Diabetes Camp—My Why


I have a vivid memory from when I was about 10 years old.  My mom was going over my blood sugars in my logbook. Trying to combat high blood glucose levels (BGs) and getting used to my first insulin pump, our emotions were stretched thin, and our patience, waning. I remember looking up at my mom and asking the question that I am sure is all too familiar to you: “Why me?” I believe that everything happens for a reason.  I can’t identify exactly when I started feeling it, but as I got older, I began to feel this overwhelming sense of “why?”


I often have conversations with parents of children with type 1 diabetes (T1D) about my childhood. They ask what my parents did in regards to diabetes that was helpful and how we handled certain situations. Without a doubt, sending me to camp was the best thing my parents did.

That seems crazy, right?  How could a lifetime of managing a chronic illness be leveled out by a few weeks spent in the woods, sleeping on bunk beds and making friendship bracelets?  But for me, it wasn’t about camp overcoming diabetes.  It was about the way camp eased the burden of diabetes, even just for a week. Obviously, I still have diabetes.  I still get frustrated with my high BGs, still wince every time I put my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) in, and still have days when I want to throw my pump out the window and just give up. The blessings that have come into my life through camp somehow make the struggles so much more bearable.


I met my best friends through camp.  When I first started going to camp, I only knew one other person with T1D.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by kids my age who understood what I was going through, who didn’t ask questions when I poked my finger or pulled out my pump.  I was constantly inspired to take better care of my diabetes, and to learn how to do so. I learned some of the most influential lessons at camp, and through the people I have met.


As I grew up, these friendships strengthened.  We became friends outside of the week we spent together every summer.  We became friends who supported each other through the ups and downs of life, not just the highs and lows. In truth, we became a family of sorts, and everyone that came to camp was automatically included in that family, no questions asked.

At camp, I was able to just be … me.

If you are a teenager in today’s day and age, you know how much of a struggle feeling comfortable in your own skin can be. It appears to be a common theme throughout today’s youth; second-guessing, feeling insecure, trying to fit in. But at camp, all of those things seemed to take a back seat.  I learned more about myself in a week, in the middle of nowhere than I did in a whole year at high school.

I think the reason I was able to feel this way at camp was the support.  I had wonderful counselors to look up to and laugh with.  I was lucky enough to have an amazing camp director. She was (and still is) supportive, loving and encouraging.  She loved me for exactly who I am. She made time to see me outside of camp, and today our relationship has turned into an amazing friendship.  I know that I wouldn’t be who I am today with out her.

Relationships like these are what inspired me to come back to camp as a counselor when I was 18. A lot of people warned me about this.  They told me that the magic of camp would disappear when I saw behind the scenes, when it became work. In the past six years, I have worked and volunteered at three different diabetes camps, and I can tell you with full confidence that I have discovered what makes camp so magical.

The kids

I didn’t think I could be more inspired by camp than I was when I was a camper, but I was wrong.  I worked for five full summers at a diabetes summer camp and everyday I was in awe of the children I got to work with, laugh with and learn from.  I got to watch these kids learn to dream, realize that diabetes wouldn’t stop them and pursue their goals. They are the magic of camp.  They are why we do what we do as counselors and staff members.  They truly are my “why”.


Today, my roommate and best friend is someone I met through camp.  In June, I get to stand beside someone I met at camp 13 years ago, as a bridesmaid in her wedding.  My camp director is now one of my closest friends.  And my campers, who bring so much joy to my life, are still, everyday, my biggest “why”.

I have a hard time writing about camp.  My struggle is not with talking about camp—trust me, I could talk about it for hours. But I hesitate for fear that I don’t have the words to do it justice.  The magic that happens at camp is truly indescribable.

Maybe camp isn’t your “why.”  Maybe it is your escape, your support system, or your second family.  Maybe it is nothing more than a week where you don’t have to be the one managing your diabetes.  Maybe you have another “why.” Maybe you haven’t discovered your “why” yet.  But maybe, just maybe … you’ll discover your “why” through camp.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about some of Kelsey’s favorite camps: Riding on Insulin and Chris Dudley Basketball Camp

WRITTEN BY Kelsey Tullis, POSTED 03/22/16, UPDATED 07/25/23

Kelsey was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1999 at 7 years old. She has worked and volunteered for numerous camps for children with type 1 diabetes (T1D) including Gales Creek Camp, Riding on Insulin, and the Chris Dudley Basketball Camp. Kelsey joined the Chris Dudley Foundation full time in January of 2016 as the community relations coordinator. Fun fact? Kelsey has been to eight Taylor Swift concerts!