By: Brenda Neugent
British snowboard champion Christopher Southwell has always lived for the adrenaline rush.
So when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years into a career as a professional freeride snowboarder, he hit the ice-packed slopes with even tougher resolve.
“Whatever you set your mind to, even with diabetes, with the right control, determination, positive outlook and attitude, you can achieve even your wildest dreams,” Southwell said. “I’m still living mine.”
But these days, those dreams are taking a true walk on the wild side.
Because snowboarding already challenged his spirit of adventure, Southwell decided to kick it up a notch, and is currently planning what he calls 7C7A, featuring seven extreme physical challenges set on seven continents.
The personal challenge-designed to test him physically and mentally while raising awareness and funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)-includes cycling, mountain climbing, and Iron Man triathlons. He’s planning events through the Andes, the Himalayas, and Antarctica, where he’ll compete in the Ice Marathon, a nod to his love of all things chill.
“I have pushed myself so much more since being diagnosed,” Southwell said in an e-mail interview. “I would never before do an Iron Man, bike 2100 kilometers in 12 days or run a marathon in Antarctica.”
But doing so allows him to not only showcase his skills as a top athlete, but also to inspire others to live out their own life dreams, no matter what they may be.
“I like to use my experiences to inspire young people who have just been diagnosed or are struggling with their diabetes to realize that they can still live life to the fullest,” he said. “I spend my days jumping off 100-foot cliffs and hiking powder faces and my body is as healthy as ever.”
Because Southwell has been named a JDRF ambassador, he feels all the more motivated to tackle these 7C7A events.
“With JDRF I am helping them raise awareness about living life to the fullest with diabetes, and I am just hoping my life experiences can encourage and motivate people. Being an ambassador for them means a lot to me and I find it such an honor helping people.”
As a professional athlete, Southwell has always enjoyed participating in charity events. In 2006 he dressed as a cow for a motorbike ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End, points that mark the length of Great Britain that are about 1,000 miles apart.
Still, none has been as challenging as the upcoming seven events, and none will likely be as rewarding.
“I always try and have a very positive outlook and use my experiences to help others,” he said. “Life is too short to be negative, and I have always had the attitude, ‘there are millions of people a lot worse off than me, so grit your teeth and get on with it.'”
Carb Loading for Competitions
To prepare for his extreme athletic events, Southwell focuses on his diet, eating three meals a day with “plenty of carbs to keep my blood glucose levels stable,” such as cereal and fruit in the morning, followed by pasta or a sandwich for lunch. At supper time, he relaxes his carb needs but makes sure to load up on antioxidant-rich greens.
During events, he makes sure that everyone around him is aware of his diagnosis, so they can help keep him in check.
“Being prepared means making sure that everyone I go snowboarding with, go drinking with and play sports with knows that I am a diabetic. When I’m snowboarding, I’m a lot more intense with my riding partners and explain all the signs indicating high or low blood glucose levels. I make sure that they carry a hypo treatment with them at all times in case I lose mine.”
As part of his multi-year, multi-segment event, he has scheduled two open events, one a hike on Mt. Kilimanjaro which he hopes will include the largest group of people with diabetes ever to make the climb, the other a bike ride from New York to Miami.
“Anyone can join me,” he said of both events, noting that the bike ride will be split into stages to make it more manageable for those who are not professional athletes. “It will be amazing to meet as many diabetics as possible.”
As he looks ahead to what will offer his greatest feats of strength and endurance, he recognizes the importance of small personal victories, those stepping stones marking his experiences since his diagnosis.
“I think my greatest achievement so far has just been getting on with my life and doing what I want to without my diabetes holding me back too much,” he said. “It’s hard work at times, but the rewards are plentiful.”
If you’re interested in helping Southwell raise funds for diabetes research or for more information on the legs of his journey, check out the links at http://www.7c7a.co.uk/charity/ for more information.