I haven’t blogged in a while. Some of you may not have noticed, while still others may be thankful for a vacation from my self indulgent, esoteric ramblings. The reality is that I have been feeling very uninspired. This may sound like heresy coming from a person who voluntarily has very little on their resume besides “tries to inspire others”. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and even guilt–how can I be trying to give others something that I don’t possess myself? Isn’t this hypocrisy?

Seeking some light in dark places with wonderful people, Lee and Alan.
Seeking some light in dark places with wonderful people, Lee and Alan.

I worry about continuing LivingVertical–every day is spent corresponding, reaching out for support, ordering merchandise, working on the documentary, trying to find investors for it, venues that want to screen it…my thought is only to the future which I can’t see–and it looks like all of the work and sacrifice that led me to this point has just been a false start, with no real “legs”.

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Reflections.

As I wallow in worry, frustration and self pity, I realize that in several days, the culmination of two years of blood, sweat and tears will be upon me and that I am at my lowest personal ebb over the last several years, and I have friends and supporters who see a much better person in me than I see when I look in the mirror, converging upon Springdale UT to see what I have been building. I don’t want to disappoint them–but I dig deep within myself and feel empty and hopeless.

This weekend is also the SweetestSummit Diabetes Family Adventure Weekend, my first opportunity to run a guided program for the diabetes community, in my own back yard, in the cliffs and canyons that inspired me to take on Project365. Families begin to arrive and I am sorting out logistics. Who is staying where, what time are we meeting in the morning, what gear do we need, is it ok to bring a DSLR camera out with us, what sort of snacks should we bring, how much water do we need…and on and on. I put out as many fires as I can and go to bed. Tomorrow is Day one of camp and I’ll need to maximize the 4 hours of sleep I can get between now and the alarm.

me and some of the girls, Kaia, Grace and Zoe.
me and some of the girls, Kaia, Grace and Zoe.

Day one goes well in that the kids all become instant friends and are obviously enjoying themselves and the climbing we are doing.

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I am trying to balance fun with technical instruction because we need the kids to be proficient in rappelling so that we can descend a technical slot canyon on the final day of camp. I am learning a great deal about how parents manage their kids diabetes–and I am wondering how I can step into this mix and offer a means to help the parents give more responsibility to their kids–and more freedom.

But what can I possibly have to say to these parents? I don’t have kids–let alone a child with diabetes. I don’t know what it’s like to fret and worry over someone else’s life as it develops around a complicated medical condition. Sure, I have diabetes, but that’s easy to deal with since it’s mine and no one else’s. It’s become second nature to me–but that won’t help anyone else but me.

Day two, we are hiking in the Narrows of the Virgin River in Zion. We are surrounded by looming and magnificent walls of the worlds largest slot canyon and the kids seem impervious to their surroundings–they are just being free, having fun, splashing around in the water without a care in the world.

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I stand back again, watching the parents taking ownership of their kids diabetes, reminding them to test, even testing for them. I want to say something, but I just don’t know what to say or how. Everyone is having a blast–why ruin it? Lets just have some fun and that’ll be that.

Day three, our final day together, I have collected my thoughts and I am ready to issue a challenge to the group. I have found the words and I know that after two days of growth together, we are at a good place to push the envelope. I have seen moments of brilliance and initiative from the kids and I want to find a way to help that grow. I need them to step up and do more for themselves:

We have all had a great deal of fun and enjoyed playing together and seeing some spectacular things that are unique in the natural world. But if we leave this camp with only “fun” to show for our time, then we have missed something really important. We are here to challenge ourselves and our notions of diabetes–and to really explore how it impacts our relationships. Parents: I want you to think about how you can step back and give your kids more freedom and responsibility in their management of diabetes. Kids, I want you to think about how you can take control of your own diabetes rather than relying on your parents. 

I can’t tell if I have just ruined the weekend by issuing such a challenge or if I have actually succeeded. Time will tell, so we gather our gear and head out to the trailhead from which we will approach the canyon. As we arrive at the trailhead, I explain that my plan for the day is for our group to separate–Stefanie and I will take the kids via one route while Rob will take the parents via another one. We will meet up later in the day, I assure everyone. Parents look as though I have just given them the news of a sickly relative having just passed away. They knew I was going to ask this of them at some point and that time was now. I want to get moving before the parents change their mind or begin to worry, so I begin packing my gear.

As I am packing, one of the parents, Jason, the same T1 climber who I climbed with on the final day of Project365, takes me aside to speak about his daughter, Kaia, who also has T1. He expresses deep concern and discomfort with the idea of letting Kaia be responsible for her own management, even for several hours, given the fact that we are in a technical environment where a lapse in blood sugar management could have much higher consequences than a school day for example. Jason is an informed customer, with an understanding of the risk factors for diabetes and climbing and rappelling. Part of me feels like I should just say “Ok, fine, lets just put everyone together”.

