7 Continents 7 Adventures, with Diabetes

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Chris Southwell

Chris Southwell, a professional snowboarder, is not only able to navigate snowy mountainsides, but also maneuvers around his condition, type 1 diabetes.

Diagnosed in his early 20s, Southwell was working in France when he started experiencing unquenchable thirst, drinking liters of water a day. He describes his first brush with diabetes as “a bit scary” and was hospitalized for ten days to bring his glucose levels back to normal.

As a professional athlete, Southwell specializes in freeriding, a type of snowboarding that uses natural terrain instead of manmade slopes. The unpredictability of the topography requires quick thinking and improvisation. Southwell was already a snowboarder for three years before he developed diabetes and didn’t even consider giving up his passion after his diagnosis. He opted instead to learn to maintain his active lifestyle while still keeping his blood sugar under control.

“People didn’t want me to carry on snowboarding and doing what I did because they thought it was too dangerous but that was never really an option for me…[snowboarding] is part of my life and part of who I am,” he remembers.

Southwell advises people with type 1 diabetes to eat nutritional meals, especially breakfast, and to pay attention to their body’s signals. He makes sure to tell the people around him he has diabetes, so they can watch for warning signs whether he is on or off the slopes.

Southwell says it is important for people with type 1 diabetes to learn what works for them specifically, since everyone is different. When first diagnosed, he was careful to listen to his doctors and nurses and read literature on type 1 diabetes He recommends others to do the same.

“I have a very positive attitude and I listen to myself,” Southwell says.

Now living in Verbier, Switzerland, a popular resort town with snow all year, Southwell has a charity, 7C7A (7 continents 7 adventures) which promotes awareness for diabetes. As part of his challenge, he will be participating in a physically rigorous feat in every continent, including biking across the United States in 2015.  He encourages people to participate in these events with him.

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