Steve Richert is the founder of LivingVertical, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering type 1 diabetes patients through rock climbing and the adventure lifestyle. Here he shares his background and his strategy for living well with type 1 diabetes.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1999. I was 16 years old, living away from my parents and I had no idea my life was taking such a drastic turn. See, I knew (generally) what diabetes meant—but I was totally unaware of the fact that there was a second, add-on condition that came with it: fear of diabetes. I have spent the intervening 16 years up till this point (I’m now 32) doing my best to help fight fear—by shedding light on it through adventure media through an organization I founded called LivingVertical.
Fear is a thing that dwells in the mind, as does its opposite, comfort. I was initially attracted to climbing, just after I was diagnosed, due to the fact that it is a physical challenge that forces us to engage the nagging voices of both fear and comfort if we are to make upward progress. You wouldn’t believe how many times since starting LivingVertical that I’ve been asked, “What do diabetes and climbing have to do with each other?” My goal in these few words is not to answer that question entirely but rather to share a bit of what I have learned about going beyond diabetes as I continue searching out the answer in my own life.
Full disclosure: I haven’t really found any one big answer. I’ve searched from the depths of desert canyons to alpine summits and the best thing I’ve found is a useful method to keep asking more questions—and maybe that is the answer after all. I don’t believe that there are “big” answers in diabetes since everything changes moment to moment—but when I decided to embrace this reality it allowed me to get out of my comfort zone incrementally. Who wants to be uncomfortable? No one, obviously—but being afraid and uncomfortable are a part of diabetes that we can’t deny. It’s going to happen. We don’t have a choice about if the challenge will be presented to us—but we can choose to push back.
It boils down to taking action. If we sit at home and are afraid of low blood sugar and avoid being active and living life in a proactive, healthy manner, the challenges of diabetes won’t go away—playing defense won’t “win” the day.
Taking action isn’t about climbing mountains—necessarily. It’s about consistency. It’s not a power-drink commercial with 30 seconds of sexy, choreographed edits that get your adrenaline pumping. It’s getting up a half hour earlier in the morning when no one is watching to squeeze in a workout before getting out the door to work. It’s the opposite of all the narcissistic fitness advertising we’ve been spoon-fed. In fact it may not even be strictly about physical performance; it’s about having the will to keep trying and not accepting complacency. That could mean running a marathon, or figuring out how to eat a few more carbs per day so that you can have energy you need for work without spiking your blood sugar.
It’s a gritty battle that takes place between your own two ears. Taking insulin and checking blood sugar are simple tasks. It’s what we are doing between those moments that define us.