I know that if I back down, we can still have a fun day out. But I want more than fun for these families. We must push beyond that point of pure fun if we want growth to happen. I weigh my options and I try to assuage Jason’s concerns, point by point. I am surprised that I have reasonable solutions for each point–and I am starting to think that maybe I have more to offer these kids than I had initially thought.

I am watching the struggle play out on Jason’s face as he talks to me. I know it’s not about me. I know he trusts me and thinks I’m competent–but that doesnt make it easier. The struggle is in the heart, not the mind. Letting go is war. In a split second, I see Jason’s demeanor change. He has chosen to step back and give Kaia an opportunity to take control–by relinquishing his own control. I want to start blubbing like a child and give Jason a hug because I just saw him take on a monumental challenge and vanquish it. I am so proud of him.

But I can’t celebrate yet. I have to make sure that I am on top of the kids safety and blood sugar management. We start off down the trail leaving the parents to go their own way. Stefanie and Nick come with us and the children lead us, exploring and planning how they will face the obstacles ahead.

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We stop and check BGs together. The kids share strategies for how they are managing their sugar. Their siblings are along with them and they are answering my questions too–I am beginning to see that there is SO MUCH depth in these kids. Kaia goes out of her way to reassure me that she knows what she is doing–and why–and lists anticipated problems and solutions as we are getting situated near our first rappel.

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As we begin the technical part of our day (ropes, carabiners, harnesses, cliffs etc) I ask Grace, the first camper to descend our first rappel to hook herself up. I don’t remind her of what she learned two days prior. I watch her struggle. I want to give her a chance to problem solve, not steal that victory from her by simply fixing the problem myself. She sorts out her setup like a champ and off she goes.

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In fact, every single one of the kids has their rappelling setups dialed. I don’t even have to remind ONE of them to lock a carabiner or anything, throughout the day.

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Towards the end of the day, when the parents met us at the exit of the canyon, I watch Kaia interacting with Jason. I am still on rappel and I look down at them as they stand together on the ground–Jason wants to help her bolus for her meal but she waves him off and assures him that she has it under control.

We head back to Springdale for the Project365 premier and I am no longer thinking about the edits I have to make before this rough cut can become the final cut. I am not thinking about the fact that I still have no backers to help fund the movie. I don’t care that we had to borrow the gear to make this camp happen or that my apartment is filling up with boxes because I have no place to store the camp gear other than my sofa. I am not worried about whether or not people will like the movie when we show it–I am not concerned about having money to pay rent in the next several months.

Everything in my world changed. I saw the most amazing things happen–people with diabetes finding incredible strength and self reliance in themselves at 8 years old, in high risk environments–being responsible and managing risk and not being limited by diabetes. I saw the parents push themselves in huge ways as they chose to step back and trust us–and their kids.

When we got back to town, the premier was an absolute riot–we packed out Deep Creek Coffee with more people than the owners, Scott and Heidi had seen there previously. Everyone who spoke to me said they loved the movie–many asked then and there to buy a copy. No one seemed to notice that it was just a rough cut. People were really excited and inspired.

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I began to realize that I found my way to this point by following my heart, not by trying to make money. If the companies want to support the movie, then great. If they don’t then I’m not going to worry about that. I know that the message is there–and that the message of changing lives and empowering people with diabetes is the most important thing in my life. I am proud to be scrappy and hungry–and as we reflected on the weekend with our friends Lee and Alan (my former clients when I used to guide for Zion Adventure Company who traveled to Utah from Scotland to be part of the camp weekend and the film premier) it felt amazing to know that this moment was OURS. We did this on our own with grassroots support from people who care–not because we have a big budget. It was pure, it was beautiful and lives were changed–at least one, speaking for myself.

I am infinitely grateful for the support of Stefanie, Nick and Rob who were amazing guides, facilitators and photographers–they gave their time freely, and applied their expertise gladly. Special thanks to Deep Creek Coffee who fed us and hosted the premier–wonderfully, I might add. Zion Adventure Co helped us in many ways in terms of coordinating logistics and gear–specifically Bill “Sweet William” Dunn and Shelley Buckingham who went above and beyond to make sure we had the tools needed to be safe and have fun. Imlay Canyon Gear donated a lot of gear to us that made our adventures possible and that will continue to facilitate future adventures. 

To all the parents who came out–thank you–there is no greater gift or compliment than trusting your children to us as guides in technical environments. We are in your debt. To all the friends who came out to see the film and support our work, we thank you and we love you.