What do you do when you’re 22 years old and you’ve been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?
If you’re Sébastien Sasseville, you spend a couple months climbing the world’s tallest mountain, spend seven days racing across the world’s hottest desert, and maybe thrown in a few Ironman triathlons along the way! Sébastien was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2002. Little did he know at that time that his diagnosis would serve as the catalyst for the incredible adventures and accomplishments he has had over the past 10 years.
People living with Type 1 diabetes have a pancreas that produces little to no insulin. It’s an incredibly amazing and complex process, but in the most basic terms – your pancreas is in charge of secreting insulin to help keep your blood sugar within a normal range. Without insulin, your body isn’t able to use the glucose it needs in order to function and just because your body stops producing insulin, doesn’t mean that your body stops needing it. When you live with Type 1 – you have to give yourself insulin through multiple daily injections or through a pump that acts as an external pancreas. That makes it sound easy, but it’s not. There are many different factors that affect your level of blood sugar, including exercise. Sébastien has to make decisions and calculations based on his blood sugar level to try and replicate what my pancreas does automatically.
I had the chance to meet Sébastien through Diabetes Training Camp. I run the Mental Skills Training Program and in 2009 we held a camp in Tuscon, Arizona working with a group of athletes through The Triabetes Project that were on a quest to compete in an Ironman triathlon. Their journey was captured in the documentary film The Science of Inspiration.
The fact that Sébastien has climbed Mount Everest and competed in the Sahara Race is amazing; the fact that he did it with Type 1 diabetes is stunning. He is not only an incredible athlete, but also a sought-after keynote speaker sharing his story and inspiring people across the world and shares some of that inspiration here:
Carrie: What inspired you to take on the challenges of racing Ironman triathlons, climbing Mount Everest, and the running the Sahara Race?
Sébastien: I think it happened by accident! I always wanted to explore, go far, see and experiment new things. Much like diabetes, those challenges are vehicles. Self-exploration vehicles that allow me to grow, to get to know myself, tame my fears and help others. I started with short races, small climbs and got addicted to always learning more. Over the years the race courses got longer, the mountains got bigger, but the goal was always the same: learn and grow.
Carrie: When you were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes – did it change how you felt about your involvement with fitness and sports?
Sébastien: Change probably isn’t the right word. I actually started to be active when I was diagnosed. I was 22 when the gift of diabetes came to my life, I was in college, spending more time at the bar then at the gym! Diabetes made me vulnerable and knowing that we are vulnerable makes us stronger. Diabetes also gave a purpose to the things that I wanted to do. The Everest dream was well alive when I was diagnosed. To be climbing to inspire and help others gave a totally different dimension to my project.
Carrie: What do you think is the biggest mental challenge when it comes to endurance events?
Sébastien: To stay in the game despite of pain and to do that for long hours. It takes 2 months to climb Mt Everest, an ironman can take up to 17 hours and the Sahara race was a grueling 155 mile foot race in the world’s toughest conditions. In every long event, you’ll have good hours and bad hours, good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks. The challenge is to stay strong in tough times and always believe that things will get better.
Carrie: Which was harder – climbing Mount Everest or running the Sahara race in the desert?
Sébastien: They were so different! Different goals, approach and strategy. Everest was much more dangerous, so the pressure from being exposed everyday definitely takes a toll on you. The Sahara felt safe, but we were in a lot more physical pain every day. I’ll say that the Sahara was much harder than an Ironman.
Carrie: Who inspires you as an athlete?
Sébastien: I’m inspired by excellence, by those who have the courage to do things that have never been done before, things that were believed impossible. I also am very moved by people that never give up. I love those stories of people that have worked 10-20 years, sometimes longer to get to their dream.
Carrie: What kind of advice do you have for someone thinking about taking on his or her own athletic challenge?
Sébastien: Have a plan, build a team, break down the project in many little projects, make room for failure, never give up, put yourself in a position where you must succeed.
Carrie: What are you training for now?
Sébastien: 2013 is all about getting to Ironman World Championships. I’m hoping for my first sub 10h Ironman this year. Definitely have my work cut out for me!
I think after reading this – we’ll ALL be cheering on Sébastien as he works towards his goal to get to the Ironman World Championships! There are so many incredible lessons to take away from Sébastien’s experience; I will leave you with this:
- You might not get to choose the challenges you will face, but you can choose your reaction to them and the affect they have on your life.
- You can be overcome with challenges, or you can overcome them. Your challenges are opportunities for growth.
- Don’t let fear and perceived obstacles hold you back from going after your goals.
What challenges are you ready to face?