Could you ever sell almost all of your belongings, live out of your car, and climb every single day consecutively for a year all while managing type 1 diabetes? Yeah, most people couldn’t, or even think it was possible until hearing of Steve Richert’s journey.
Steve was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in Jan. 1999 when he was 16 years old. His initial reaction to the diagnosis was that if science couldn’t cure him then he would be healthy and disciplined enough to make up for it on his own.
“I wanted to make my own choices and I accepted the ‘rules’ of diabetes and decided to learn about myself in order to be able take control of my diabetes, not be controlled by it,” explained Steve.
Climbing came into his life around the same time that diabetes did. He started rock climbing through a physical education program offered by the boarding school he attended in Alaska. After his diabetes diagnosis, the doctors and nurses all told him that he could never climb-which inspired him to find a way to push his limits through climbing ever since.
Climbing is far more than a sport to Steve—it’s a lifestyle.
“Diabetes and climbing are the only two things that are tattooed on my existence, the only two things to which everything else must ultimately give way,” said Steve.
Over the years, Steve has done a lot of bouldering and rock climbing. And he has recently started ice climbing and mountaineering, as well as big wall climbing (multiday climbs). Steve says he’s not particularly talented in any one style of climbing, but overall he’s a well-rounded climber.
“My goal is to use climbing as a tool to explore diabetes and the world itself. Being well rounded rather than a specialist allows me to go more places and still have many diverse goals,” said Steve.
In Aug. 2011, Steve and his wife created the project, Living Vertical: 365, where they would document themselves climbing every day consecutively for a year. 6 months prior to starting, they sold everything down to what would fit into his 87 Toyota Tercel station wagon, and then hit the road.
“By taking climbing (a universal symbol of challenge) and combining it with diabetes, I felt like we would have a perfect analogy to live out our passion for this lifestyle while sharing the empowerment of a positive view of life with diabetes,” explained Steve, “We wanted to do this because we really felt that the message of empowerment is one that is highly understated—and that needed to change. We saw a lot of people getting behind cure research, but very little emphasis on living powerfully until that cure comes about.”
Steve and his wife began climbing in San Diego, Cal. on Jan. 16, 2012, the 13th anniversary of his diagnosis, and he climbed every single day all across North America, completing his final day in Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas, Nev. on Jan. 15, 2013.
“Along the way I endured voluntary homelessness, living out of a car, mechanical failures, financial woes, bear-break ins, rattlesnakes, multiple trips across the country and being separated from my wife for months, who ultimately had to take a job that was offered to her in order to help support the project’s effort,” said Steve.
Steve explained that managing his blood glucose levels while climbing was the same as when doing any other type of physical activity.
“There are some moments in climbing when you MUST have your sugar under control or else you and possibly your partner can be killed,” explained Steve, “The challenge arises from the fact that you can’t always deal with your sugar without putting yourself at greater risk.”
Since the project ended on Jan. 15, Steve has cut back a lot on climbing because he needed to rest both his body and mind. Although Steve is currently looking to climb more, he has limited his outings to 2-3 times a week to focus more on collaborating with his wife to edit the footage on his journey into a documentary.
The finished product will premiere in late July 2013 on their website www.livingvertical.org. They are very active on facebook.com/livingvertical where you can follow along, interact, and stay up to date with the process—and where they will announce future projects.