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In 2004, pro snowboarder Sean Busby was on the top of the world.
"I was 19, living in Colorado and competing in the U.S. National Snowboard Championships," Busby said. "I had little to worry about, aside from the occasional pimple or girlfriend. My head was pretty far in the clouds."
With the 2010 Olympics in sight, Busby's trajectory ceased suddenly when he became severely ill, losing over 30 pounds in two weeks. Doctors misdiagnosed him with type 2 diabetes, and Busby spent three months taking pills to "improve" his health. They did the opposite.
"It was frustrating not knowing what was happening to my body," he said. "Being told the pills would improve my condition and still wasting away on my parents' couch [in California] was extremely depressing."
In a final effort to return to Colorado to restore his snowboarding career, Busby nearly passed out at the airport and was rushed to the UCI Joslin Diabetes Center in Irvine, California. There, he was given the correct diagnosis of type 1 diabetes on July 3rd-his mother's birthday.
"That first shot of insulin was absolutely amazing," he said. "I could finally feel life pumping back into me."
"Diabetes really grounded me," Busby continued. "I had to learn about this entirely new person I had become. What inspired me most were the stories of three-, six-, and 12-year-olds who cannot recall life without diabetes. Those kids-the ‘heroes of diabetes'-inspired me to keep snowboarding."
"Riding on Insulin is an opportunity for kids ages seven to 17 to try a winter sport in a safe environment, share tips on managing their disease, and make new friends who are just like them," Busby said. "I always find myself learning from the campers. Spending time with them has been the best medicine, aside from insulin, for managing my diabetes."
In 2007, Busby put Riding On Insulin on hold to finish his college education. In 2009, he graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor's degree in Health Promotion and Education with an emphasis on diabetes.
Busby continued snowboarding, eventually transitioning from racing to big mountain snowboarding. He founded Powder Lines, a backcountry mountain guiding business with the mission of conquering remote and unexplored environments, to demonstrate to youth with diabetes that anything is possible with proper diabetes management. He has been on rigorous expeditions to Patagonia, Iceland, New Zealand, and Antarctica.
"I wanted to do a snowboarding expedition [in Antarctica] before I was diagnosed," he said. "When the opportunity came, I jumped on it. I knew managing my diabetes would be a challenge, but I had the confidence that I could take care of myself in the world's most hostile environment."
Most recently, in March 2011, Busby successfully led an expedition to Iceland's Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. The expedition included countless ascents and descents in Iceland's most remote fjords-many of which have never been snowboarded before.
"Snowboarding the Hornstrandir and breaking new ground was an amazing experience, made meaningful by knowing that we were showing kids that diabetesPump doesn't have to get in the way of our most ambitious goals," said Busby. "I hope we inspire people with diabetes to actively manage their diabetes so they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to."
To help manage his diabetes in harsh wilderness environments, Busby relies on the OmniPod Insulin Management System. "With the OmniPod tubeless insulin pump, I have the freedom to pursue my expeditions to the most remote areas of the world without worry of my insulin freezing," Busby said.
Powder Lines expeditions incorporate educational components, including presentations from Busby that are broadcast live via satellite phone to children at diabetes foundations, schools, and clinics.
Returning to Riding On Insulin
In February 2010, Sean was motivated to resume the Riding On Insulin camps after the tragic death of 13-year-old Jesse Alswager from Madison, Wisconsin. Alswager, who passed away from complications of type 1 diabetes, had been a driving force behind Riding On Insulin and an inspiration to Busby.
Busby delivered the eulogy at Alswager's funeral. "Looking at the bigger picture, Jesse would want me to keep on showing kids and adults across the world that type 1 diabetes doesn't have to limit what you're able to do in life. I live my life by a new motto: ‘What would Jesse do?' Whenever I have doubts about diabetes, I think about what Jesse would do and what the bigger picture is all about. He inspired me. He saved my life."
In December 2010, Busby held the first Riding On Insulin camp in over three years, in Park City, Utah. A camp in Portage, Wisconsin, followed in early January, and Copper Mountain, Colorado, in April. In August, Busby brought Riding On Insulin to Silverdale's Snowplanet.
Each camp is dedicated to Alswager.
"Jesse came into my life and turned it around," Busby said. "He helped me live with my diabetes and made a huge impact on my life. He was, and always will be, my co-pilot in life."
Now 26 years old and preparing for an expedition to Greenland in 2012, Busby is truly "on top of the world," helping kids with diabetes realize their true potential. When asked if he will pursue training for the 2014 Olympics, Busby said, "I haven't ruled it out, but I'm having a lot of fun traveling and snowboarding with penguins. I'm just letting my board guide me to where I'm meant to be."
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.