In May 2006, Will Cross became the first American with Type 1 diabetes to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on earth. This alone is an amazing feat, but for Cross it was the capstone of a much greater achievement: successfully summiting Everest made him the first diabetic in the world, and the first American ever, to have climbed the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents and walked to both the North and South Poles. Cross's multi-year campaign of scaling these peaks and trekking to the farthest corners of the globe was sponsored by Novo Nordisk (producer of Novolog insulin), thus the combination of all these adventures is called the Novolog Peaks and Poles Challenge.
During the Peaks and Poles Challenge, Cross encountered some of the most dangerous and inhospitable environments known to man, and his diabetes was another risky factor. Balancing insulin, food and exercise can be difficult for most of us in the comfort of our own homes. Maintaining that delicate balance amidst sub-zero temperatures and high winds while expending tremendous amounts of energy and dealing with oxygen deprivation - well, that takes diabetes management to a whole other level! We may have already heard about doing blood sugar checks and administering insulin at the top of the world (see my post from last year about Sebastien Sasseville, the first Canadian with diabetes to summit Everest), but that didn't stop me from asking Cross about it in detail, among many other things! What I found is that the logistics of being an explorer with diabetes are interesting, sure, but the heart of this story lies in Cross's mentality and motivation - the why, not the how. Cross's story should resonate with all of us - it's about going after what you want.
At the age of 9, Cross found out he had diabetes. He also found out that his dream of becoming a military pilot like his father was no longer possible. This was devastating, but it has since become the only instance in which diabetes kept Cross away from something. He swam competitively throughout high school and college - notable because even today, some young adults with Type 1 are discouraged from competing in sports.
Cross grew up in England. At age 17, he found out about "Operation Raleigh" (named for Sir Walter Raleigh) - a three month excursion for teenagers that would involve science, service, and adventure. Some would call this the opportunity of a lifetime.
Cross says that "[With Operation Raleigh] I had the opportunity to go to Patagonia, and when I got the expedition application, I was a junior in high school, and I already knew by then that I wanted to take a year off after high school, and the application said that ‘if you have epilepsy or diabetes, we cannot even consider you for the expedition because of its rigorous nature.' As a competitive athlete, I was infuriated. The only other time I had ever run into a problem was when I went to get my driver's license and I couldn't get it [at first] because I didn't have a doctor's note."