As you may know, I am the executive director Riding On Insulin—a nonprofit my husband Sean started when he was diagnosed with T1D at age 19. What may NOT know is what exactly goes on at our ski and snowboard camps for kids and teens living with T1D. Riding On Insulin is such an powerful weekend for all who attend, and I want to write about it here because I think so many are probably curious about what exactly Sean and I do when we “go to camp.” Do we sleep in tents? [No.] Do we have a campfire? [No.] Do we have an incredible day skiing and riding with resilient kids and teens living with type 1 diabetes? [Yep. Every time.]
Sean and Mollie talking to the crowd at our 2nd annual sold out camp at Snow Planet, an indoor resort outside Auckland, New Zealand
In in honor of curiosity, this is what a Riding On Insulin camp is like through my eyes.
Orientation takes place on Friday night and lasts about an hour and fifteen minutes. Parents take their seats at the tables—some with huge smiles on their faces, some looking a little like deer-in-headlights. Kids look around nervously, wondering what the following day will bring. Others smile at those they recognize from other camps they’ve attended. We proceed with the program, explaining what to expect the following day, and answer the inevitable onslaught of questions, from both parents and volunteers.
The real fun begins Saturday morning. Volunteers arrive around 8:30am and get their briefing on what group they have. They develop coaching plans, stuff their pockets with glucose, and fire up the walkie talkies. Then the first families arrive, having dealt with the stress of getting breakfast, getting to the resort, and getting their rentals. Sometimes I look at the moms and dads and think—Wow, you look like you need a break. [And then I grin because that’s exactly what they’re about to receive today!] Once we do a group check, everyone grabs their signature Slin armband (which signifies that they’re with our group), and we divide them up and send them out to ski/ride with their coaches.
And then there’s this moment of pure chaos for me.
Everyone is out of the building, all the groups are accounted for, and there I am… waiting. I wait for someone to radio me. I wait for someone to need something. And because I’m not good at waiting, I head out to the bunny hill to observe the beginners. Before I know it, it’s time for groups to do their second check of the day. Sometimes the meters are too cold, so I carry a spare meter with me (as do all of our coaches) and help out the kids when they have meters that won’t deal with the cold.
Connected In Motion: Riding On Insulin Volunteers at Nakiska Resort, March 2012
The second blood check is done. Everyone is where they need to be, and all the groups have checked in. You know the greatest thing about this part of the day? The confidence I have in the volunteers. They are some of the most capable, fun-loving people I’ve ever met—many of whom have diabetes themselves. They are so immediately passionate about our program… I am so fortunate to work with such amazing people.
We have lunch from about 11:45 to 12:30, and then more skiing and snowboarding. My role throughout all of this is a floater. I check in with groups, and admittedly spend a lot of time on the bunny hill—the beginners are so inspiring… having never set foot on a board, they fall, and they fall and they fall. And yet every time, they get up, march up the hill (or attempt the magic carpet/poma lift/chair lift, depending where we are) and do it all over again. When I tell them we’re having a testing party [and they’re invited] they grin at me, plop down on the snow and test their blood sugar. Just like that. If they get a number they’re not comfortable with, they head in the lodge to figure things out with the volunteer medical staff. Otherwise, they just keep on taking the same run over and over—getting better and better every time. I think we can all learn something from that, no?
And the parents? Oh, they are relaxed as ever. Some relax in the lodge, reading that book they’ve been wanting to get into. Some are out on the mountain, checking in with their kids’ ever so often. Others hover at the base of the bunny hill, watching with amazement at their kids—they tell me, “I can’t believe my child can do this!” That part is pretty awesome.
Around 4:00, we do a group picture, and I swear to you: The change that takes place from Friday night to Saturday afternoon is incredible. It’s like night and day. The kids who were once quiet and subdued are the ones throwing snowballs at new friends and running around being kids for once, and not kids with diabetes. The teen who thought she would never learn to ski, skied all day and is beaming with pride. And, the volunteers that gave me a wide-eyed look in the morning are laughing, and smiling (and admittedly exhausted), so glad they agreed to spend the day with Riding On Insulin.
It’s a win-win for everyone.
Sean gives a presentation after a dinner buffet, around 5:30, and from then on it’s smooth sailing for me. My part—the organizing part—is over, and I’m free to eat my dinner and listen to my husband tell the crowd about his crazy diabetes diagnosis story. He shows photos from all the expeditions he’s been on, and answers questions from families about how he manages diabetes in extreme environments. At this moment, I feel so proud of him—not only for starting Riding On Insulin eight years ago, but for having the courage to be open about his diabetes. Not everyone wants, or needs to announce their diagnosis story to the world. But Sean tells it with poise and humility—it’s part of the experience. He tells it without asking anything in return, other than the chance to connect with others. I am continually humbled by his ability to do this. For him [and for me], it’s really, honestly all about the kids.
By 8pm, I cozy up to a glass of wine, with a goofy grin plastered on my face. We did it. Another successful camp. I literally have the best job in the world.
For more information about Riding On Insulin, visit http://RidingOnInsulin.org.