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Part 1 of 2
Steve Richert, who has type 1 diabetes, has embarked upon a 365-day climbing mission to demonstrate that managing diabetes and rock climbing present similar challenges and to inspire people with diabetes to surmount those challenges. When I caught up with Steve on a rare day when he happened to be at sea level, I asked him about his mission.
Nadia: What is Project 365?
Steve: Basically, it’s a year-long climbing challenge during which I’m climbing every single day to raise awareness for diabetes. I am traveling all over North America, climbing outdoors predominantly, although in some areas I am climbing indoors as well. I’m trying to get the full spectrum of all the different types of climbing in there.
Nadia: How do you select the spots where you climb?
Steve: Well, that’s a good question. Logistics is a big part of it, and aesthetics too, because I’m blogging and documenting everything with photos and video. That’s a big component of the project as well. It’s not just the act of climbing for a year, but also what we’re doing to share the project beyond the scope of the year-long challenge itself.
Nadia: Do you invite experienced climbers to join you?
Steve: I’ve been trying really hard to connect with folks along the way, both experienced and unexperienced people. It’s kind of an act of God coordinating climbing, because there’s usually a lot of moving parts and scheduling, and weather plays a very big part. I’m moving a lot with the weather. There are a lot of places that I want to go, but ultimately where I spend the most time comes down to logistics and the viability of a location in terms of camping, as well as the actual climbing that needs to happen. But I’ve been definitely trying to connect with people as much as possible.
This project is not necessarily something that just came out of the blue. It’s something that I’ve done on my own several times, at least since 2008. This is just the first time I actually have elected to go out of my way to share it with other people instead of just doing it for my own entertainment.
Nadia: Where have you climbed so far?
Steve: California is where we actually started the project, in San Diego. We spent a lot of time in Southwest California and then went into Utah for the wintertime, staying in the warmer areas. Once it started getting hot there, I began working my way up into Yosemite National Park and then into Idaho and the Pacific Northwest a little bit.
Nadia: What are the variables that make rock climbing exciting?
Steve: The size and quality of the rock: places like Yosemite, Squamish in Vancouver, the Bugaboos, also the Canadian Rockies and Devil’s Tower: These places are very, very hard to beat in terms of the rock quality. Yosemite is just magnificent from a natural standpoint, but the ease of living there is much less than in some of the other places because the bears are out of control. I actually had my car broken into by a bear. Those kinds of things really impact the overall feeling of climbing in an area.
Nadia: Safety, of course, is one of the variables.
Steve: Yes. There are always tradeoffs. In some places, you have awesome climbing but the logistics are more challenging. Other places, the logistics are really easy to work with, but the climbing is maybe a little bit shorter. One of the things that I’ve always liked about climbing is that it takes me to places that most people wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit if they weren’t seeking out climbing destinations.
Nadia: How long have you had type 1 diabetes?
Steve: I’ve had diabetes for 13-1/2 years. I was diagnosed in 1999, when I was 16 years old. There weren’t a lot of people around me at the time who really understood what I was dealing with, and they just assumed that I would have everything under control. It set the bar high for me to not screw up, to be mindful of my diet and not take liberties with my personal management, because nobody was going to be cutting me any slack. That established the mindset that has led me to engage willfully in demanding activities that have a very small margin of error when it comes to safety.
Nadia: Were you rock climbing at the time of your diagnosis?
Steve: Actually, climbing and diabetes came into my life at about the same time. Just after I got out of the hospital and returned to school, my PE class was doing a unit on rock climbing. It was something that I’d always been very interested in: even as a small child, I was always swinging around in the trees and building tree forts. Having an opportunity to actually try climbing properly, I was not going to let that pass me by.
That first manifestation of climbing when I was 16 in high school, it definitely planted a seed. It really changed my life. Before, I’d always seen climbing as being out of my league. It seemed like something for people who are born in Wyoming or Colorado and live in the mountains, not for somebody born in New York.
Moving forward with this project, one of my goals is to demonstrate the accessibility of climbing to folks who don’t see it as being for them. There’s a moment when you realize that something challenging like this on a technical level is also something that anybody can do with the proper tools. You know, it’s the same thing with diabetes. There are a lot of parallels with regard to managing diabetes with the proper tools and having the right approach so that it’s accessible and manageable.
Nadia: What was your daily therapy when you were first diagnosed with diabetes, and how is it different today?
Steve: It’s not much different now, really. I was using Humulin insulin, the 12-hour long-term, and now I use Lantus, which is a 24-hour insulin, and fast-acting Humalog to cover meals. At the time I was on syringes and vials, but now I use pens to do injections.
Nadia: Do you test more now that you’re climbing 365 days a year?
Steve: You know, my frequency of testing varies more based on the consistency or inconsistency of my routine. For example, what I’ve been doing recently here in Indianapolis is very much out of my normal routine. I’m usually much more active, and my diet is also much different. So I’ve been testing a lot more than usual since I’ve been here.
When I’m climbing, there are certain times when I really need to know what’s going on with my sugar, like before climbing and after climbing. Generally speaking, though, I have an idea already of what the ebb and flow of my sugar is going to be over a given day, because that’s become routine for me. Breaking from that routine, that’s when I think, “Okay, I’m not sure whether my sugar is going to be going higher or lower here, so I’m going to have to really stay on top of it.”
Nadia: Which blood glucose meter do you use now?
Steve: I use the Accu-Chek Nano, which has been a wonderful component to add into the outdoor adventure lifestyle. The fact that it lights up is a seemingly minor feature from some angles, but when you are climbing, every little bit of efficiency and simplicity yields big dividends in terms of extra gear that you don’t have to juggle. It’s been a wonderful addition to my kit. But you don’t have to hang off the side of the cliff for it to be useful: you can be doing much more commonplace things, like going to the movies and testing in the dark.
Nadia: Do you have a video online that you’d like people to watch?
Steve: Yes. In conjunction with my use of the Nano, Roche has gotten behind Project 365 and is helping us out. They created a hub site, www.Stevesmountain.com, that has links to the blog that I keep and some video as well. For every person who watches and likes our video, Roche has agreed to donate $1, up to $15,000 total, to the project.
This partnership has been a huge boost. My wife and I sold everything we had that wasn’t climbing-related, and we’re living out of a car to make the project happen. It was really casting off into the unknown. We had no idea where it was going to land or if anybody was even going to wind up caring. We thought we might have a few friends and family following us on Facebook and saying “Oh, that’s cool,” and then we would get done with it and have to go back to flipping burgers or life-guarding. So this partnership is really significant in terms of tangible feedback that we’re really reaching people. We’ve been able to reach so many more people.
Stayed tuned for the second part of my interview with Steve Richert. New and experienced rock climbers are invited to join Steve on his climbs. You can also follow him at www.livingvertical.org. Roche, the maker of Accu-Chek products, is supporting Steve’s mission through a fundraising partnership. For every “like” of Steve’s climbing video on Stevesmountain.com, Roche will donate $1 to Steve's foundation, LivingVertical, to support his ongoing mission to inspire and empower others with diabetes.
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.