Where the Magic Happens: Going Virtual with the Type 1 Community 


Editor’s Note: Virtual Slipstream is Connected in Motion’s peer-led community event happening April 22 – 25, 2021. Interested in joining in on this session? Register now!

For 12 years, my job has centered around connecting people with type 1 diabetes face to face. It has focused on bringing like-minded people together to share stories and experiences around campfires, tackle new challenges on backcountry trails and be surrounded by people who just get it. There’s a saying that goes, “Outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens.” When you have the opportunity to step to the edge of your comfort zone and feel supported enough to leap (or inch!) over the edge, that’s where real, transformative learning takes place.

What’s a Slipstream Weekend?

I’ve been working with Connected in Motion to develop and facilitate Slipstream weekends (read: camp for adults with type 1.) Slipstream weekends were named for the phenomenon that happens when a group of cyclists pedal in a peloton, or a flock of geese fly in V formation. By traveling together, taking turns in the lead, the entire group moves faster, further and with more ease.

Something similar happens when you get people together who are living with diabetes. Although you may be at a diabetes event, for some reason, you find yourself not thinking about diabetes. Things become easier. Knowing that you have a community of people you have bonded with over morning coffees beside the lake, during a group hike among turning autumn leaves, or while cheering a friend on at a climbing wall changes you and your life with diabetes. It gives you people to call on when you’re having a rough day, folks to go to for advice on the latest diabetes tech and a group to help you laugh at that weird diabetes situation that happened to you that others just wouldn’t understand.

Over the years I have thrived on the energy of connecting with the diabetes community in real life. It is the entire framework that Connected in Motion has been built off of. And in 2020, were we ever thrown for a loop…

Adjusting as necessary

In March 2020, as the realities of the COVID-19 virus started to take hold in Canada (where CIM is based), we started to realize that we may face some challenges when it came to running the 20-ish events we had on the calendar for the year. Our first program was scheduled for May 1 in British Columbia and involved bringing 50+ adults with type 1 diabetes to stay together in group bunks, eat together in a cozy dining hall, and mix and mingle their way through our Western Slipstream program. People typically travel from throughout Canada and the US (and beyond!) to join a Slipstream. The possibility of doing this safely was quickly going out the window. We brainstormed on creative solutions and realized that we were likely going to have to act fast to turn this program around to be hosted virtually.

We’ll admit, we didn’t have high expectations for a camp-turned-computer facilitated diabetes gathering. Would people show up? Maybe a handful. Could we ever recreate feelings of connection? Perhaps on some small level. Could a group of outdoor educators and guides handle the tech side of a virtual event? Umm. We could try our best?

Back in March 2020, not a single member of CIM’s small team had attended a virtual event. Outside of the work we do for Connected in Motion, no one had ever managed anything that could be classified as tech (outside of our insulin pumps!), but we felt okay. We knew that the most important thing for us as an organization and as a community was to find a way to create the same Slipstream feeling we get when gathering in person. We wanted people to feel connection. To grow their communities. To share and make a difference for others. And to experience an environment where they felt safe to share.

After a few short weeks of planning (and many long days brainstorming, creating, testing, and trialing), the Virtual Slipstream was born. Over the course of two four-day events in May 2020, over 800 adults with type 1 diabetes came together online. What happened on those weekends far exceeded our expectations. We were so excited at all we had learned and at the potential that existed now once we took a chance far (and we mean FAR) outside of our comfort zones. Over the next months, we saw similar virtual programs pop up all around the world. We saw people connecting in new ways, with new people, and gaining new perspectives.

Here are a few of the things we learned, jumping in with both feet, into the world of virtual diabetes community:

It’s about the people, not the place

We worried that the reason we walked away from Slipstream weekends so rejuvenated was a direct cause of the fresh air, the beautiful scenery, and the buzz and excitement of people meeting face to face for the first time. Although the feeling was different in the virtual world, there was no doubt that there was still… a feeling. We were connected, we were sharing, and we were helping make life with diabetes just a little bit easier for each other. And that felt awesome.

Meeting people where they’re at

One challenge at an in person Slipstream is providing enough variety of content and experience at an appropriate level to the largest number of people. We’ll admit, it’s hard! “Exercise 101” means something different to each and every person. A “What’s New in Tech” session needs to be tailored differently depending on whether we have newly diagnosed friends in the audience, DIY gurus, or a mix of both. Virtual events open up so many doors to offer so many options. We told people that the programs were created ‘choose-your-own-adventure-style’ and it really worked out. We were able to mix topics, levels and types of sessions within each time slot and saw that people were really able to cater their schedules in ways that benefited them and their diabetes needs of the day the most.

Niche topics in the type 1 diabetes (T1D) space

It can be hard to find accessible type 1 diabetes education that goes deeper than the standard offerings of our diabetes clinics. Moving programs virtual allowed us to not only access speakers and experts whom we have never been able to work with in the past, but it allowed us to go specific with topics. Topics like the impact of contraception on T1D, ways to support our partners and endurance-specific exercise strategies were often too specific for an in-person Slipstream program, when we had smaller audiences and fewer time slots available. The virtual world opened up those doors and we began to be able to truly respond to needs, requests and recommendations from the community.

Increasing accessibility

CIM’s foundation is in experiential learning, something that is most easily facilitated in the natural world. Most of our in-real-life programs are hosted at outdoor centers, summer camps, lodges, or retreat centers. Although there’s a chunk of the community that love the outdoors (and, of course, we’d love to give as many people as possible exposure to the outdoors), we know that it is just simply not everyone’s cup of tea. When we open the doors at any in-person Slipstream program and see a solo Slipstreamer carrying their backpack alone down the path to the registration desk, we always think: “That person is brave!” It takes guts to throw yourself into an unfamiliar environment—especially for a few days at a time. Virtual Slipstream allowed us to break down some of the barriers that hosting a program in the outdoors created and because of it we were introduced to so many new, incredible people who we hope to stay connected with for years to come.

We wrapped up our very first Virtual Slipstream program on May 3, 2020. The small CIM team was running on pure adrenaline after weeks of little sleep, constantly evolving plans, and scary feelings because this was so far outside of our comfort zones. It was then that we came to realize that the very thing we had been telling Slipstreamers for 12 years—that magic happens when you step outside of your comfort zone—was absolutely, 100 percent true. During our closing debrief, Slipstreamers were sent into breakout rooms to share one thing that they learned throughout the weekend and one thing that they were grateful for as a result of participating. The sharing was incredible. We could see on people’s faces the same expressions we see when we’re standing in front of each other in real life: gratitude, comfort, relief, excitement and rejuvenation—that Slipstream feeling.

Jump into the virtual slipstream

As an organization, we have decided to keep Virtual Slipstream as a regular part of our yearly programming. We are so excited to bring 2021 Virtual Slipstream to life April 22 – 25. If you’re someone with a story to share, a question to ask, or a passion for something unique in the diabetes space, come check it out.

Virtual Slipstream is Connected in Motion’s peer-led community event happening April 22 – 25, 2021. Interested in joining in on this session? First, register for the event, then follow the instructions in your confirmation email to select your individual sessions. We hope to see you there!


WRITTEN BY Jen Hanson, RKin, MEd, CDE, POSTED 04/15/21, UPDATED 11/30/22

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1987, Jen has never let diabetes stop her from pursuing her passion. Jen is the executive director of Connected in Motion, where she works to bridge the gap between clinical care and 'real life' for adults with type 1 diabetes. She loves to travel, be outside, and spend time at her cabin with her family. Jen is a registered kinesiologist, certified diabetes educator and teacher. She has a Masters Degree in Education, focused on Experiential Diabetes Education.