Jen Hanson is Living Life to its Fullest
Despite being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) in November 1983 at the age of three, Jen Hanson’s family didn’t change their way of life. They camped, engaged in various sports and enjoyed outdoor adventures at the cottage. If they were worried, Jen never noticed. Jen’s love for adventure and the great outdoors was fostered as a child.
Her affection for outdoor activities was further nurtured when she began attending Camp Huronda when she was eight years old. Jen was not scared; in fact she cried when she got picked up because she didn’t want to leave. At camp she felt like she belonged––sometimes she even forgot she had diabetes. The camp included overnights, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, sports, singing, crafts, swimming lessons and high ropes climbing. This is also where Jen made her first and best friendships. Jen spent eight summers as a camper; and ten years on staff as a counsellor in training and counsellor, and area specialist and eventually program director.
We recently caught up with Jen at one of JDRF’s Diabetes Research Infosiums where she was a motivational speaker to ask her a few questions.
Q. What qualities did you learn at Camp Huronda? How would you describe yourself now?
A. Without a doubt, attending summer camp helped me develop into the person I am today. There are so many characteristics that were fostered in the camp environment––independence, respect, ownership of my diabetes. It was a place where I realized a sense of normalcy and belonging. I felt support and learned to give it. I realized the importance of my peers and the diabetes community. The experiences I had at camp have been so important in my life journey. When people ask me what I do, it’s a hard question to answer. I describe myself as a teacher, outdoor educator, guide, director, kinesiologist, volunteer, advocate, and musician. So many of the qualities that play important roles in my life were first developed at camp.
Q. You spend a lot of time traveling and enjoying outdoor activities. Is it through your experiences at camp that make you feel safe in these situations?
A. There are several things that both help me feel safe and help me realize there are very few true limits to living life with diabetes. New diabetes and fitness technology has made me feel safer during outdoor adventure - paddling, hiking, and biking. I trust myself and my decisions more because of the information in my hands. The incredible support of the active diabetes community - something that I first experienced at camp - definitely plays a part. The community supports me and pushes me to do more. When I left Camp Huronda, I was so scared that the community that had supported me through my childhood and young adult years would disappear. Nothing like the camp community existed for people with diabetes who were too old for camp. Luckily, only a matter of months after leaving the camp community, Connected in Motion was founded - filling the very gap I needed filled to allow me to continue to push myself, grow, and adventure.
Q. What is Connected in Motion?
A. Connected in Motion or CIM is an active community of young adults and adults who live or want to live life with diabetes, without limits. CIM uses outdoor adventure and physical activity as a forum for experiential diabetes education. Connected in Motion’s Slipstream Weekends are a chance to connect (or re-connect) with like-minded members of the active diabetes community, to share tips and tricks, and to learn from one another’s experiences. The weekend integrates outdoor adventure activities with experiential learning workshops, and aims to provide opportunities for each person to step to the edge of their comfort zone in terms of diabetes management, physical activity, and outdoor adventure.
Q. Tells us about some of the outdoor adventures you have taken part in through CIM; and how they have helped shape who you are today.
A. Some of my outdoor adventures have included skiing, snowboarding, adventure races, running, rock climbing, paddling, and backpacking to mention a few. Some seemed insurmountable at the outset, but I succeeded because I took the challenges with others and we support each other. I test my blood more with this group of people than ever before – diabetes just seems easier when surround by other Type 1s. All situations had people there who could offer words of advice, support, help trouble shoot and understand.
Q. In your words, how would you say you became who you are today and what lessons would you share with others living with T1D?
A. I got here by: maintaining community, owning my diabetes management, believing in myself and by getting involved with the diabetes community. The five lessons I would share are:
- Search out community. Surround yourself with people who will support you the entire way.
- Own your diabetes
- Celebrate your successes; and learn from your challenges
- Take advantage of technology
- Bring it on. Challenge yourself.
Jen is a Registered Kinesiologist and an Ontario Certified Teacher. She has a Master of Education degree, focused on experiential diabetes education, from Brock University. She is a trained and certified Wilderness Guide, a Lifeguard, and has specific training in outdoor education, special education, and integrated learning. Jen currently works as the Executive Director of Connected in Motion and as an Outdoor Educator with ALIVE Outdoors. Jen is also a faculty member with the International Diabetes Federation’s Young Leaders in Diabetes Programme. Thank you Jen for sharing your story, and experiences with us!