Granny Gear

Memories of growing up around diabetes

Michelle Alswager BioBy Michelle Alswager

A few weeks ago I was on a training ride with my JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes Western Wisconsin teammates, only three weeks out from our 105-mile bike ride in Death Valley. In the midst of our 70-mile training ride, while I was climbing an intimidating hill, I said, "Ok, ladies, let's rock it all the way down to our granny gear."

In the cycling world granny gear means the easiest gear you can go in. To pass the time I said, "Hey, we name our bikes, maybe we should name our grannies!" And right at that moment I named mine Louise, the name of my own grandmother.

What's the point?

It got me thinking about my grandma, Louise. As I climbed the hill I was brought to memories of my childhood, of growing up with aunts, uncles, and cousins with type 1 diabetes. You see, I thought nothing of it. Didn't everyone have an aunt that babysat them on their parents' bowling night and watched The Carol Burnett Show with you while drinking Tab? Who would sometimes act "funny" and need you to go retrieve orange juice out of the fridge? Sugar free cookies and carob? How would that be abnormal?

Three aunts and one uncle, all very much present in my everyday life, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes from the 1950's and on. Glass syringes. Urine strips to find out a range of blood sugars. Four kids with type 1 diabetes. In looking back I don't think my grandmother got all the respect she deserved for raising four children with diabetes in an era where not only was it barely treatable but it also came along with the stigma of not talking about it, not advocating for its cure, and pretending it didn't exist. I knew the smell of insulin at a very young age, knew the smell of ketones on someone's breath, and knew the dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). What kind of fear did she live in each and every day? I look back and realize she certainly didn't show it. And she didn't teach her kids to fear it either.

I thought of her in Death Valley on Saturday right around mile 43. If you've never been on the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes out there, let me tell you that the weather can be extremely windy with temperatures in the 100's (with pavement temperatures of 125 degrees). At mile 43 you start a 6-mile relentless climb at a 5 percent grade that is traveled at 6 mph and takes an hour to get to the top (um, read that as: OMG what the heck did I sign up for?). You spend most of that part of your trip in your easiest — your granny — gear. And it occurred to me at that time that my grandmother lived her life on a 6-mile climb at a 5 percent grade and never even broke a sweat.

I guess sometimes the granny gear isn't so easy. That's my point.

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: July 03, 2013

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

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