How One Camp Inspired Me to Take on the Ironman


Editor’s Note: Registration for Diabetes Training Camp is now open.

A learning curve

Paul Klockars has had type 1 diabetes since he was 19, when he was forced to leave the ROTC as a result of his condition. He then spent several years trying to learn and navigate his type 1 diabetes (T1D), but continually failed to find an outlet with the depth of knowledge he was looking for.

“I had to do a lot of research on my own in terms of how to manage it because I got very little out of doctor’s visits and working with nutritionists. I always struggled with the medical system and there was always a gap of knowledge. I wanted to learn more, and I understood things on the surface, but in the 15, 20-minute visit with an endo, you can’t get into the whys and how your body works.”

Feeling the need to have meaningful conversations surrounding diabetes, Paul, who’d heard about Diabetes Training Camp (DTC) from his father, opted to sign up.

“That first day, I was surrounded by 20+ people who have type 1, and that was the largest number of people with T1D I’d ever been surrounded by, and I thought it was so mind-blowing… I had so many ‘aha moments.’ On an hourly basis, another light bulb went off, and I was like, ‘Oh, I wish I would’ve known that five years ago, ’cause that would’ve made life so much easier,’” he said.

The new normal

Paul found out that he’d actually been taught to manage his diabetes from a type 2 perspective because the diabetes educator he’d worked with mostly only taught those with type 2. His first time at camp marked a major shift in perspective and allowed him to improve his quality of life, along with being exposed to a great community of people like him!

“I have dozens of contacts in my cell phone of folks who I can call or text right now, if I have a question or something’s not going well or I just want to check in on them. There is this whole community of people who have type 1, but also have some goals themselves and want to be well and athletic—whatever that means to them.”

Paul found that at camp, he was able to learn more than ever before about blood glucose management, getting into the ins and outs of “tweaking basals and reducing boluses.” Some of his other “aha moments” included coming to understand how insulin and ketones truly work, and realizing that the reduction of basal rates prior to exercise could make his body work in a similar way as having a functional pancreas would. This new level of comprehension made all the difference and allowed Paul to start believing his fitness goals were not out of reach, as he was able to engage with others with T1D who had already achieved incredible, inspiring feats.

“DTC pretty much gave me everything that I was missing that I thought the medical system should provide, but didn’t. Camp came in and provided the absence of that in my everyday life,” Paul said. “We had a session where we talked about how everyone has secret goals that they’ll set with themselves, or they’ll have in their brain, that they don’t really talk about… My secret goal that I had written down was to complete an Ironman.”

The restrictions Paul had put on his own physical abilities lifted when hearing the stories of so many accomplished people with T1D that he met through Diabetes Training Camp. He found his motivation, came home from camp, and biked 20 miles—a major milestone in his personal fitness journey. He then relearned how to swim thanks to coaches at DTC, continued to take swim classes at his local YMCA, and got into a cycling group, eventually working his way to a 100-mile ride. He worked on his running concurrently, making his way from 5Ks to the completion of the New Orleans Rock n’ Roll Marathon. This, again, was another step towards his overall goal: Ironman.

Getting serious

Then, in late 2016, a friend called. She had signed up for Ironman, Lake Placid, and invited Paul to take it on. He had his reservations initially, as he explains, “It’s a particularly challenging course because of the elevation, and you’re in the mountains. In the back of my brain, I always said, ‘Yeah, I would do an Ironman, but I would do an easier one.’” Still, Paul signed up for the race, found others around him who had signed up independently, and delved into a seven-month training program.

Surrounded by a great support system, Paul felt ready when race day came around. He completed the swim, though he had never swum that far. During the riding portion, his blood sugars were terrible, and he had a leg cramp in his right quad that proved somewhat devastating. When it came time to run, he ran about three miles before resolving to walk. An incredibly determined Paul finished his first Ironman, despite these hiccups. He largely credits Diabetes Training Camp with his accomplishment.

“Without DTC, I would not have been able to figure out how to do with my blood sugar management, my fueling, all of the nuts and bolts in it. But it also put me in touch with a lot of really motivated people that essentially said, ‘Yes, you can do this.’”

Last year, in June, Paul went back to DTC as a volunteer staff member. He sat in on every session and says he still learned things he hadn’t known before. He enjoys witnessing the evolution of DTC and its campers, and feels excitement for people coming to camp and seeing how they come out on the other end of the experience as fellow alums.

Looking forward

Paul is signed up for Ironman Wisconsin, which will take place in September 2019. His training kicks off in about two weeks, and he’s enjoying his down time until then, knowing that he’ll be sitting on a bicycle or running through most of the spring and summer as race day approaches.

“It genuinely was a life-changing experience for me, and without it, I really don’t know where I would be. It opened up so many doors for me, not only with the information but with the people that I’ve met and the community that we have in that type 1 world to really push me to do things that I wouldn’t have done, otherwise. Or, I would’ve talked myself out of it.”

“ DTC taught me a lot of the steps to take in that process, and they really gave me a lot of the motivation to continue it, to do things that I otherwise wouldn’t have done. It’s been a really, really cool experience, and pushed me to do way more than I ever thought I would.”

WRITTEN BY Jordan Dakin, POSTED 02/27/19, UPDATED 11/05/22

Jordan recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles after earning her BA in English and Film Studies. She is a passionate storyteller, traveler and lover of people and hopes to use her experience working in tech and as a writer to advocate for the BT1 community. In her spare time, she also enjoys hiking, karaoke and cooking for friends. Check her out on Instagram: @jordanemilydakin.