughter was diagnosed. The gist is that living around diabetes certainly wasn't new to me going into the weekend.

What WAS new to me, however, was being immersed among adults checking blood sugars, counting carbs, taking insulin, treating lows, and even licking the blood off their finger - in my mind, resonating: just exactly like my daughter does. The reason the weekend was a little depressing is because witnessing that really drove the point home that, until a cure is found, this really is an every day, every night, 24/7, 365 - forever - thing. I knew that already, intellectually, and have even accepted that, emotionally - but last month I got to see what it really looks like, and that's certainly as close as I've ever been to 'living' it. I found that just a little depressing - but - just a little.

'Just a little' because if we would have just been 'camping', that probably would have been it. A little depressing. Rewinding to my initial call-to-action, I'd encourage you parents of kids with type 1 diabetes not just to 'spend time' with some adults with type 1 diabetes, but to do something challenging.

Because we weren't "just camping" -- we were there to run; and to Run with a capital R.

AND that's how things went from 'a little depressing' to truly inspiring. Because my new circle of pancreatically-challenged friends, tentatively accepting of this fully-functionally-pancreased outsider, weren't just 'surviving' or 'getting by' or 'doing OK':

These folks; we, actually; were abso-freakin'-lutely crushing it.

As a team of seven, we ran about 120 miles and 24,000 vertical feet (wow - did I do that math right?). That's the same as running the distance from Seattle to Ellensburg (or Houston to Lufkin for my Texas-based peeps), which is impressive enough -- but that also happens to include most of the elevation up and back down Mt. Everest. Pictured yet another way, each of us ran more than 16 miles and 3,000 ft of vertical elevation gain - roughly like up to the top of the Columbia Center and back -- three times each; or like running my daily commute instead of driving it.

That sure as heck wasn't depressing; that was downright inspirational.

I wasn't remotely even close to the fastest runner on that team, some of these folks run triathlons and marathons, and I frankly found my teammates' running resume's to be a little intimidating. I was just out there having fun, and that's what even the hardcore runners on the team were encouraging me to do. At one point I was having so much fun I actually started to feel guilty; as if I'd appropriated the disease as my own, as some kind of an excuse for leaving my wife at home to care for the rest of the kids while I was out here having a blast. (...and I'm ..uh... still not sure that's not actually the case...)

I do believe I managed to stay completely out of 'Dad Mode', and I believe I even kept my "Have you checked your blood sugar?" instinct in check. The only time I broke that rule involved some food craving discussions following the opening of a bag of dill pickle-flavored popcorn, when I just couldn't help asking the other runners if they were low* or something.

So all you parents and caregivers of young ones with type 1 diabetes, I'd encourage you to find yourself a group of grown adults with type 1 diabetes, willing to accept you into their world for a couple of days. And then find something crazy insanely hard to do. Then crush the heck out of it. Dill pickle-flavored popcorn optional.

- Tim

* When a person with diabetes is experiencing a 'low', or hypoglycemic episode, he or she may have some food cravings, since the body, in fact, needs food -- actually carbohydrates -- like RIGHT NOW riki-tik major beaucoup fast pronto big-time. If they don't get sugar quickly, the results can be catastrophic, ranging from confusion to seizures and even death. For some folks (like my daughter), some of the food cravings when low tend to be a bit epic, in terms of both quantity and composition. This little quirk can also be a source of frustration (OK, more like rage...) when combined with the misconception that food has any relationship to the cause of type 1 diabetes whatsoever.


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