Four years ago, we were in Red Rock Canyon, outside of Las Vegas. We were enjoying the sunshine, the warm red rock, and our first taste of desert climbing. We were also figuring out how to use our son’s brand new insulin pump. Liam had been diagnosed with T1D four months before our trip. We were quickly learning about pump site failures and the art of site placement when wearing a climbing harness. We found ourselves staring in disbelief at the glucometer screen as it registered numbers higher than we had ever seen. The harness seemed to destroy every site we placed. We kept experimenting, and, in the end, had an amazing week of family climbing.
Prior to Liam’s T1D diagnosis at the age of seven, we had taken Liam and his sister Grace on outdoor adventures and had done some rock climbing as a family. After his diagnosis, we doubled down on our commitment to having adventure in our lives. It was scary and challenging, and we knew we needed to do it.
We knew that it was more important than ever for Liam to have an active lifestyle and that he was most likely to continue this lifestyle into adulthood if he could pursue something that he loves. We also wanted Liam to get the clear message that his choices in life were not going to be limited by his diagnosis. We wanted to demonstrate to him that he can do anything.
Rock climbing as a family has brought some unexpected benefits as well. A lot of planning goes into safely managing T1D when we venture off the beaten path. We never want to be in a situation where we are hundreds of feet off the ground or miles away from our car without the supplies we need to keep Liam safe. We involve Liam in our discussion of where we are going to put his primary stash of supplies and his back-up supplies. When he’s an adult, he’s going to have to do this planning on his own. We want him to have the skills to keep himself safe in any situation.
Rock climbing has also helped Liam hone his problem-solving skills. Unexpected things happen in climbing. Nasty weather rolls in. Equipment is dropped. Staying calm is critical. Anyone who is affected by T1D is all too familiar with the problem-solving challenges that accompany this medical condition. Effective T1D management rests on being able to rationally address any situation that arises.
The desire to climb well motivates Liam to be on top of his blood sugar. He knows that his climbing will suffer if his blood sugar has been out of range. As Liam approaches adolescence, we expect to face new T1D management challenges. We hope that his determination to climb strong will motivate him to continue doing everything he can to stay healthy.
Climbing as a family allows us to spend amazing time together. There really is no togetherness like sharing a tiny belay ledge several hundred feet off the ground. T1D management can be exhausting and can put strain on relationships. It has been so important for us as a family to have positive, active adventures that take the focus off of Liam’s T1D. Yes, his T1D is always there and requires vigilance, but it feels like it takes a bit of a backseat when we are climbing. These adventures help bind us together as a family.
A couple of years ago, we took the kids on a hike and climb up Mount Washington in New Hampshire. It seemed like a perfect plan. We were going to hike and climb to the summit and grab a ride back down in the shuttle. We left our car at the base of the mountain around 8 am and expected to return well before dark. We were all looking forward to dinner at our favorite pizza place in the area. However, the 1,000 feet of roped climbing up the East Buttress of the Pinnacle in Huntington Ravine took much longer than we had anticipated. As a result, we missed the last shuttle ride off the mountain and had no choice but to hike down in the dark. We put on our headlamps and descended the gorgeous moonlit terrain of the Lion’s Head Trail.
The hike in the dark felt like it took an eternity because of our cautious steps on the steep terrain. We didn’t see another soul for the roughly four hours we were descending. We arrived back at the car at midnight. We were exhausted. Dinner consisted of a bag of chips from a gas station. It was a day that went on much too long, but our kids learned important lessons about adapting in the face of unexpected events. These experiences make us more confident about sending our kids out into the world. We all smile when we remember that long, long day. The memory of this epic family adventure will always be with us.
We founded Rock Type 1 because we want to bring together families affected by T1D to experience rock climbing and outdoor adventure. We want to highlight the importance of an active lifestyle, particularly for those with T1D. We also want to enhance the sense of community and support among families affected by T1D. To date, we’ve held two events, and we have big plans for 2015! You can stay abreast of all of our activities by visiting our website or liking us on Facebook. We hope to get a chance to climb with you!