Chris Jarvis is a former Olympic rower who has had type one diabetes since he was thirteen. He rowed for team Canada for eight years, competing in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008, and in 2007 he won a gold medal for Canada in the Pan American Games. Competitive rowing is a tough, demanding team sport, and diabetes can be a difficult disease to manage.
Today, Chris dedicates his time to helping young people who are dealing with diabetes, by going into schools to spread information about diabetes on his “Diabuddies” tour, and through a non-profit group he founded, called ICD. The letters stand for “I Challenge Diabetes”, and the goal is to help people take control of diabetes while challenging themselves physically.
Chris was invited by Jennifer and Kyle Palmer to speak at Harrowsmith Public School last week.
Their son Kieran, who is in Junior Kindergarten there, was diagnosed with type one diabetes when he was two years old. He’s one of two children at the school who are living with diabetes.
The whole school filed into the gym and settled on the floor, sounding like a convention of coyotes, suddenly quieting when Chris began to speak. He told of his sense of isolation as a child, not knowing how to explain his frequent need to test his blood sugar level, and the insulin pump he wore on his belt.
He talked about the coach who kicked him off the team when he learned Chris had diabetes, saying “I don’t want you; if there are complications, you could ruin it for everyone.” And of the friends and teammates who stuck up for him many times, and in that particular case, got the coach to change his mind.
Chris demonstrated how he tested his blood sugar level. He explained that with Diabetes 1, the pancreas, which normally regulates the level of sugar in the blood keeping it neither too high nor too low, has stopped functioning, so the individual must take over the job. This requires a careful balancing of food, exercise and insulin, the chemical usually provided by the pancreas, for without the right amount of sugar a person could grow dizzy and pass out.
Chris reassured the children that Diabetes 1 wasn’t a disease that a person could ‘catch’ from others, or by eating too much sugar: it happened when a person’s pancreas stopped working. He spoke of ways friends could help a person with diabetes through their understanding, support and willingness to go for help if needed. Throughout, he emphasized and demonstrated with his own life story, that a person can live with a disease and still be healthy. From the applause of the audience, it sounded like Chris encouraged a lot of ‘Diabuddies” at Harrowsmith Public.
(Note: for more accurate and detailed information about diabetes, go to the Diabetes Canada website)