Steve Richert, who has type 1 diabetes, has embarked upon a 365-day climbing mission to demonstrate that managing diabetes and rock climbing present similar challenges and to inspire people with diabetes to surmount those challenges. In this second part of our interview, I asked him about his motivations.
Nadia: What made you decide to climb every single day?
Steve: Climbing and traveling are very normal for me. But my wife helped me realize that what I was doing was actually very unusual and could be beneficial to share with other people. The idea was that the climbing challenge is analogous to the challenge of living with diabetes. That’s part of the reason that I opted to climb every single day for an entire year, as opposed to picking a widely recognized objective like Mount Everest or Denali. I wanted to focus on the consistency of the effort rather than a one-time event and to fit climbing into my life in the same way that you have to fit managing diabetes into your life.
There’s consistency in the climbing challenge, but there are also a lot of variables that impact the way that you and the challenge interact, which is exactly how life is with diabetes. We realized that there was a lot that could be unpacked from that.
In my work as a guide, people basically put their life in my hands when I take them into technical environments where I can teach them rope skills and how to climb and protect themselves. Working in that environment, I’ve had a chance to see how powerful the self-discovery process that’s involved with climbing and being outdoors and adventuring can be, and how that’s changed me personally.
Nadia: What are your goals for the project?
Steve: Initially, my goal was to start an organization where we could take folks who have type 1 diabetes climbing, get them doing this stuff for themselves. But then we realized that there wasn’t a lot of precedent for that. A lot of people said, “Oh, I don’t think I could do that.” So we realized that we had to meet people where they were initially and bring the mountains to the people, instead of bringing the people to the mountains, at least to start with. That is where the idea came from for the documentary, and keeping track of everything with the blog, and reaching out via the existing social media paradigms.
The goal initially was to just give this idea a chance to grow and see where it went, to see where people were more receptive, where doors opened, and then go from there. Both of us have always been big believers in the idea that what’s meant to happen is going to happen, and that if you have an idea and you follow it, you can’t be too attached to the specific outcome. You have to allow things to breathe and develop on their own. That’s really what’s happening here.
In more concrete terms, the documentary and sharing the story of the project are short-term goals. There are a variety of different things that could happen next. Ideally, we want to find ways to segue into actually taking people out and physically teaching them skills, getting them out in that environment, in addition to just sharing the documentary at schools and hospitals.
We really want to reach folks who’ve been just diagnosed, because that’s the point at which you ask, “How am I going to deal with this?” Our goal is to just plant a seed: not to turn everyone into climbers, but to plant the seed of the idea that anything is possible. Climbing may be the vehicle to make that happen for some people. I am always trying to facilitate opportunities for people to climb, but really the goal is for people to look at this project and say, “Okay, if he could do that, then I could do ‘fill in the blank.’”
Nadia: How does a person get started with rock climbing?
Steve: Well, the trick is being realistic. You have to look at where you are, and then figure out the next step. The key is to not try to take something and swallow it all in one big bite, but to break it down into achievable steps, incrementally increasing the challenge. You have to work your way up and be patient, just like patience is a big part of managing diabetes.
One of the things that always spoke to me with climbing is that you can look at a rock and say “This is impossible for me at this point. There is physically no way that I can do this.” But then, through changing yourself, the impossible literally becomes possible. It really flips your perspective in terms of the way that you see yourself.
In the same way, I want to help change the way that people see themselves when they’re diagnosed with a condition like diabetes. Instead of seeing themselves as being victims or incapable, I want them to see themselves as being equally capable or even more capable. In some ways, we have an advantage because we have a higher awareness of what’s going on in our body, what we’re putting into our body. We’re forced to be accountable. If you embrace that accountability, there’s a lot of good that can come from it.
Nadia: Thank you, Steve. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
New and experienced rock climbers are invited to join Steve on his climbs. You can also follow him at www.livingvertical.org. Roche, the maker of Accu-Chek products, is supporting Steve’s mission through a fundraising partnership. For every “like” of Steve’s climbing video on Stevesmountain.com, Roche will donate $1 to Steve’s foundation, LivingVertical, to support his ongoing mission to inspire and empower others with diabetes.