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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Claire Duncan: Awesome.

One day my little girl with Type 1 Diabetes is going to become a big girl with Type 1 Diabetes. Yes, my day she's going to grow up.  (GASP!)  As much as I'd like to keep her in the safe haven of my little nest, I have to admit that part of me is excited to see what adventures she will embark on.

I wonder if having diabetes will make her think twice before trying things that intrigue her.  I wonder if it won't.  Like all of my children, I wonder what her future will hold...and I'm honored to be a spectator as she grows into the person she is yet to become.

Recently, I had an opportunity to interview an amazing PWD who is living life to it's fullest, and pushing the limits when it comes to her life with diabetes.  From marathons to triathlons, it seems that NOTHING can stop Claire Duncan.  Not even swimming across the English Channel, facing 6 foot waves while managing an insulin pump, and getting entangled in seaweed...

Would you mind sharing a little about your T1D diagnosis story?

I was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 23. I had just started my life as a freelance classical musician and It came as a complete shock. There is no history of diabetes in my family and I knew nothing about the condition and so I started to read as many books as I could find.  One common theme was the importance of exercise for weight-control, insulin sensitivity and avoidance of complications. I had no previous involvement with sports, but I started to run and built up one mile at a time. After about 18 months, I ran my first London Marathon to raise money for the British Diabetic Association.

When did you begin swimming, and how long did you train before swimming across the English Channel?

I started swimming at school but didn’t take it up again until I was about 30.  A few injuries meant I had to leave off running and so I started swimming and cycling, which lead to my participation in triathlon. I worked up through to Ironman distance, which meant regular 3 mile swim sessions in open water.

The challenge of the channel swim was to swim without a wetsuit, which I found quite daunting and very, very cold! I trained about 6 hours a week in the pool from January through until April. In April I moved to open water, starting in the Lido (100m open water pool) and moving to the lakes. I had to experiment with new ways to fuel. I used gatorade for pool swims and a product called isomaltulose for open water (this is a very low GI carb, which meant I could drink it before I got into the lake and it would slowly get into my system, so that I didn’t need to stash other forms of carbs inside my costume)!

I found the cold water hard to tolerate and I started in 55 deg water for 30 mins at a time. I found my blood sugars would rise due to the cold water shock and my hands would claw. I adjusted my basal rate to cope with the cold shock and solved the clawed hands by taping my fingers together for my longer swims! I swam with a “swim safety device” in the lakes, which is an inflatable dry-bag that I could keep hypo treatment in and use as a float if I felt hypo (I didn’t need to use it for this purpose but it made me feel more secure). I tried to swim 5 times a week with as many 6.00am starts as possible in order to experience the water at its coldest! My swims ranged between 1 and 2 hours each and sometimes I would swim twice in one day, so that I could simulate the idea of relay swimming.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during the swim?

There were 2 main challenges. The first was swimming in the big waves as the English channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, which meant we were surrounded by very big boats! A passing ferry would send a wake of 5 or 6 feet which would lift me high up in the water. The wave would then hit the support boat and bounce back and hit me again! I had swum in the harbour at Dover but I was not expecting the waves to be quite so big out at sea. After a couple of minutes I managed to calm down enough to swim with the waves and have the confidence not to try and fight over the top of them.

The other challenge was to try and keep my diabetes on an even keel. The adrenalin of the event made my blood sugars rise and I had to take small corrective bolus’ to compensate. I also had to swim harder than I had anticipated to get through the waves and to keep warm (the water was still around 55 deg). I also found that I didn’t want to eat as the swallowed seawater and rocking of the boat made me lose my appetite! Again, the joy of my Animas Vibe saved the day and a change of basal rates saved me from forced-feeding!

What's next on your list? 

I want to return to triathlon. A niggling back injury means that running is hard work but I want to do some shorter sprint distance races. I need to work on weight-training to build more power and this again is throwing up new challenges with balancing basal rates! I am planning to race the London Triathlon 2012, which should be exciting in our olympic year!

PS -- That's a pretty nice Animas Vibe you have there.  We can't get those in the U.S. yet.  How did you like it?

The Vibe is amazing! The CGM facility is a real bonus as I have not had the benefit of this before. Meter tests are great but it is only a result for that one moment in time. It has been so useful to join the dots and see trends during different activities and I have changed my basal setup based on the results. I took part in a triathlon with it the week after the channel swim and it was great to see what happens real-time during a race. It is also good to know that with the water-proof facility and the rubber skin, it is pretty bomb proof and I can get on with things without worrying about my pump.

Thanks for taking the time to share a little more about your amazing experience, Claire.  I'm completely inspired by your accomplishments, and excited to reaffirm that the sky's the limit for my daughter!

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  1. What an inspirational woman Wendy! Thank you for sharing and thans Claire for giving me HOPE for my son Joe. Through stories like yours, I know he can do anything he sets his mind to.

  2. Wow . . . Claire is a total rockstar! Thank you, Wendy, for the AWSCHUM interview and T1D related questions. What a great, inspiring story to share with my Ellie to PROVE she can truly do anything she sets her heart and mind on. Woo-hoo to Claire!,!,

  3. I didn't know about Claire. Great post Wendy!

  4. What an inspiration Claire is to all of us who wish big for our "D" kids. Thanks for the reminder Claire and Wendy that with diabetes anything is still possible.

  5. What a role model Claire is!!!

    This was an excellent post! Loved every word!

    Claire, thank you for sharing your story with us!

  6. thank you for posting this! what an amazing woman and role model!

  7. What a great role model!!! Thanks for sharing this interview!!!

  8. Fascinating woman!!! Thanks for sharing her story, it's awesome to see what other PWD's are capable of doing.

  9. wow. Thanks for sharing this interview. She definitely inspired me. :)

  10. So inspiring! Thanks for the great interview Wendy..

  11. Great to hear directly from one of those amazing swimmers! Very interesting and incredibly inspirational -so glad you talked with her and shared with us!

  12. This is so inspiring! Thanks for sharing her story with us.


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While I'm happy to share our experiences with what works, and what doesn't work, for the management of Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease in our house, please do not mistake anything you read here for medical advice. Decisions regarding your/your child's health care should be made only with the assistance of your medical care team. Use any information from this blog at your own risk.