Erin Stapley has dreamed of becoming a professional dancer ever since age 10 when she auditioned for and made the Anchorage Ballet Company in Alaska.
Though the 14-year-old was stunned by last year’s discovery she has type 1 diabetes; Stapley refuses to let the disease interfere with her dreams. She continues to train up to five hours a day, six days a week, besides maintaining a normal class schedule at West Anchorage High School, where she’s a freshman.
If anything, Stapley says, the discovery has sharpened her focus on the future, because now in addition to dancing, she plans to get involved in diabetes education.
Stapley was diagnosed shortly after returning from ballet camp last summer. At first, she attributed her excessive thirst to the summer heat and the strenuous training program she’d recently been through. But when she experienced a tingling sensation in the back of her throat while eating breakfast one morning, her mother took her to a doctor to check things out.
When Stapley’s blood was drawn to check for allergies, she learned her glucose level was a startling 852. She was ordered to report to the hospital.
“I was just shocked,” she said. “You always think this is the kind of thing that happens to other people.”
When the doctor left the room, Stapley immediately looked at her mom. “Does this mean I have to stop dancing?” she asked.
But when the doctor returned, he assured her that wouldn’t be necessary.
Stapley has no idea how she developed diabetes. She has no family history. But she didn’t waste time bemoaning her fate, choosing instead to accept it and start educating herself on how she could adapt.
Her family and friends are supportive. She shares strategies with a couple of other girls she knows who’ve been diagnosed, one at her school and another friend who moved away but still keeps in touch. The tight-knit group of dance buddies who’ve been traveling with her to San Francisco the last few years to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix competition remind her to check her blood sugar and try to avoid tempting her to eat things she shouldn’t.
As a dancer, Stapley has always paid more attention to her diet than the average teenager. She was careful to make sure she “got enough of the good stuff, like protein, fruit, and veggies,” but didn’t worry too much about sugar “because I could always burn it off” with all that dancing. Now she has to be more careful.
At first, Stapley was concerned about how she could wear an insulin pump with her dance outfit, but that hasn’t been a problem. She wears an Omnipod, which is both wireless and tubeless. The pod can be worn up to three days without being changed. “I love it,” she said. “It’s really nice because I don’t even notice it when I’m dancing.”
At this point in her career, Stapley is preparing to audition for summer programs and investigating boarding schools for dancers. She’s particularly interested in the American Ballet Theatre and a program in Russia. In fact, she’s been learning to speak Russian in a class at her school.
Wherever Stapley’s dance career takes her, someday she wants to get a job working with other people who have diabetes. “I wouldn’t mind working for Omnipod, or maybe becoming a nurse who could help people,” she said. Whatever path that leads her down, she wants to show others what she’s already learned: diabetes doesn’t have to slow you down.