Emily + Jerry the Bear Take New Zealand


Editor’s Note: Emily has completed her journey with Jerry The Bear + we’re so proud to support and share! Beyond Type 1 is proud to highlight stories from New Zealand as part of the 2018 Kiwi Takeover!

She’s no stranger to the New Zealand bush or to extreme sports (check out her Everesting story!), but Emily Wilson isn’t traveling alone during her next adventure: Jerry the Bear will be coming along for a packrafting-, hiking- and cycling-filled trip from the very top of the North Island to the end of the South Island. The journey will be filled with stops to check blood sugar levels and fuel up on snacks, for sure, but Emily and her buddy have a much broader mission to accomplish with their planned checkpoints along the way.

Beyond Type 1 recently spoke with Emily (Jerry was busy packing his bag) about the project:

The Route

BT1: You’re starting at Cape Reinga, on the North Island, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean, on November 1. You and Jerry will be making your way south until you reach Bluff, at the tip of the South Island, on December 5. How did you plan the route?

EW: I wanted to do it on my own terms. I could drive around in a car and go to different centers and probably get slightly more reach, but that’s not the message of adventure that I want to portray.

There are no boundaries. You could take three months and tour the whole country, but you wouldn’t reach people as much. The timing is tight to keep it within five weeks.

BT1: For instance, you initially planned to kayak through the Cook Strait, which separates the North and South Islands, but the forecast may call for a change of plans.

EW: It’s massively dependent on the weather. If it’s [bad weather], there’s no way I’ll be able to do it safely. I’ve got the ferry sponsored, so if I need to get on the ferry I can do that!

I’m doing some amazing sea kayaking around the Bay of Islands (on the North Island). This trip is going to be showcasing a lot of great places in New Zealand, like the Bridge to Nowhere.

The Buddy

BT1: What’s Jerry’s role?

EW: I wanted to have a mascot with type 1 diabetes so when I travel by my own power and visit schools, I can tell my stories and make it a fun and interactive thing. I’ve been organizing all the stuff remotely for a lot of the events. The idea is to have “Jerry’s Teddy Bear Picnics,” where all the families and kids bring a plate to share and their own teddy bears and enjoy bouncy castles and food. It’s a fun day out for type 1 families to come together and learn something about Jerry and learn from each other as well.

[When it came to incorporating Jerry into the trip] I had to put myself out there. I can do what’s possible in my region: organize support groups and plan events, but if I want to get out there in a bigger way, I’ve got to go bigger, don’t I?

The Preparation

BT1: How did you take care of all your diabetes supplies?

EW: I’m in talks now to get a Freestyle Libre for the trip. I keep [my blood glucose testing] kit and insulin pen in a little streamlined carrying case from Emirates (the airline). It’ll be on me at all times so I’ll test regularly. I’ll have a hypo kit and plenty of food, which will be either stuffed under my knees in a kayak or in a pack when I’m packrafting or cycling.

I didn’t want to use a car, but even if I do all of these modes of transport like sea kayaking, packrafting, then I have to have a support vehicle. My insulin will be kept cold by the water while I’m kayaking or packrafting, but when I’m on the bike I’ll have it next to some of those gel ice packs you use to ice your knees. I’m not too worried about my insulin overheating because at that time of year, it’s still not quite warm enough for that.

In New Zealand, we have our supplies subsidized, so we only pay $5 when we get a prescription filled, whether it’s insulin or needles or test strips. Compared to other countries, that’s pretty cheap. We’re pretty lucky. In terms of getting bulk supplies, we can get a three-month supply.

BT1: What has your training been like?

EW: I basically train for two hours twice a day, before and after work. Spinning, skinning up hills in the snow, riding my bike, swimming, kayaking, lots of strength training with my knee (earlier this year, I had surgery to repair torn cartilage). I’ve been packrafting quite a bit, getting my skills up.

In order to have the confidence to manage my diabetes throughout this and other adventures, I record everything, either in an app or in a notebook. All the blood sugar levels, everything I eat and do. I think it’s crucial to determine patterns: in this period, I was eating this, I was doing this, I was this stressed. Whatever’s going on in my life. You learn on the go.

Then, when you have that confidence in your own ability, there’s no second thought of whether or not you can do something like this. It’s just like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got this!”

The Goals

BT1: Your end goals are multi-faceted: you want to continue the conversation about access to diabetes technology in New Zealand, remove the stigma of type 2 diabetes, and raise awareness about diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). What else are you aiming to do with this project?

EW: There are so many different facets, and I think it will be pretty awesome to enlighten people about it. In New Zealand, everyone knows what the white ribbon is for domestic violence, and they should. And the pink ribbon for breast cancer. There’s no symbol for diabetes in New Zealand. No one knows what diabetes is, really, or the difference between type 1 and type 2. “Know the difference” is a key pillar.

Jerry is a great companion for type 1 kids and an excellent educational tool. He’s a good symbol for people to recognize [type 1]. This is about empowering kids and sending the message that there’s nothing that diabetes is going to stop kids from doing. The whole idea is to let them get out there, let them be active, because they can! Attitude is everything.

The Community

BT1: How can we follow along with you and Jerry?

EW: We’ll be providing daily photo and video updates on the website, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

Diabetes New Zealand will have a PR company on us the whole way, which is exciting!

BT1: How can we support you?

EW: The global community can support the trip by donating on the website or directly to Diabetes New ZealandOne of the main outstanding costs is buying a domain name for the website. It’s only about $100NZD, but those funds are needed for other things at this stage.

As we still have a few gaps in our plan, we’ll welcome any cooking, baking, or driving from the local community. It would be neat to have more that kind of support along the way.

Anyone can support us by just sharing the story, as that’s what it’s all about: spreading awareness!

Learn more about Jerry the Bear here!

WRITTEN BY Katie Doyle, POSTED 10/24/17, UPDATED 10/18/22

Katie Doyle is a writer and videographer who chronicles her travels and diabetes (mis)adventures from wherever she happens to be. She’s written about dropping her meter off of a chairlift, wearing her pump while teaching swim lessons and the many road trips and fishing expeditions in between. Check out www.kadoyle.com for more.