After All These Years: Al Lewis, Age 73, Living with Type 1 Diabetes for 69 Years

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Anyone who knows Al Lewis of Vancouver, BC, understands why hewouldn't switch to an insulin pump until a waterproof model becameavailable in 1977: His whole life has revolved around water.

By thetime he was twelve years old, he was already fishing commerciallyoff the coast of California. Despite having had type 1 diabetessince the age of four, he would be out at sea for days at a time,accompanied only by his fishing partner.

"I think it was harder onmy parents than it was on me," he reminisces. "My mom used to get upat 2:00 a.m. to make me breakfast before I would go out fishing, andshe told me later that she would cry after I left." He had justbecome a teenager when he earned a certificate from the UnitedStates Power Squadron for completing their small boat course, makinghim at that time the youngest person ever to be certified.

After a three-year foray into forestry at the start of college, Alfound himself drawn to the study of oceanography instead (no bigsurprise there). He was on the swim team during both hisundergraduate and his master's degree studies, lettering at bothlevels. His PhD research at the University of Hawaii involved skindiving and some scuba diving. And until just recently, he swamcompetitively at the master's level (defined as age 25 and older forswimming).

An emeritus professor of oceanography at the University of BritishColumbia, Al is convinced that his constant activity has played alarge role in his diabetes longevity – close to 70 years already – andhis lack of any major diabetes-related health problems.

Fear ofcomplications is a driving motivation to take care of himself,though. "I think one secret of longevity with diabetes is to be verycompetitive with yourself," he says, recalling that he was even morecompetitive with himself than he was with other swimmers over theyears. "I think it's key to being successful with diabetes."

It's clear that Al is a very dedicated swimmer. He once contacted aswimming outfitter in Portland, Oregon, to see if they could make asuit that could be worn in a swimming pool and hold an insulin pump(the waterproof kind, of course). He had been wearing a fanny packwith his pump inside – both for safety when he was out at sea as anoceanographer and while swimming. In the end, they couldn't come upwith anything for him, so he settled for swimming in a triathletefull-body suit with his insulin pump tucked inside.

Recent back problems have propelled Al out of the pool and into thegym for weight workouts, but he continues to commute to campus andback by bicycle. Given his lifetime of physical activity, it ishighly unlikely that he will let anything stop him now, especiallynot a small thing like diabetes.

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