What It Means to Climb in Diabetes Cahoots


I had a special guest when I went climbing last weekend:  friend and fellow ASweetLife contributor, Karmel Allison.  Karmel has family in the area, so she suggested that we get together during one of her trips up north.  We met for lunch at a restaurant that hangs over the Puget Sound and then promptly headed to one of Tacoma’s climbing gyms.  Karmel tolerated my incessant questions (ranging from basic diabetes routines to convincing arguments for getting my doctor to write me a prescription for a pump to cool neighborhoods in San Diego), and I crossed everything off my list as she responded.  You have to take advantage of time with the experts when you get it, right?

Karmel prefaced our outing with statements like, “I’m really not that good,” and “You’ll have to wait for me.”  Here she is, below, being “not that good.”

Climbing with Diabetes
Ha! The only place I’ll be “waiting” for you is in the car!

Climbing with someone else who has diabetes was a bit of an adjustment for me.  I’m accustomed to explaining warning signs to my climbing partner and reminding them where I keep my low supplies.  Here I was, though, standing at the foot of a wall with someone who not only knew how to treat my potential low, but could even rely on me to treat her potential low.  It reminded me of being at my Sports and Diabetes Group Northwest workshops, where we discuss all things related to being active with Type I, except now I had the chance to actually live those practices out.  We climbed without issue (well, except for the fact that I couldn’t master anything above a V-0) and happily stopped when our fingers were losing grip and our arms were sufficiently pumped.

We posed for a picture before heading out and got into a quick conversation about diabetes with a member of the gym staff.  The staff member noticed Karmel’s pump, I believe, and then Karmel and I noticed the six-inch tattoo on her right forearm broadcasting her Type I.  She literally had the words “Medic Alert – Type I Diabetes” in size 48 font and a large rod of Asclepius insignia, all surrounded by a red rectangular box.  I told her my quick story about my not-so-good luck with a certain bouldering gym in Seattle (which shall remain unnamed) responding to my bag of low supplies and then explained that the gym where I now have a membership is on the other end of the spectrum and is completely accommodating of my diabetes.  We headed out to the car, and away from Tacoma, but the image of that woman’s tattoo stuck with me.  Part of me was reflecting on how bold that was of her to live her diabetes out loud, another part of me was realizing that she might rely on that info due to frequent lows,  and still another part of me was in shock–as if I didn’t have diabetes myself–and thinking, “Why would you ever get a huge tattoo like that?”  While driving home later that day, I decided to go with the stance that I almost always adopt when reflecting on other people’s diabetes:  that is her diabetes.  Let her handle her diabetes how she handles her diabetes.  Or, as my grandma would say, to each his own.  I love to ask questions and I love to discuss people’s diabetes preferences, but it is never something I will judge or force myself to understand.  We are, after all, quite different people bundled into this one category by just a slight genetic anomaly.

I am quite thankful to have the supportive community of ASweetLife surrounding me and talking face to face with Karmel was a dream come true.  She’s even prettier in person!  And talk about tight BG control!  And–after this I’ll stop gushing–she does an hour on her elliptical machine every morning!  Let that be a lesson to us all.

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Steve RichertkeithEmily PattonEmily PattonSally Recent comment authors
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Steve Richert

Thanks so much Emily! I am hoping to partner with as many fellow insulin addicts as possible during the 365 Challenge. I will be in a variety of places climbing a wide variety of difficulty so there will literally be something for everyone. All are welcome!


I recently went backpacking in the sierras – a 3rd pack trip but my first knowing of my diabetes II. And had no probs at all er well near the end of one 6 mile hike i was feeling kinda funky. Diet & exercise do seem to make a difference, totally agree with Steves comments.  
Hmm, server busy error message, usually I fail the captchas

Stefanie Tsabar

(P.S. It’s true!  You are a role model!  See my next post.)

Stefanie Tsabar

Steve, I am so inspired by your plans for next year.  Looks like I’ll have to wait until the summer months, but I’ll be waiting with my Sportivas on.  :)  Best wishes to you! 

Steve Richert

There is great virtue in climbing and exploring nature through adventure. That has kept me in (relative) control of my BG for the last 12 years. I would HIGHLY recommend exploring outdoor climbing if you have the opportunity to do that. I am actually looking to extend that opportunity to my fellow t1s and their families/friends/significant others etc. Climbing rocks!


Loved Emily’s blog and feel so connected, even though I don’t have diabetes!  I respect all of you so very much.  Karmel, you are an inspiration!

Dr. Margaret A. Morris

I would love to go to Colorado! The closest I get might be the city of Denver though, which I have a chance of tagging along a business trip to. I hear Boulder is a climber’s paradise :)

Ilene Raymond Rush

Should you make it to Colorado there are lots of climbing opportunities here. I have not done any rock this summer so I would be the last person you climb with but I certainly know tons of people and places.

Dr. Margaret A. Morris

Hah! I am totally blushing and embarrassed now. Let the record show: Emily is being waaaayyy too modest here– you climb like a pro, and, more impressive still, you swim, run, and hike outside regularly. In Seattle! Now that takes guts. It was a blast meeting you– let’s do it again when I come back Christmastimeish!

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