The Triabuddies program of Triabetes has given me cause to reflect often over the past couple of years on what it means to be a positive influence. Each team captain is mentoring a young person with type 1 diabetes; this group of Triabuddies will go on a sailing trip together next week, and will meet us all race weekend in Tempe to share the Ironman experience. My joy in swimming, cycling and running is my primary motivation for doing the sport of triathlon. Secondly, I see the positive effect the training has not only on my health but also on my strength to carry on with my daily life. I expect myself to exercise regularly as much as I expect myself to eat, sleep and go to work. So, sometimes, I struggle with the notion that what we as athletes with diabetes do serves as an inspiration for others. It seems presumptuous. But with continued reflection, I remember key people from my younger years who stepped in with confidence in my possibilities and the subtle direction they have had on my life. Visiting a research lab with my mom’s friend, Shirley, added to my belief that it was a normal thing for a woman to be a scientist. My high school running coaches gave me the gift of a lifetime love of running by pushing me just enough, and never doubting my ability to run with diabetes. Many similar experiences have added up over the years, helping me to operate with the assumption that most personal roadblocks can be overcome with the right approach and enough work. (Okay, I am more cynical at times and of course I get discouraged but I do try to get back to this.)
So I guess what I hope to show my Triabuddy, Elisa, is something she already seems to grasp—that diabetes doesn’t have to stop her from living her dreams. In fact, I have sometimes wondered, “How can I help Elisa? She seems to already fully understand this.” I was impressed with my Triabuddy, Marissa, from last year, in the same way. These kids have innate determination and encouraging parents who give them confidence that they can succeed. But perhaps I can be one positive influence she can remember if she ever wonders if diabetes might be a reason to let a goal slip away. And maybe what I can offer Elisa is an understanding of diabetes—that, yes, you should go for your dreams, but when you have frustrating moments, I understand that, too. Just because you can “give it a shot” doesn’t mean that it is always easy. But you just keep going.
People who have been positive influences in my life have also made efforts to build relationships with me. This year, I have had the opportunity to visit occasionally with Elisa and enjoyed very much a recent phone interview with her. Her descriptions of her life unrelated to diabetes were refreshing, and reminded me of how I have tried to live with diabetes; sure, it’s there, and it requires my attention, but it is not the focus of my life. For other kids and parents out there, here is a summary of my interview with Elisa, a smart and athletic, nearly-11-year-old girl in fifth grade, who happens to have type 1 diabetes.
In school, Elisa recently enjoyed learning how to create circuits with batteries, wires and miniature light bulbs, and discovered how to make a bulb burn brighter by reconfiguring the circuit. (Can you do that?) Also, she enjoyed designing an island with her team of classmates. They named it “Birthday Island,” complete with Party Hat Forest and Ribbon River. In math class she is learning about lattices, which sounds pretty advanced to me. (I had to do a wikipedia search on that one.) A couple of her favorite musicians are Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift. Although she won’t be pinned down quite yet, her answer to the adult’s favorite question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” was photography, which she enjoys, especially if it includes animals. Her favorite animals are lions and tigers.
Elisa recognizes kindness in others, and kind people—friends, family, and people she “doesn’t even know”—are the ones she admires most. If given the chance to meet a historical figure, she might choose Sacagawea. Some of the games she enjoys are Club Penguin, Pop Tropica, and videos on YouTube. She enjoys playing mid-field on the soccer team and prefers freestyle and breaststroke during swim season. Another favorite game is 4-square. (Yes! I’m glad some things are still around.) Not surprisingly, Elisa “would rather play than to watch.”
Having been on injections for years, Elisa took the brave step of starting on the Omnipod insulin pump in the summer of 2009. Regarding the change she said, “It is different…because you don’t have to take a shot whenever you are high [hyperglycemic] or have a snack. And you don’t have to change it for three days. It’s comfortable to me because I can barely feel it.” She feels like it is easy to bolus and knows how to use many of the pump’s programming features. She reports that her blood sugars have been very steady on the pump and that she likes it “way better than having to get shots.” Although she was scared at first that it might hurt, and says that sometimes it does hurt, she would advise others her age who were thinking about it that “it’s not a problem. You’ll get so used to it that it will feel like you don’t have to do anything anymore.” Her parents help her by telling her how many carbs are in her lunch, but overall she is able to be much more independent on the pump. I asked whether her friends knew about it and she replied, “They keep forgetting, and ask every week, ‘What is that thing?’” She has one friend who seems to remember, so she directs the others to her.
Next week, Elisa will embark on her own Ironman adventure of sorts as she joins the other Triabuddies for a sailing trip in California. She is excited for sailing but it will be a new challenge to be away from her home, dealing with highs and lows without her parents nearby. Her new friends in the Triabuddies program, as well as the staff, will be there to help her. I am proud of her for taking on this challenge and hope she can gain new confidence in her ability to manage diabetes while enjoying the sailing experience.
And of course, I was curious what Elisa thought about triathlons. Her reply was, “They’re difficult,” especially the long run (i.e., marathon) at the end. Someone, please take Elisa to a sprint triathlon! Her favorite part would be crossing the finish line.
In the end, I’m not sure who is inspiring whom with regards to the Tribuddies program. Without a doubt, knowing Elisa will be cheering me on during Ironman Arizona has kept me going this year throughout many physical and personal challenges. I can say with certainty that I would not be pulling on my wetsuit a week from Sunday without Elisa’s implicit support. Making it to the start line will be my biggest victory this time around. I will do my best during the race and however I finish, I look forward to celebrating our mutual growth and success this year and to sharing many more experiences in the years to come.
As a final note, if you are able to support Elisa on her Triabuddy trip, donations of any amount are still needed and welcomed here.