Natalie Strand was the first person with diabetes and half of the first all-female team to win The Amazing Race. Natalie is a motivational speaker, diabetes advocate and interventional pain management physician. Below she shares how winning The Amazing Race brought her diabetes into the spotlight.
I was diagnosed with diabetes at age 12. The first 19 years of my life with diabetes were pretty standard. I had a lot of challenges to work through – those teenage years, going off to college, figuring out life as a young woman, while trying to manage a disease I was probably too immature to fully understand.
The way I managed my diabetes life was very private. I never really involved others in my diabetes care (other than my diabetes healthcare team). I wasn’t very involved in the diabetes community. I didn’t fundraise. I didn’t connect with others that had diabetes. I had a full and active life, but my diabetes and I were anonymous.
That all changed when I competed on and won season 17 of The Amazing Race. All of a sudden I was a well-known figure in the diabetes community. During the four months that the show aired, over twelve million people watched me race around the world with nothing but the clothes on my back and whatever supplies I could fit in a single backpack.
I covered over 32,000 miles in just over three weeks. I traveled through the heat of sub-Saharan Africa and through the icy fields of the Arctic Circle. I built a rickshaw in the crowded streets of Bangladesh and I rafted down the heavily-guarded river in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
As I got closer and closer to the finish line, people in the diabetes community started to take notice. I found blogs talking about “that girl with diabetes” on The Amazing Race. I started getting letters from parents of newly diagnosed children thanking me for showing them that diabetes doesn’t have to hold anyone back from accomplishing what they set out to do.
The extreme physical and logistical challenges of The Amazing Race took me from anonymity to the diabetes spotlight in a way that I never could have imagined. I found this very intimidating in the beginning. I mean, I was no professional athlete. I still struggle with high and low blood sugars. I get frustrated with my diabetes at times. I still hadn’t “figured it all out.” I wasn’t sure I was qualified to be a role model!
My fears and insecurities slowly melted away as I realized that being a prominent member in the diabetes community didn’t mean being perfect. In fact, I realized that a lot of the things I wasn’t proud of are just part of living with diabetes. This was a very powerful realization.
Joining the Diabetes Community
By being injected into the diabetes community, I finally saw what I was missing. I finally realized that highs and lows, frustrations and fears, and problem solving and speed bumps are not something to be ashamed of. They are just a part of life with diabetes and we are all constantly dealing with it. I realized that I was not alone.
Being in the diabetes spotlight definitely motivates me to share the messages that I have learned. I have such a wonderful platform to spread education and inspiration. I am proud that I am not a super-human who never struggles. When I became part of the first female team to win The Amazing Race, I was proud to show that women could win. I was even more proud to prove to myself and to millions of fans watching the show that diabetes is not a limitation.
I know now, after magazine interviews, keynote speeches and community events, that we all share a very special bond. The diabetes family is a close-knit one and we have such an amazing amount of love and support for one another.
If there were one thing I could go back and change about my life before The Amazing Race, it would be to engage with the diabetes community sooner. I would get involved with my local diabetes support groups, volunteer at community events, get online and develop wonderful friendships with people that understood what I was going through.
Diabetes is a long and winding road. Just like on The Amazing Race, it makes things a whole lot easier if you are traveling with a great team.