Hot Licks and Ready Wheels Create Community in Nashville

8/9/17
WRITTEN BY: Aaron Johnson
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Is there a more powerful word than inspirational? I’m not sure. I’ve been trying to find one, but I’m at a loss. I want to describe to you the day I had in Nashville. It was, by my standards, a perfect day.

Beyond Type 1 has captivated me since I first discovered the organization early last year. They’ve done the impossible. They’ve made Type 1 diabetes cool. I’ve been T1D since 1983, but pre-BT1 I don’t know that I would’ve shouted it loud and proud from the rooftops like I do today.

When I first heard about the Bike Beyond campaign, I wanted in. Unfortunately, due to another medical condition, riding was impossible. Nonetheless, I had to do something. These people riding 4,828 miles across the country with T1D were heroes bent on raising funds, increasing awareness and shattering stereotypes. Imagine biking from New York to San Francisco while managing T1D. Imagine just how hard that is for a moment. I had to meet them. I had to thank them. So my wife and I left our home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and drove in to Nashville on Tuesday night. I was giddy. I was going to meet all of these people I felt I already knew from following their social media and updates along the way.

The first thing on the agenda for my Beyond Type 1 adventure was yoga with the team! We had purchased tickets to participate at the Inner Light Studio for a session, instructed by another wonderful T1D, Sarah Jane Holmes. The problem, in addition to having no yoga experience, was that we were still running on our home time, Eastern Time, while Nashville runs on Central time. We thought we were super early, and, as it turned out, we showed up with about 30 minutes left in the session. It was not the first impression I wanted to make. However, we sat down anyway and tried to follow along. All around, people were doing beautiful, fluid body motions, and I looked like I hadn’t stretched since I last updated my MySpace page. Cool. After the session, in true form, Sarah Lucas and the team warmly welcomed us. Sarah said she had two “special guests” to welcome, and much to our surprise she was talking about us. How in the world in this room full of warriors were we special guests?

We left yoga slightly embarrassed. We were off to lunch and to get ready for what would turn out to be an incredible evening. Beyond Type 1 had planned a night of music at The Listening Room Cafe with T1D musicians Eric Paslay and Crystal Bowersox. Advocates Dylan Altman and Corey Crowder were joining them. There was a special early appearance by the duo Love and Theft, half of which is T1D as well.

While we were in line before the show, I noticed that the family in front of us had stopped specifically to say hello to Elliot Gatt, founder of Good Glucos. Good Glucos is a meter and test strip subscription company with a ton of heart. For every 12 subscriptions they sell, they give one away to someone in financial need. Heroes. I asked the family how they knew Elliot. They said they were from Edmonton, Alberta and their daughter Savannah was T1D and they’d crossed paths with Elliot along the way. We had an absolute blast getting to know them, talking T1D, and of course, hockey.

When they rolled open the doors and we approached the front we were greeted by Mary Lucas with her warm smile. We figured out quickly we had once again done the wrong thing. Apparently the tickets we bought we weren’t supposed to be standing in line ones. Maybe I was a bit nervous. Maybe I was a bit out of sorts in a different time zone. Maybe my blood sugars were messing with me. I promise you I am not normally this much of a mess. The funny thing is, I was grateful for the mistake, as it allowed us to make, yet again, another priceless T1D connection that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to have. These are my people, and I want to be immersed in them. Silver linings indeed.

We spent the next few hours listening to amazing music and powerful stories about T1D from artists who have lived with it. Despite being among stars in the music industry, nothing felt socially stratified in the room. We were all people, brought together by a common bond, one so strong it transcended fame, economic class, background, and even ethnic and cultural difference. Among the cross-country bikers, five different countries were represented. We are all Diabetes.

As the show ended, they brought all 22 riders up on the stage. The moment was as breathtaking as hearing Crystal Bowersox belting her power highs. It hit you in the chest. I wanted to give them a standing ovation until my knees gave out. They deserved that and more. As they came off the stage, I got to talk to a few more riders. I met Matt, another awesome Canadian, although we did not discuss hockey. I got to meet Walt, and we learned this was his 418th time biking across the country. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration but this dude is a dia-bad-ass!

We had really been waiting to meet the Peppers, fellow North Carolinians. Somehow, through all of our T1D dealings and advocacy work, we hadn’t met face to face and only knew each other through social media. So I couldn’t leave without talking to Abby and Cheryl and letting them know how grateful we were that they were representing Charlotte. No other city has two riders, so, we win.

At this point it was past 11:00 at night, and I knew the riders had to be up by 7:00 a.m. the next morning to bike another 100 miles the next day, so I implored them to go get some rest. Heroes. Have I mentioned that?

As we made our way out of the venue, I ran into Neil Greathouse again. Neil is the documentarian filmmaker traveling with the Bike Beyond team. You probably know him better as #hackthebetes, with his hilarious and informative Instagram posts, and as the creative force behind Type 1 Day 1. I think the most important thing we discussed was how Beyond Type 1 has changed not only our lives, but the lives of so many in the community. His theory, and it’s a good one, was what I touched on earlier. By making Type 1 diabetes cool, it brings our community together. It makes us strong. It lets us advocate around the world without having to feel ashamed. We should never feel ashamed, but maybe it’s taken something like Beyond Type 1 to show everyone that. We are better because of it, and I’m reminded of a quote from Khalil Gibran that I love: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are sealed with scars.”

I decided right then and there that this wasn’t going to be my last encounter with the team. This was so fulfilling, and just so much downright fun. My wife says we’re now #BikeBeyondGroupies, and I’ll proudly be that. So, to my new friends on the Beyond Bike team, and the ones I didn’t get to meet yet, I’ll see you in Denver.

Editor’s note: This article as been adapted for Beyond Type 1 from Aaron Johnson’s original blog post, which can be found here.


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Aaron Johnson

Rockin’ T1D since 1983, Aaron Johnson has spent his entire life riding the highs and lows of Type 1, watching the diabetes world change from sliding scales and piggy insulin, to closed loop and getting his blood sugar on his Apple Watch. He lives to advocate for his community and serves as president of FFT1 (Families Fighting Type 1), a 501(c)3 non-profit public charity operating in Charlotte, North Carolina, and its surrounding areas, where he also makes his home.