Diabetes Empowerment by Living Vertically

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Steve Richert is dedicated to proving there's nothing you can't do when you have diabetes

All July, the Joslin Blog is highlighting stories about taking care of yourself emotionally.

This guest post is written by Steve Richert. Steve founded Living Vertical, a multimedia platform to promote a message of diabetes empowerment.

What is possible–with diabetes? This is a question that has plagued me since I was diagnosed in 1999 at age 16 and being told as I lay in the ICU that my life was effectively over as I’d known it. Answering that query in my own way has occupied the last 15 years of my life as I have invested my time learning how to go beyond the limitations of this condition.

My focus has always been climbing. I was fascinated by heights as a child and to me, being up high on a remote rock face represents the ultimate demonstration of control and self-reliance. It is the ultimate rebellion against the limitations we are supposed to accept as chronically ill diabetics. To some this may sound like a denial of reality or a series of risky capers undertaken at the expense of diabetes management. The truth is the exact opposite.

Managing risk is what life with diabetes is about. It’s not surprisingly a determining factor in one’s ability to climb safely. The lessons I learned about being aware of my body and managing risk through diabetes translate incredibly well to climbing. Diabetes, a challenge I never chose, became a training ground for challenges I wanted to take on. The added physical training and simply staying moving helped keep my blood sugar in check.

Seeking challenges is how we find out what is possible. Exploring the outer limits expands what can be accepted as normal. After founding www.livingvertical.org to promote this message of diabetes empowerment in 2011, I have been creating films and building a social media community around this idea. One of the greatest things to come out of this effort was the realization that there were others who embraced this idea too. I was not the only one tired of being labeled as “sick” and ready to do something to change that perception.

Team LivingVertical is a collective of diabetic climbers on a mission to be the first all-diabetic climbing team to establish a “first ascent”. We are entering the wilderness of Wyoming’s Wind River Range this summer to seek out unclimbed routes in some of the most remote terrain in the lower 48. For 30 days we will survive, climb, explore and document our experience–and then share it on our return to civilization.

An expedition of this nature grows from questions–from the unknown, not from certainty. It would be nice to say things will go smoothly and we will have success, but that hangs in the balance. Adventure begins where security ends and we will face whatever obstacles arise during 30 days in the mountains–together, united by the challenge of diabetes. We are not sponsored to take on this climb and place a banner on any summits to promote anything other than a simple message: go beyond diabetes.

We have the choice to focus on diabetes and place our life in the background–or we can focus on living life and turn diabetes into something we do, something we bring with us anywhere we choose. Follow our adventure at www.facebook.com/livingvertical and www.livingvertical.org.

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