Former Miss Idaho Cycles Entire US
You may recognize Sierra Sandison from one of her many accolades: Miss Idaho 2014, Type 1 diabetes advocate and founder of the #showmeyourpump campaign, author of Sugar Linings: Finding the Bright Side of Type 1 Diabetes, or, for her fast-approaching summer adventure: Bike Beyond team member.
Her most prized title, though, is both the simplest and the one that is often a work-in-progress: feeling confident, self-assured and loved in her own skin.
“I don’t think young women have permission to love ourselves,” Sierra said during a recent conversation with Beyond Type 1. “And I think girls need a reminder that it’s okay to be nice to yourself, and it’s okay to love yourself.”
Many of us know that this is often easier said than done. Part of loving yourself is being comfortable with who you are, and that can be hard when Type 1 diabetes drains so many of our precious resources, like our time, attention and energy.
Sierra shares with us some of the lesser-known things that make her unique – and a few tips for how we can all love ourselves a little better!
BT1: Your cross-country Bike Beyond adventure is quickly approaching! What are your thoughts leading up to it? Are you nervous?
SS: For the past six months, I’ve been thinking, Oh, I’m going to bike across the country! Last week I realized, Oh, I’m ACTUALLY going to ride my bike across the country! And I’m terrified. But I think it’ll be okay. After the first day, I think I’ll be good, and my nerves will be calm.
There’s a local women’s cycling group that’s been really fun and has taught me how to ride in a group setting. A couple weekends ago I did 127 miles over a weekend.
I guess the thing that I’m most nervous about is that I know I can ride 60, 70, 80 miles, but, Can I do that day after day after day? is the big question. I’m kind of scared to answer. And [during the 127-mile weekend] I was a little sore for the first 10 minutes on the second day, and didn’t know if I could keep going. After I warmed up, I felt really good, strong, and ready for the summer.
BT1: It sounds like you’re doing everything right! How did you decide to get involved with Bike Beyond?
SS: I always wanted to ride my bike across the country because my dad did it when he was 16, so I’ve always heard all of his stories about that.
‘Riding my bike across the country’ was #1 on my bucket list, literally written on paper. When I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 18, and my dad gave me a book by Phil Southerland, who rides for Team Type 1 and Team Novo Nordisk.
I read that and I thought, Cool, I can bike across the country, but I probably have to do it with a team. I’d feel safer doing it that way, but there’s no way I was ever going to be good enough to be on Team Novo Nordisk or Team Type 1. So I kind of just let it go and tried not to think about it, or think it might never happen.
The Bike Beyond route was originally supposed to go through Boise, which is where I live, and I was asked to help organize an event here. My answer: ‘No! because I want to go be on the team!’
BT1: You were like, “This is my life dream, so I’m going to do it!” You wanted to ride your bike across the country, and somehow Type 1 diabetes is allowing you to do that.
SS: Yeah, it was sort of the thing that was keeping me from doing it, and now it’s the thing that’s specifically causing me to go.
BT1: It’s funny how those things in life can really be opportunities. And I think that goes for your #showmeyourpump campaign – diabetes kind of gave you a platform when you were running for Miss Idaho, right? Is that accurate?
SS: My book is called Sugar Linings, and obviously diabetes sucks, but Sugar Linings talks about all the positives that have come out of it and all the ways it’s made me grow as a person and given me opportunities like Bike Beyond.
BT1: What is the first thing you’re going to do when you’re done Biking Beyond?
SS: I’m trying really hard to go to school full-time next semester, so it’ll be coming home and jumping into Calculus II and other engineering classes.
My plans are to be studying calculus during Bike Beyond, because I’m going to be taking that class in the fall, and it’s going to be really difficult.
BT1: Have you been practicing riding your bike with a giant, hardcover textbook in your bag?
SS: (Laughs) No, it’ll just be for after we’re done biking and have some down time.
BT1: Sierra, you’ve done a lot of interviews. Do you have something that you’re dying to share in an interview that you haven’t had a chance to talk about yet?
SS: I guess – I love, love, love, LOVE science, and I never get to talk about that. If I had to choose something besides diabetes to talk about all the time, it would be science.
BT1: What kind of science are you interested in?
SS: Well, I’m majoring in mechanical engineering, and I’ve always been into math.
