Friday, July 4, 2014

Friends for Life 2014 - the first half

Friends for Life is already half over. It's hard to believe and yet not at all surprising. Time usually flies when one is having fun and the more fun one is having, the faster it flies. 

I arrived in Orlando on Tuesday morning. The trip was as easy as it could be, made even more so by the fact that I was on the same plane as the famous Shawn Shepheard from the Diabetes Champions Network and Sugar Free Shawn. He is a wealth of knowledge, hilarious and ridiculously easy to talk to - a great combination in a travel buddy. Especially one that I only met two weeks earlier.  

Tuesday afternoon was pretty low key. Travel, check-in, unpack, explore the Orlando Marriott Resort, watch Belgium beat the US in the World Cup game and enjoy a delicious hamburger for dinner while chatting it up with the Animas gang. 

The best part of Tuesday was getting my famous green bracelet. As soon as I had it on I couldn't help staring at people as they walked by, checking out whether or not they too wore the famous green symbol that showed they were part of the tribe.  

Got my green on! 

Wednesday is when things really began. 8am was the First Timers coffee where we joined a room-full of families, couples and individuals. People with T1 are easily spotted by their green bracelets. First times are just as easy to pick out of the crowd.

One glance and you know I have Type 1, am a first timer AND come from a place called Canada. 

I met one couple who had adopted five children. One of them developed Type 1 in January. All seven of them made the trip to Friends for Life. Seven orange bracelets. One green one. Such a powerful message of the importance of having a support team.

Shawn and I spent most of the Wednesday together. We went to two sessions on Social Media led by the famous Scott Johnson and Kerri Sparling. We explored the expo, taking photos with Sebastien, showing off our Animas Vibe pumps to anyone who asked to see them and trying out cool things like Glucolift glucose tablets (which are hard to get in Canada). 

I tasted-tested all three. Cherry was by far my favourite. 

I raced Sebastien. I felt bad beating him. I mean I have pretty fresh legs and he's been running 40k a day for months now. Probably not a fair fight. 

If I could have described my 'ideal' day at a Friends for Life conference, Thursday would have been it. I got up early and headed down to the fitness centre. I ran on a treadmill for the first time in almost five years. Forty-five minutes later I was drenched in sweat, I had run almost 8k and I felt great. Well great except for the 5.5 with double down arrows the Rose started warning me about. A Larabar and a quick shower later, I felt better and headed down for breakfast. 

After breakfast, I went to a session about Autoimmunity, Celiac and Type 1 diabetes. The speaker was Alessio Fasano and he was brilliant. He was obviously a very intelligent researcher and he could have presented his information using highfaluting mumbo jumbo but he didn't. He presented the research with such wonderful simplicity and eccentric charm that he had me completely enthralled. I took five pages of notes, guffawed more than once and left, an hour later, with a brain full of knowledge about the factors that, when combined, can trigger an autoimmune response that leads to the development of Type 1 or celiac. 

I also headed across the hallway afterwards to buy his book and take part in the Celiac research study. 

Helping out the research project AND checking to see if I've developed celiac since the last time I was tested four years ago. 

After lunch, which I spent with some of the cool folks from Connecting in Motion and Riding on Insulin, I went to a session on the Bionic Pancreas presented by Edward Damiano. Ed's son was diagnosed at a very young age and Ed committed himself to creating a bionic pancreas on time for his son to go to college. His son is going to college in the fall of 2017. If you want to watch something really cool, check out this video on the research they did in 2013 at a summer camp. 

The project had stalled for the first time due to funding issues. They need to raise funds to finish building the bionic pancreas and, if they want to have it ready on time for to meet Ed's 2017 deadline, they need to raise the funds by September 1 2014. So if you want to help, please consider donating to the Bionic Challenge. 

I met a whole bunch of bloggers whose stories I read every morning while I have my breakfast. It turns out that some of them read Running on Carbs which feels a bit surreal. I went to the You Can Do This booth and added my personal motivational message to the choir. I made friends with the Dexcom folks and I got a copy of Kerri Sparling's new book. 

I spotted a whole bunch of people I had read about or that I know from their online presence that I haven't yet found the courage to walk up to. There are still two days so I may yet do so. 

I'll write about the second half of this great adventure on Monday. In the meantime, Happy Fourth of July to all of my new American friends. 

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