The 77-Gate Sprint of 2013

The close of summer conference season

Michelle Alswager BioBy Michelle Alswager

August 2013 — As I sit 32,000-miles above somewhere in the Midwest, I have the opportunity to think about my new career and what I now call the summer conference season, a.k.a Diabetes Summer Camp for those working in the "field."

In April 2013, I gave up my career in the magazine business to go where my heart was — working with kids with type 1 diabetes. I dove right in with the ADA conference in Chicago seeing familiar names and faces and reps from various companies working hard towards a cure, towards advancing technology, and towards a better life. It felt odd to be able to say, "See you in Orlando in a few weeks."

Next up was the CWD-FFL (or Children With Diabetes Friends for Life conference). A week-long event that not only included everyone I saw at the ADA conference, but families from all over the world dipping their feet into their "normal" for an entire week. This conference ended in dLife's own Tom Karlya (Diabetes Dad) in full king-worthy attire at the princess and prince-clad ball. By the end of the week I knew those "college kids" walking around in bear costumes. I had hugged the Medtronic rep Naomi Kingery who dedicated her book to my son Jesse. I saw kids that came to our snowboarding camps. I couldn't wait to put my feet up when I got home from another week at diabetes summer camp. But wait! A month later I found myself at the AADE Conference in Philadelphia, where I had my first "real" Philly cheesesteak. The AADE conference was filled with eager-to-learn diabetes educators, talented guest speakers, and all those familiar faces.

Three hours ago I left home to travel to what I consider the last of summer conference season. I am headed to the North American Conference on Diabetes & Exercise in San Diego. Dare I say it will be my favorite? I'm anticipating it like a first time camper. Finally meeting faces like Scott Dunton, who has been a Facebook friend since I first learned of his pro-surfing (and type 1) status. Hanging out in the Riding on Insulin booth, seeing all those familiar faces…

So what's my point?

It isn't the conferences themselves and their ability to bring people together that I will remember. It is the individual moments. Seeing Joe Eldridge at the ADA conference from across the room, wearing his Changing Diabetes Team Novo Nordisk gear, grinning his head off when he catches my eye. We haven't been in the same room since 2005 when he first laid a business card in my hand with a simple "Team Type 1" first prototype logo saying "I'm going to change the world." When we saw each other he knew I was thinking, "You did it." Walking up to Barbara Singer at the Diabetes Research Institute at the CWD FFL conference and saying, "I'm Michelle Alswager, it's so nice to finally meet you." Then seeing her all-knowing face register that like her, I lost a child to this hideous disease and I too dedicated my life to those still affected. Standing in Philadelphia at the AADE conference and meeting Carla Cox for the first time face-to-face and clicking in a way that made me realize she and I are meant to do great things together, in Montana and beyond.

As I type this from 32,000-feet after a 77-gate 10-minute sprint across the Detroit airport to make my flight to San Diego (go ahead, look up how far that was and figure out how fast I ran it wearing flip flops, a back pack, and a carry-on — I dare you!) I already know that this conference put on by Insulindependence will be like the last night at diabetes summer camp. Because tomorrow I know a young man named Ryan Maloney, who appeared in my documentary not so long ago as an 11-year-old boy only beginning his diabetes journey. He is now the teacher, teaching me to paddleboard and surf as part of his SUP program (where did the time go?). For me, this conference ends with the prestigious honor of personally giving out the Cure Jesse Award at the Awards Dinner which is in honor of my son, Jesse, who died three years ago from his type 1 diabetes and was very much part of breathing life into the diabetes & exercise triathlon world.

The point is that it is the personal moments in my professional life that move me forward. It's hopefully what pushes us all 77 gates.

Read more of Michelle's columns.

dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: November 19, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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