Climbing for Life

Every year, the Belgian diabetes associations Diabetes Liga and Association Du Diabète participate in the Climbing for Life event, which raises money for Diabetes as a charity. 

Read this testimonial from Bart De Clercq, one of this year's ambassadors, who talks about his diagnosis, what it means to live with diabetes on a daily basis and especially the value of peer support and setting ambitious goals such as climbing the Stelvio.

The last time I cried was in the morning on November 25, 2021. 1 day after diagnosis. Just ask my daughter who still remembers it. Why are you crying daddy? Are you sad? Why are you sad? Then I went back to the hospital for a second time with the endocrinologist, nurse and dietitian. Tears of sorrow and the sheerest fear of what was to come. The day before I injected insulin for the first time in the afternoon. Only 3 days before I had a blood test at the GP. Glucose 350mg/dl, no idea what that meant.

The weeks that followed were a rollercoaster, to put it mildly. The list of questions only grew. Which type do I have? Does my pre-2017 unhealthy lifestyle have anything to do with it? How will this affect my life expectancy? Will I still be able to do everything as before my diagnosis? I bought a new bike a few weeks ago, what am I going to do with it now? Are my children at increased risk? What is the feeling of a hypo and a hyper? And so I can go on and on. I knew that feeling of a hypo pretty quickly. From 80mg / dl I already feel it, from 50mg / dl and lower is dangerous. Another day I got a weird kind of headache, never had one before. A kind of absence feeling, but not exactly that. Might as well measure it though. 29mg/dl. There I was alone at home with my son in the bathroom. How much time do I have before I pass out? Am I going to pass out? Will I also go into a coma? Do I call an ambulance yet? Come on, don't exaggerate. Or am I not exaggerating? After drinking half a liter of soda I call my wife. I said we should keep calling until it's better. As long as I'm talking, I'm still conscious. Just ask my son who still remembers it.

From then on, the blood glucose value becomes an obsession. I prick and measure up to 10 times a day and I don't dare to sleep soundly. I get anxious at 100mg/dl while up to 70mg/dl is safe. One night I wake up in a panic, thinking I'm having a hypo. I prick and measure and stand at 160mg / dl but the panic attack does not go away.

After 6 weeks I get the 'redeeming' phone call that I have type 1 LADA. This form of diabetes develops later in life and comes on more progressively. Yippee, it's an auto immune disease and my former unhealthy lifestyle has nothing to do with it! I've been working on that for weeks. From then on I am entitled to reimbursement of the glucose sensor. It sticks to my arm and I can measure my glucose with my smartphone and no longer have to prick. The sensor measures in subcutaneous fluid and the value does not exactly match a blood test. In the beginning I have a hard time with this but I am learning that the trend and curve is important, not the absolute number. I now also see the value on my smartwatch via a trick. Very easy to take a quick look during sports and driving.

My blood values are now better and it tickles to exercise again. In the beginning I cycle and walk in a figure 8 around my house. If I'm going to walk 5 km I'm never further than a good kilometer from home. The fear is still there. On the first bike ride I can get off after 12 km and quickly buy sweets in the shop at the cash register. The one sports bar I had with me was clearly not enough.

Through the Diabetes Liga and social media I get to know dozens of fellow people with diabetes. There it is sometimes about the prejudices and misunderstandings of diabetes. I will also be in contact with that soon. "I wonder what you're doing here now," says someone from a "group of friends." Would I start about an HbA1c of 12% and the relationship with the immune system and increased risk with a Corona infection? I was diagnosed in the last lockdown. I'm dripping. Shoulders high. Head low. My mental toughness is at an all time low and this is not necessary, I said goodbye to that group. Life lesson learned, the people I still trust now live in the same street at the same house number. Or no wait someone said at a baby visit 'I'll definitely remove the bowl of chips because you won't be able to keep your hands off it?', or how about that pancake I ate the day after my hardest bike ride ever when I was battling hypos. “Diabetes is definitely a choice?”. Swallow. Not the pancake.

But there are also moments of hope. In April 2022, someone from the Diabetes Liga drove to Compostela. Also type 1, but then I might still be able to do something with that bike! At the start of the Tour de France, the Belgian TV channel Sporza broadcasts the Climbing For Life 2022 report with the ascent of the Galibier. It only takes a few minutes before I decide to register for the Climbing For Life 2023 edition. I contacted the Diabetes Liga and their Cycling team. The candidacy for ambassador will follow later. Thanks to their tips, it is gradually becoming possible to cycle for 2 hours and run for 1 hour.

I now know that I have to adjust my slow-acting insulin the day before and to be careful with fast-acting insulin before, during and after exercise. But sometimes it doesn't work either. During the first heavier ride I eat myself to death so as not to go into a hypo. On the next ride I eat and drink the following within a few hours: 4 bottles of 75cl isotonic drink, 4 sports bars, 1 banana, 1 full pack of dextro, 2 gingerbread cookies and 2 pieces of tiger roll. I also cycle to work a lot, 35km only. When I have my clothes on to cycle back I do a hypo. The clothes fly off again and I exchange the bike for a train ride.

The months progress and rides get heavier. I gain confidence. For example, I drive a ride with 88 km and 1643 altimeters relatively smoothly. Meanwhile, the training schedules have increased to 6 to 8 hours a week. I'd like to help you remember that a year before I had to stop after 12 km with a hypo. A few more rides follow without any significant problems and before I know it I'm traveling to Italy to climb the Stelvio together with the Diabetes Liga cycling team and my entire family.

A few days before the ascent we drive to Lago di Cancano. A climb of 11 km and 819 altimeters. This ride gives me confidence in preparation for the real ride Saturday of 24 km with 1832 altimeters.

Saturday June 24. The day I've been preparing for for over 6 months. Fortunately I slept reasonably well and the glucose is ok. At the start, however, it rises to more than 340mg / dl, purely due to stress. A loud bang follows and we begin. At kilometer 8 my wife is waiting and I refill my water bottles. The glucose is now at 130mg / dl, I like to stay above 100mg / dl to prevent a hypo. I take a double carb gel with 50g carbohydrates and drink occasionally. The kilometers drop and the altimeters rise. Before I realize it I only have to do a few more kilometers and those are the hardest. My buddy reassures me and I still have a few hairpin bends of the total of 48. After the last bend I see the arc of the finish. There my wife and children are chanting 'daddy'. I pull another sprint and fall into the arms of my family. I will not forget that feeling for the rest of my life.

This experience was unique in many ways. I am especially grateful. First of all thanks to my wife. She made sure that I had time to train and that I could participate in all cyclos. It was an incredible feeling to share this with them and to cycle to them on top of the Stelvio. I also thank my buddy who I met on the 80th anniversary of the Diabetes Liga Sport en Beweegt in October 2022 and who guided me upstairs. But also all the other members of the Diabetes Liga Cycling team who helped me so much in learning how to exercise with diabetes. I got to share this adventure with my fellow ambassadors Wim, Clara, Marianne, Benjamin, Steven and Marien. They have sometimes been struggling with this condition for decades (I refuse to call it a disease). I look forward to cycling together a lot more!

I already know that I will participate in the next Climbing for Life event in 2024!