As I’d cycle down my usual beachside road in Townsville, I would pass many cyclists wearing group charity ride jerseys and I’d occasionally have the thought that maybe one day I would have the courage to register for a ride to support a worthy cause and feel a sense of accomplishment. That thought would quickly be diminished by self-doubt. That was until I was contacted by Ascensia Diabetes Care…
So, how did I get to become an owner of a Diabetes Tasmania PolliePedal Jersey?
Well, for starters I live with Type 1 Diabetes and have since I was 19 years old – I am now 26. Over a year ago I became aware of the online diabetes community, in particular on Instagram (IG). I’ve been in awe of its bloggers and everyone’s genuine compassion for one another. It’s a place where we go for advice, to share our daily stories and to support each other in our times of ‘Diabetes Burnout’. I wanted to be a part of this brilliant community and that’s how Typeonevibes came alive.
Ascensia Diabetes Care reached out to me after seeing my IG page and asked me to be a part of the PolliePedal19 event in Tasmania. Here’s the kicker…as a rider. Now for the disclaimer – I am certainly no professional athlete, I hadn’t ridden for 6 months, my usual ride was 25km and I don’t wear cleats (joggers for the win!). So when I was told it was a hilly 300km ride across 3 days I immediately felt anxious and if I’m completely honest, totally intimidated to agree to such a challenge having been so unprepared.
Funnily enough, that day I was scrolling through my IG feed and came across this quote, “If it scares you and excites you at the same time, then it probably means you should do it.” Well if that wasn’t a slap in the face to say yes, then I don’t know what was. After much hesitation and questions, I accepted the challenge with a month to prepare myself. During that month, Townsville had its devastating floods and I fell ill for the rest of month so it was safe to say, no training was done – yikes!
Why did I say yes?
My biggest motivation to saying yes was that I was excited by the thought of being surrounded and supported by other people living with diabetes or by those who don’t have it themselves but had a strong connection to the condition. Living in a smaller city you don’t get the exposure to these sort of events, nor the inspirational people that you have the privilege of meeting at them. I simply couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass by for my self-growth. I will also add that it’s because of companies like Ascensia who take on the major sponsorships of events like the PolliePedal, that these incredible events can go ahead and make a difference through educating people in the area about Diabetes.
I arrived in Hobart on Thursday, 21 Feb in the afternoon, just in time for the official welcome BBQ put on by the Rapid Relief Team (who are an amazing organisation that you should definitely check out!). There we all introduced ourselves, starting with what we did for a living and most importantly why/how we were involved with PolliePedal19. There were 3 of us on the ride living with Type 1 Diabetes. On the T1D footpath, there is a collective knowing, a camaraderie that instantly bonds our lives in an inquisitive way. Often, we will begin to chat like old friends and will openly begin to share intimate details with a complete stranger.
Now for a few challenges I faced…
Challenge no.1 - My bike had to be dismantled to travel to Tasmania and of course pieced back together with little to no room for error – this was going to be a feat in itself. Thankfully, Greg Johnson, the Diabetes Australia CEO, and Dario Lokai both, without any hesitation, started to piece my bike back together as I arrived – this was instant relief. After the ride Greg also dismantled my bike and placed it safely back in its box for the haul back home. I can’t thank him enough for going out of his way to assist me with what would have taken me hours to get done. ‘The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention.’ – Kahlil Gibran
Challenge no. 2 - Did I mention that I’ve never cycled in a group? Therefore learning the hand signals was a challenge in itself. It’s like knowing the correct dose of insulin, if you don’t understand the system then things can go pear shaped, quickly. I was concerned about being left behind in the group as I was the weakest cyclist. I was proven wrong, and the support that the riders all showed for one another was something to admire (they allowed me to concentrate on keeping both hands on the bike with no signalling). I had one gentleman see that I was struggling to make it up one of the hills so he rode back, placed his hand on my back and gave me a push up to the top. It was a small gesture like this that made me feel so comfortable on the ride and that’s something I’ll always remember and appreciate – thank you David.
Challenge no. 3 – there were certainly lots of highs and lows, and no I’m not talking about the hills (that’s for another day). Managing my blood glucose levels (BGLs) became quite the challenge as I didn’t know how they would react to such high intensity exercise. Thankfully I had Nicky, a fellow T1D who showed me the ropes and provided me with invaluable advice on how she best managed them when cycling.
From the day I was diagnosed I cut out bread, rice, pizza and pasta, all the delicious foods I grew up with (and being Italian this was incredibly difficult for a good year!), but in turn, over the years my levels have thanked me for a low-carb diet. However, on this ride I knew I was going to need to eat higher carb food. For example, if I had a sandwich I would only bolus for half of what I usually would (in general, I go by 1 unit per 15g). In some cases, depending on the carb ratio, I didn’t take any insulin, e.g. when I had a cappuccino and several pieces of fruit. There were times when I went too high, like on the first morning when I had a muesli cup knowing that oats send my levels sky rocketing – for this I would usually take 4-5 units of Novorapid, but this time I took 2 units and sure enough when I tested it an hour later it was 16 mmol/L – but then after another 2 hours of riding, it was down around 6 mmol/L.
With my long acting insulin, I dropped it from 12 units of Levemir at night to 8 units which helped me avoid a hypo during the night (I don’t take long acting in the morning). It’s important to note that everybody is different and will react differently to exercise and food. Having never ridden up hills like this exhausted me and in turn, it decreased my levels quite rapidly. In this situation I definitely preferred to have my levels running higher than in range while riding 50km/hr down a hill!
It was difficult sometimes to feel the difference between exhaustion and a hypo – this is why we had regular stops for BGL checks. Funnily enough there was one stop on the ride where all 3 of us T1Ds were all having hypos (snakes all round!).
In my next post, I will talk about the impact of technology and how we were able to engage the Tasmanian community throughout the ride.