“Everesting” for Diabetes in New Zealand

WRITTEN BY: Emily Wilson

Emily_wilson_NZ_2At 8 p.m. on Friday the 13th of November, I set off for my first lap up the mountain with my twin brother and uncle in tow. It was lovely to have the company as darkness fell and night stage went well. I was holding sub 2-hour laps, which included quick stops in the support tent at the bottom of the mountain and with only Mumford and Sons for company on laps three and four, I clocked my fastest times. From then on, things started to plateau as a bitterly cold nor-wester started to push down the valley, and I remember shaking uncontrollably by the end of the fourth lap. It was around this time that my back had reached an overwhelming ache and I was super glad to see my three awesome friends Simone, Ailsa and Floortje appear out of the dark for lap five. They lifted the steam on my bike as well as my spirits and we arrived at the top in time to see a beautiful sunrise. The mountains were ringed in a bright pink glow and the lights of Wanaka were twinkling warmly beside the lake.

As the International Diabetes Federation Young Leader for New Zealand (N.Z), I had decided that on World Diabetes Day 2015 I would do something a little crazy to raise awareness about diabetes and the work that Diabetes N.Z does, (especially for those diabetics living in small rural communities).

I planned to ride my mountain bike to the height of Everest (8848 m) up Treble Cone ski field access road, near the small town of Wanaka for World Diabetes Day on the 14th of November 2015. The Everesting concept is all about picking a mountain or hill climb and being the first person to reach 8848 m of non-stop vertical ascent on that climb. There have been only a small number of Everesting titles claimed around New Zealand and definitely very few on a mountain with an average gradient of 11% and 7.5 km of loose gravel.

By lap seven, I was starting to struggle, weariness had truly set in by then and my stomach was getting sick of food. I had to try hard to release my negative thoughts; this grind was a lot less than most have to endure on a daily basis and I had to remind myself of why I was there — for those with diabetes. Sometimes these kinds of lows are replaced by real highs and I was truly delighted to see a steady trickle of riders making their way up the mountain at 8 a.m. From then on they just kept coming! I was completely blown away by the amount of people that came out to support me at the bottom of the mountain and ride a lap or two, or even three with me. Friends, family and strangers all doing their bit to support this cause and I couldn’t have been happier. It was in those last few laps that the whole week had started to catch up with me. After a few longer social stops at the bottom and much amazing encouragement from my fellow riders, I slowly but surely ticked the last metres off.

Suddenly it was all over, after 22 hours, 9.3 laps up/down and 130 km I had reached the top (8848 m) and I could reflect on what we had all been able to achieve that day and what I had learnt. I was most excited to get to test out the Freestyle Libre flash glucose monitoring system during the ride which enabled me to continuously monitor my glucose levels with a simple swipe of a smaller reader device past a sensor in my arm. This gave me really useful data to analyse, to better understand the effect that different foods, timings and exercise had on my blood sugar control. I sure hope this technology becomes affordable and accessible in New Zealand soon!

Completing my Everesting mission highlights one of the biggest questions I have had as I embark on my journey with diabetes. Why do many diabetics avoid exercise for fear of going low or getting out of ‘control’? I would argue that many diabetics let this fear stop them from getting out and exploring more of the outdoors, challenging themselves and pushing their limits. Maybe these kinds of activities are not for everyone but we are all aware of the dire health complications that we face if we don’t look after ourselves. The main reason we go low is if we inject too much insulin or take too much medication. So why not dial back the pump, pen and/or pills and get out there? There is only one way to learn and you might just surprise yourself!

I don’t see myself as being particularly inspiring but this mission did raise significant awareness and some money for diabetes in New Zealand, and it would not have been possible without the amazing support from local businesses, family and friends. Thank you to everyone who was involved. I hope it has showcased the powerful effect  exercise has on lowering and stabilising blood sugar levels and ultimately what is possible to achieve with diabetes. I am excited to see what the future holds!

Emily Wilson

Emily Wilson is a 25-year-old adventure-enthusiast living in Wanaka, New Zealand. Emily was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago and is currently the International Diabetes Federation Young Leader for New Zealand. Emily competes both nationally and internationally in multisport and adventure races and is super passionate about empowering youth, especially those living with diabetes, to take responsibility for their health and achieve their best. Diabetes is only a word not a sentence.