Tag Archives: Sean Busby

The Sweet Life

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Sean Busby_Norway

Sean Busby riding in Norway

I am a Type 1 diabetic. That’s a T1D for the uninitiated. That means that whenever friends read about the latest diabetes treatment, they always send me a link. And sometimes I think they must wonder what my problem is. Diabetes is preventable, they probably think to myself. What’s wrong with her?

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(See, the problem is they think I have Type 2 diabetes. And while both disease contain the word “diabetes”, they are really worlds apart.)

T1D is not preventable. Nor is it due to drinking too much soda or eating too much McDonalds. Because if it was, I’d be cured. I don’t drink super sized colas and I don’t eat fast food. Sometimes my husband rolls his eyes at me, thinking that all I eat is “twigs and nuts,” and I assure him that’s not the case.

So when I get to talk to someone just like me–a T1D who also loves to climb mountains and slide down them–I’m thrilled. This week on The Edge Radio I’m interviewing Sean Busby, a professional snowboarder and a fellow Type 1 diabetic.

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Sean Busby in Antarctica

Sean was diagnosed in 2004, while training for the Olympics. Considering leaving snowboarding altogether, Sean was inspired by stories he found through JDRF’s Children’s Congress. It was these young kids that inspired him to keep living his dreams despite living with T1D.

He founded Riding On Insulin—which is now a nonprofit organization—to honor all the kids who inspired him to keep living.

Sean also continues his big mountain backcountry snowboarding expeditions to the world’s most remote mountain ranges and chronicles his adventures with Mollie on their website, Two Sticks and a Board.

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His expeditions include snowboarding in Antarctica (twice!), Patagonia, Iceland, Kyrgyzstan, Alaska, New Zealand, Tasmania, Norway, and more. Sean will have backcountry snowboarded all 7 continents this coming February when he embarks on an expedition to the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco in Africa.  He is continuing to plan expeditions to the remote corners as well as offering guided trips to some of his favorite locations. Don’t miss the show this Wednesday at 8am Pacific.

Diabetics Pushing the Edge of Normal

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Sean Busby

Sean Busby, a Type 1 diabetic, has lately been bagging big lines in Iceland, Antarctica and Patagonia. According to an article at Espn, Sean is preparing for a trip to Greenland with a few first descents in his sights.  While most adventurers worry about their water freezing or their boots getting left out in the cold, for Sean if his insulin freezes while he’s on a remote continent, nowhere near a drugstore, he’s toast.

I should know. I’m a diabetic too, and learning to compensate for the disease in an outdoor setting offers a unique set of challenges. Sean uses a OmniPod, which attaches to his skin, keeping the insulin close to his body, away from freezing temperatures. Containing 3 day’s worth of insulin, the pod can maintain his latest doses, but the vial, the one he will use to refill the pod, must also stay out of the elements.

That isn’t easy when you’re climbing in subzero temperatures. For that matter, it’s pretty challenging even on the slopes at Crystal, or any overnight backpacking trip. Extreme temperatures, either hot or cold, will render the insulin useless.

I use an insulin pump (the Medtronic Paradigm). It has many of the advantages of the pod, but I can take it off when I jump in the shower or even go surfing. I’d be afraid the pod would get ripped off in the breaking waves. Furthermore, if I have a low blood sugar, John knows how to disconnect the pump, in the event of an emergency.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes nearly twenty years ago, my doctor told me not to worry. Innovations in diabetes management were on the horizon. A mechanical pancreas, capable of monitoring blood sugar levels and dispensing insulin accordingly was just around the corner. Twenty years later, they haven’t gotten much closer.

Instead, most diabetes research funding goes into fixing the Type 2 epidemic. 1.9 million people were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2010. Many of those are due to lifestyle—the wrong diet and lack of exercise. Whereas Type 1, on the other hand, is an auto-immune disease.

Mt. Rainier

When my doctor told me that I could live a “relatively normal life” as a diabetic, my heart sunk. I didn’t want to live a normal life, and any scale diminishing that even by a fraction seemed devastating. A year later, I climbed Mt. Rainier. I recently published an article about that trip—the first post-diagnosis physical test of my body and my medication—in Diabetes Forecast Magazine. I hadn’t yet figured out the ratio for hard physical activity to insulin levels. My doctor had told me to cut my insulin in half on the climb up, assuming that the aerobic exercise would bypass my caloric intake to metabolize my food without the help of the medication. Too much insulin and I ran the risk of a severe low blood sugar reaction. Instead, I went the opposite way and when I reached the summit and checked my blood sugar, it made sense. I’d struggled the last few hours, each footstep a gargantuan effort. When I saw my blood sugar on my glucometer, I understood why. At 365, all the calories I’d been eating were just sitting in my blood stream, causing long term damage, but not getting into my muscles. Without insulin, sugar stays locked in your blood, where it can’t do anything but harm. Too little insulin in the blood stream and your brain could starve. Too much and you risk vascular damage. It’s a balancing act more difficult than the tallest of slacklines.

So, this is why I’m even more impressed with Sean Busby. Props to him. Way to advance the edge of diabetic normal, Sean. If bagging first descents in Greenland is “relatively normal”, then I guess it isn’t so bad.

Check out Sean’s website, Riding on Insulin, where he offers skiing and snowboard camps for diabetics. Go Sean!