Tell us a bit about yourself, Monica:
I’m from Sweden, but moved to England when I was 19. I spent a lot of my childhood outdoors: riding horses, skiing, cycling, walking in the forest. It was often very cold, and it helped toughen me up!
I’ve always travelled a lot, whenever I had the money to. Also done a lot of hiking, cycling, running, kayaking and so on. I like trying new things too — in recent years I have done archery, aikido, and sword fencing among other things. I even have an interest in philosophy too — both Western and Eastern, trying to make use of it in my everyday life – as well as on challenges.
Researching, organising and training for potential challenges take a lot of time too. Otherwise I spend quite a bit of my time looking after and hanging out with my kids. Now THAT’s a challenge. One I love mind.
How long was the period of adjustment after your initial diagnosis of Type 1 Insulin Dependent Diabetes?
I was diagnosed at the age of 11, and it took me a long time to fully accept having T1D. I struggled immensely at school and dealing with diabetes, with friends and doing ‘normal’ pre-teen activities. Took me a while to work out what activities and foods did. Still don’t think I’ve fully got to grips with it all. There are just so many variables playing their parts. Was also terrible at testing back then, and throughout my teens, and 20’s… Happy and lucky to have got through it so well.
Upon diagnosis, how did this effect your motivation, if at all?
I had no motivation at all other than just getting through each day as painlessly as possible. I was only 11, so didn’t really think in those terms.
What challenge, project or expedition did you attempt in 2014, 2015 and 2016?
In 2014 I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with 18 other T1Ds in a trek organised by JDRF. Although I’d previously done plenty of day hikes around the world, this trek made me realise I could do more challenging treks, and being away for weeks without having to worry too much about the diabetes. It helped that we were several T1Ds, and that we had several health care professionals with us. Just to gain confidence rather than actually needing them.
In 2015 I cycled from Vienna to Stockholm with TeamBloodGlucose, a small and amazing group of T1D cyclists. This was an tough challenge, cycling around (+/-) 200 km every day for 12 days. Learnt a lot about diabetes from TeamBG, who supports PWD in all kinds of sports. I also started working towards a few PADI scuba diving qualifications this year, which was hugely exciting.
In 2016 I went on a number of diving trips — to Mexico, the Seychelles a couple of times, and Iceland. Also went on a cycling training week on Mallorca, again with TeamBG, with cyclists of varying levels.
The biggest challenge in 2016 was an expedition to Mera Peak, a 6475 m mountain in Nepal. It was an 18 day trek, which was incredibly rewarding in so many ways, but also challenging.
Tell me about Mera Peak? You said it was the hardest thing you have ever done? Why was that? What was the real challenge for you on that climb as a T1 Diabetic?
It was hard in that we were in such a remote place, with only limited choices of foods to eat. Normally I’d eat a relatively low carb diet to keep blood sugar levels stable, but this was impossible on the mountain. The foods were mostly high carb options — big plates of (delicious) potatoes, rice, pasta, and white bread with jam or honey. No edible meat or fat options. Was told not to even eat the eggs, but heard of others that did, and were fine. Blood sugar levels were extremely fluctuating because of the high carb foods, exercise, high altitude, and even hormones.
The altitude was another big challenge as we got higher on the mountain. It was hard to keep going, and hard to breathe, especially once you start going above 5000 meters.
Then there’s the keeping the insulin at a good temperature. I kept all the insulin I needed for my trip, along w any batteries, in a flat bag across my chest at all times. Kept any spare insulin in a thick sock wrapped up inside my sleeping bag. Never needed this though.
I used a CGM, as well as my normal blood sugar meter, as well as a Freestyle Libre. The CGM stopped working after a while, and would not charge up from the battery. The Libre was useful, but also stopped working now and again. Luckily, the CGM also works with the pump, so sometimes that worked instead. Frustrating, but there was always something working, if not all at the same time.
What was the biggest problems you have doing any of your other challenges as a T1DM?
I have to say it’s always fluctuating blood sugar levels. When I go scuba diving, I always check just before jumping in, and check which way it’s going. I try to eat low-carb when I do any challenges, as the less insulin you take, the less of a risk of hypos. Unless it’s really physically hard, such as a long run or big cycling challenge, in which case the carbs are ‘for free’ as it were, and no bolus is needed.
If you have one, what is your project or challenge for 2017?
I’m climbing at least one mountain in 2017, but nothing’s been booked in yet. Looking at a mountain over 7000 meters, and/or something more technical.
Does leaving your family to do these challenges affect you much, and if so how do you deal with it?
I have two young children, and of course I always miss them a lot when I’m away. Especially on a mountain, when there’s a lot of walking in silence, I think about them pretty much the whole time.
Wherever there’s wifi I can Skype them if the time is right. But we don’t do all that much talking. We send pictures back and forth. I also keep a couple of painted small stones, that they gave me, in my pocket at all times. That makes me feel connected with them.
Both my husband and I travel a lot, and the kids are used to it, and know we always return. They have a very secure attachment to us both.
What are your real skills and strengths in the mountains – what is the reason for your success?
It’s mostly down to the mindset. I tell myself to just keep going, no matter how tired or exhausted I get. You’ve got to have grit on the mountain. Keeping physically fit and strong helps too, but the mind is more important. And I try to remember to keep lifting my head up to see the beauty that’s all around.
What drives you as a climber, outdoor athlete, cyclist and as a person?
I set myself a goal, then work towards reaching it. I’m really a rather lazy person, but work hard when I have a goal to reach. I focus totally on the task in hand. It’s easy when you do something you love.
How is your diabetes regime managed when planning a new adventure? Medical management? Healthcare team?
I do talk to my healthcare team at the hospital, but they really only have a small idea of how to manage diabetes in extreme situations. I just make sure I have enough gels (The A1C 15g Torq gel specifically made for hypos is great) and jelly babies to treat any hypos that might occur, and that I have enough testing equipment and insulin, as well as spares. I know roughly what happens to my body in these challenges. I’ve also had a lot of support from TeamBG when it comes to sports and managing diabetes. Way more support from them than from my healthcare team.
How do your family and friends feel about your lifestyle?
My family knows I get grumpy if I don’t go on adventures regularly, so even suggest I’ll go somewhere if it’s been too long. My sporty friends are always supportive.
Do you know other successful diabetic athletes? If so, do you share information on how to manage insulin dependent diabetes?
Everyone has different regimes, but of course we discuss how we do things, and ask questions and share any specifics that might be useful to the other.
If you were to give one piece of advice to someone who develops Type 1 Diabetes,what would it be?
Keep checking your blood sugar levels regularly, and learn what situations cause highs and lows.
What item of technology can’t you live without?
My Dexcom CGM. It was a real life changer.
Where and what do you see yourself doing in 10 years’ time?
I’m hoping to have lots more experiences on mountains, in the sea, and on my bikes. Hoping my kids might want to join me on a mountain too. I constantly like to push myself to do more challenging adventures.
What is the most important life lesson you’ve learnt from the life you have chosen to live?
That life is precious. My pursuits could potentially be dangerous, but so is driving or walking in any town in England. What I do is good for both body and soul. You’ve got to make the most of the life you’ve been given.
What inspires you to do extreme challenges?
Seeing or hearing of other people doing challenges. And the exhilaration of actually doing them. It’s a real high.