Annual Friends for Life Conference Not Just for Kids Anymore (Continued)
Thousands flock to the Woodstock of type 1 diabetes
For parents, FFL often means sending their child with diabetes off to spend the day without them by their side for the very first time. FFL staffs the childcare and activity rooms with true experts: Moms and dads who have raised kids with diabetes; adults who grew up with diabetes; and even some nurses and doctors who have treated kids with diabetes.
For Wendy Rose of Arizona, sending her daughter Addie, 9, off for the day while Rose herself attended educational sessions was remarkable.
"I didn't feel nervous at all," said Rose. "She was in the best hands possible, and even a few moments into this event, she'd made a bunch of friends already." Rose also brought along her other children without diabetes, including a teen stepdaughter who was hesitant about heading off to the teen sessions.
"She was nervous," said Rose. "After all, she is a teen." But when lunchtime came and Rose worked to corral in all her children for a family lunch to touch base on how things were going, she got a surprise: The teen said she'd rather lunch with her new FFL friends.
What made the Rose family all bond immediately with people their age? Rose believes it's almost an aura at the event.
"It's like Cloud Nine," she said. "Even just sitting there talking with folks, or the kids hanging with other kids with diabetes or with other siblings. The ability to be in a space and not have to say a word; it's just so powerful. We live in a world where people stare. Or they don't understand what we mean when we say ‘bolus' or ‘carbs' or something else. At FFL, everyone knows. No explanation is needed. And that bonds you. The moment you see someone with a name badge or a wrist bracelet, you know they are a friend. And they really are."
Another noteworthy event was the family banquet, that's lively to say the least. This year's headline performance came from American Idol runner up Crystal Bowersox who not only performed, but she took time on stage to answer questions from the kids, honestly talking about everything from where she likes to wear her pump to how it feels to go low on stage.
Heading over to the exhibit hall, which runs for two days, you find an area filled with booths from all the top diabetes companies. Families and adults can test drive new pumps, check out meters, stuff their own Build-a-Bear Lion from Medtronic, bling their meter at the JDRF booth, and pick up all kinds of swag. On the side of the exhibit hall hangs the "Quilt for Life," an amazing display of quilt squares created in honor of the hundreds of thousands of people with type 1 diabetes. CWD has cared for and protected the Quilt for Life for years and its display has become a moving part of FFL each year.
In the midst of the event is a special getaway for the teens. All teens who attended the first round of teen sessions were allowed to go on an off-site adventure the next day without their parents; this year it was Sea World! Other attendees enjoy the closing keynote addresses given by Ironman champion Jay Hewitt and NFL Star Kendall Simmons. Both were honest about their hard work being champs with diabetes on board, but both pointed out that every one of the children and adults with type 1 could be champions too.
"You're smarter than the other kids," Hewitt said. "Other kids? They don't know the difference between a carb and a carburetor, and they know it. They look up to you. Remember that."
Hewitt also talked about why he has to stop and check his blood sugar, even with the clock running, as he works toward winning world championships against others who don't have to take that time. Seconds count, he said, but so does doing life right.
"Why do I stop and check with the clock running?" he asked. "Because if I don't, I stand a good chance of falling much farther behind, or even posting a Did Not Finish. So don't ever say you don't have time to check. I do in an Ironman; you do in life. Just do it."
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