My dream job would probably be in engineering or physics. I’d like to be a professor in those subjects. That would include doing research and discovering new things, as well as being a “face”: When I walk into my engineering classroom, there have been several classes that I’ve taken where I’ve been the only – the only – girl in the room.
I think having a female professor would encourage more girls to go into STEM, and I would love to be a professor to make women in STEM more visible. My less realistic dream job is to be the female Bill Nye!
BT1: If you could meet any famous scientist, who would you meet?
SS: Oh man! The Hidden Figures ladies – oh my gosh, there’s too many! I guess Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson. Carl Sagan wrote Cosmos and he’s kind of a more serious Bill Nye. He was also a big public figure that made science interesting to normal people, including myself.
BT1: Has Type 1 diabetes ever afforded you the opportunity to indulge your scientific interests, too? Have you gotten to do cool science things as a result of having Type 1?
SS: A friend who I met at Friends For Life in Anaheim lives in LA, and he called me last month. He’s a fellow engineer major/STEM nerd, and he got tickets to Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) last weekend.
JPL is a research facility under NASA that is run by Caltech in Pasadena, and they only open to the public once a year. So that was a cool science thing that happened because of diabetes!
BT1: How did you feel when having diabetes started to be something you got attention for or inspired people about?
SS: It was another ‘sugar lining’ because when I realized I was in that role model position, it was a lot more motivating to manage my blood sugars better and take proper care of my diabetes in general. I wanted to be as healthy as possible and show that it was possible to manage this disease and that it was possible to live an amazing life with diabetes. When it was just me alone, it wasn’t as motivating as realizing I was a role model and needing to be an example for other people.
BT1: Do you have a reward set up in your head for yourself for achieving your dream of biking across the country? Or does the reward lie in the journey?
SS: Yeah, it’s definitely the journey itself. My reward is being able to come home and say, ‘I’m a badass. I just rode my bike across the country and made a bunch of new friends.’
Pageants are pretty controversial because of the beauty standards they set. For me, it was actually an opportunity to break out of those and display beauty in my own way, redefining it with my insulin pump. Challenging conventional beauty standards is always on my mind. Lately, I’ve been able to stop caring what I look like a lot more – instead of focusing on what I look like, or working out to look ‘better,’ I felt a lot better by focusing on what my body is capable of.
When my self-esteem is low, sometimes I’ll flip through pretty pageant pictures and tell myself, ‘Even though your face is covered in zits right now, [which doesn’t actually matter in the big scheme of things], remember that you are beautiful.’
Instead of feeling down on myself when looking in the mirror and not having that perfect bikini body that I used to have for pageants,
I think, Whoa, my body’s freaking awesome for being able to do rock climb that route! or I biked 75 miles today! or I think about whatever physical challenge I have completed recently. At the end of this trip, one of my rewards will be being able to remind myself that I rode my bike across the entire country whenever I’m doubting myself.
BT1: It’s like you’re putting it in a vault to use to be nice to yourself later! Having a way to cope with the constant self-criticism diabetes brings is a good tool to practice using.
SS: That’s a huge message I try to share when I’m specifically talking about breaking beauty standards and not caring about the ‘mold.’ If women say something that comes across as confident, a lot of times the reaction will be, ‘Holy cow, you’re so cocky!’ or, ‘Why do you have your pageant pictures printed? That’s a little narcissistic!’
No, I have them printed because I’m struggling with loving myself, and because I love myself a ton, I need that reminder.
I feel like we have a tendency to be hard on ourselves and keep our self-esteem low because being perceived as conceited or cocky is so socially unacceptable. I think that’s sad for two reasons. First, because a lot of times people who seem cocky are actually insecure. And secondly, people who are full of themselves are annoying, sure, but someone with an extremely low self-esteem? That can be devastating. The perfect balance is to learn how to be confident, love yourself, and be proud of yourself without having to believe you are better than anyone else. Loving yourself is one of the most empowering decisions you can make.
BT1: Yeah, I think there’s misplaced value there, where it’s okay to feel terrible about yourself, but it’s not okay to feel good about yourself.
SS: Yeah, it’s a very weird social construct, and it can be really harmful when we are taught to be self-depreciating all the time.
BT1: That’s super insightful, and it really addresses how a lot of people feel, especially women, and especially women with diabetes – or women who are the only woman in the room. And you know what that feels like, so thank you for sharing!