I spent a good part of my senior year of college trying to get a job that would land me in Sydney, Australia during the 2000 Summer Olympics. My mother had, as a graduation gift from high school, taken me to the 1996 games in Atlanta. I had it in my head that Ihad to be at the Sydney games after I graduated.
Since I was a Communications major, media outlets seemed a natural place to look for a job. After a lot of persistence and cold calling strangers, I got in touch with someone, who knew the right someone, to talk to about working for NBC in Sydney. I interviewed in the New York offices and was hired as a runner (a glorified, but paid, intern) for NBC Olympics. I was proud, excited, and ready for my career in television to begin. My plan was to work for three weeks, then backpack around Australia for at least a month. The fact that I had type 1 hardly crossed my mind.
At the time, I’d been using an insulin pump for almost two years and had type 1 for ten. I was of the mindset that I wouldn’t let diabetes dictate what kind of career or activities I pursued, where or how I should travel, or how I should live. I was diligent about checking my blood sugar and taking insulin. I always had supplies and extra food. I was smart and ready to conquer the world.
I rarely had what would be considered “ideal” control but I was okay with that. I didn’t want to feel like I was missing out on anything. In retrospect, I was also frustrated, angry, and often felt like a failure, but it was a tradeoff.
Once the games ended, my new friends and I began our travels down under. One of the things I was most excited for was SCUBA diving, for the first time, in the Great Barrier Reef. Swimming was my sport and I was eager to advance my aquatic know-how.
On the boat on the way to dive we filled out a generic form that included a short medical section. When the instructor saw that I checked “YES” next to diabetes, he told me I wasn’t allowed to dive. The consolation was that I could snorkel. I was livid. It made no sense to me! I was a strong swimmer and a lifeguard. Moreover, it made me feel different than everyone else, sickly even. I was the angriest snorkeler you’ve ever seen.
As soon as we got off the boat, I hit the web to do some research. I discovered that most governing agencies prohibit anyone with diabetes from SCUBA diving, mostly, from what I could glean, for liability reasons.
I also came across Steve Prosterman, a type I diabetic who ran a SCUBA diving camp for other type 1’s on St. Thomas. Prosterman is the diving and field supervisor for the University of the Virgin Islands and is a leader in developing safe protocols for diving with diabetes. I immediately contacted him but was sad to learn that the camp was no longer around. However, Steve invited me down to St. Thomas anytime to get certified. Seven years later took Steve up on his offer, went to St. Thomas, got certified, and had an all around amazing vacation.
I don’t know that I could do today what I did in, or right after, college. As we get older our priorities change and diabetes priorities are no different. I’m older, less willing to live out of a backpack, and making changes in my life to put diabetes first.
I don’t regret looking for work in Sydney and I’m actually kind of thrilled I was denied the opportunity to SCUBA dive in Australia. Those experiences helped me learn more about this disease and about myself. I had to go through them to know that getting the control that has always eclipsed me is what I want for myself now.
Through trial and error I’ve learned what works for me. Right now, to achieve the control that I want, I know I have to try to keep a more stable and consistent schedule. After therapy, support groups, working with great doctors, and making diabetic friends, I’m okay with that.
By Georgi Goldman