From August 28th-September 4th, 2013, Living Vertical founder Steve Richert climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa at 19,340 feet (5895 meters) via the Machame Route with 9 other incredibly inspiring Type 1 Diabetic athletes from diverse sporting backgrounds! Our mission was that of diabetes empowerment we wanted to demonstrate a positive view of life with diabetes living beyond the limits of a medical diagnosis through uniting PWD the world over.

The Story

By Steve Richert

In March of 2013, while trying to figure out “what comes next” after concluding Project365 I received an email asking if I would be interested in joining a team of T1D athletes from all over the world to climb Kilimanjaro. Initially I was hesitant. I was not a high altitude mountaineer–just a rock climber, used to my haunts across the North American continent. I knew this would be a big step outside of my comfort zone if I accepted the challenge.

I couldn’t say no to an opportunity like this, so I signed up and added training for Kilimanjaro to my “to do” list over the next several months. By late August, I was as prepared as I could be for my first ever international climbing expedition. I arrived in Tanzania at 3 AM, with my diabetes surprisingly “quiet” and under control, given the stress of traveling. Over the next 24 hours I met my team mates and we bonded over our diabetes and the challenges we had faced getting to Africa–and those we’d surely face attempting the summit.

The start of the climb was cool and overcast with a bit of mud. Our guides fed us well–and often which presented a challenge for keeping blood sugar stable. Over the next several days we ascended out of the jungle canopy and into heather and moorlands–which were more arid–and dusty. Nights were clear and cold and mornings came early. I have never been a morning person but at 6 AM every day we were awakened and it was time to eat and then climb.

I was eating big meals which was unusual for me–and it caused my blood sugar to run higher than normal too. Some of that could have been attributed to my body’s acclimatization to altitude as well, but I found myself way outside of my comfort zone, with high blood sugar and frequently short of breath. I had been expecting an easy hike with a little bit of altitude thrown in, but this was far more austere than I had expected. Additionally, I experienced a good bit of gastrointestinal “turbulence”.

In the midst of all this challenge, I discovered the amazing strength of teamwork and the support of my team mates. Despite language barriers and different strategies in our individual management of diabetes, the support we gave each other was always greater than the challenge we faced. Sometimes it was just a small conversation, commiseration or help with carrying extra weight or giving someone a snack when their sugar was dropping. There is strength in facing challenges together.

On our final day we shuffled out of camp together at midnight, bound for the summit.It was cold and all we could see was the glow of headlamps and the muffled discussions of insulin doses and comparisons of how our blood sugar was doing. Some of us were high. Some were low. Everyone was cold. But we kept moving and everyone made it back down safely. The summit is optional, arbitrary. The descent is mandatory–and we all made it, together. We completed the final day of hiking out and we parted as a team, each of us empowered by the experience, hungry to share our experience and ready for what comes next.

The Film

In September 2013, a team of Type 1 Diabetic climbers attempted to summit Mt Kilimanjaro as a group, to share a message of empowerment and inspiration. I was one of the 14, and I brought along my camera to share my experience of this climb, life with diabetes and the natural beauty of Africa’s highest summit. Special thanks to WDT (World Diabetes Tour for organizing this expedition and Nature Discovery for guiding our group so professionally).This trip was organized through World Diabetes Tour and sponsored by Sanofi Aventis. This film contains only my personal views, experiences and opinions, and is not affiliated with either of the two aforementioned organizations.