Norway Expedition: Building Bonds through Diabetes

Posted by sean on Tue, 03/04/2014 - 13:18 in

On other expeditions, I’ve built common bonds through skiing and snowboarding, despite cultural differences. On my Norway expedition, I was able to build on the bond that unites those of us living with type 1 diabetes.

Sean talks about the lessons he learned and the inspiration he received from being with other people with diabetes on the expedition.

I have had a goal to guide a group of skiers/snowboarders with type 1 diabetes on an expedition to a remote part of Greenland for a few years now - and have slowly been picking off the logistical nightmare that goes along with guiding a group in heavy polar bear territory. As I move closer to accomplishing this goal, I wanted to test out a scenario of having a group of type 1’s on one of my expeditions.

It would be an expedition that would mimic the environment minus the polar bears (which like to hunt humans) and some of the hardcore camping, weather and glaciated terrain. It would be in a more controlled area where I could watch and evaluate others on their blood glucose management, monitor my own blood glucose in a new environment and learn what the common control challenges would be among us.

For this “practice” expedition, I chose the northern fjords of Norway, a few hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, with beautiful and inspiring mountains and 24 hours of daylight. A land where storms can be intimidating and avalanche hazards change by the minute. I invited two other type 1’s, in addition to a professional action sports photographer, and Mollie, who served as a tail guide.

Bonding Outside of Skiing/Snowboarding

The Norway crew - Mollie, Sean, Andrew Meehan, Chloe Vance, Cassie Davis (Photo credit: Andrew Meehan).

Just like in my Kyrgyzstan expedition, I encountered knowledge about my own self through this expedition, in terms of the bond that I can also share not only through a sport, but also through diabetes. An interesting dynamic occurred right as we all gathered in Oslo, Norway. Not only did we find a common bond through skiing/snowboarding, but also through a much more soulful experience.

Compassion to look out and help each other was evident within the group. It’s a group dynamic that, as a guide, we hope all our clients have towards each other. As there were three of us with diabetes, we didn’t consider ourselves to have “special needs.”  We just knew that we were all in Norway to be part of a larger goal/movement and to trust and challenge ourselves with diabetes in tow.

Breaking Diabetes Barriers Together

Throughout the expedition we encountered other multiple backcountry enthusiasts from around the globe. When we spoke of having diabetes, a common reaction among the individuals occurred. We were told many times how impressed and amazed they were with what we were doing despite having diabetes. Maybe I have become immune to it, but I am pretty sure we are just as normal as any other person. We would usually laugh at those reactions and thank them, and then continue on climbing and skiing/snowboarding various routes.

The crew having some fun in Norway (Photo credit: Andrew Meehan).

What I was most impressed with among our entire group was how we would carry on with our lives in a normal matter - checking blood glucose levels, correcting, giving a bolus, eating some sugar, the occasional dramatic low and shredding. It was rad to have that sense of normalcy in the group - especially on an expedition. I’ve never had the opportunity to share my expedition experiences with a group that mostly has diabetes. I am usually in the guide seat and the one having to explain how to manage my diabetes, should an emergency occur, to my clients.

Many of my other expeditions have been extremely stressful due to the remoteness and cultural differences/logistics. Add on type 1 diabetes and you really need to have everything together and packaged nicely to come back home safe and/or keep others safe.

For once, being in this environment was like being in my own backyard. I was at home and my happiest self. Being among others that share a bond not just through a sport, but through a major health condition, united our group not only into friends, but deeper into a family. We look forward to taking our diabetes to the remote corners of Greenland together soon.