T1D champions: Excelling at life

T1D Champions

To look at them, one would never guess that each has been waging a personal battle with type 1 diabetes (T1D) – a challenging condition that requires 24/7 management and at present does not have a cure. As they share their stories about their experiences throughout the years, a common sentiment emerges: Hope.

Introducing several of JDRF’s T1D champions… five accomplished Canadians who are testing the limits, breaking new ground and fulfilling goals – all while living with T1D.  Determined to succeed and dedicated to making a difference, they are an inspiration to others to live out your dreams and not let obstacles stand in the way.

George Canyon of Alberta

George has lived with T1D for 33 years. When he was diagnosed at the age of 14, Canyon, a young Air Cadet, was informed that he would have to forgo his ambitions and dreams to serve his country as a pilot in the Canadian Air Force. Today, as national spokesperson for JDRF, George inspires people with T1D to pursue their dreams, no matter what the odds.  George is a celebrated country music artist, a certified pilot and has completed seven and a half years of service as an honorary colonel in the Canadian Air Force. George has travelled the world working with children and their families living with T1D for over 15 years; in 2009, he took his plane across Canada, and organized talks and concerts to inspire youth living with T1D with his project The Sky’s Not the Limit. Last year, he partnered with JDRF for a two-year program for his The Sky’s Not the Limit tour with ongoing events taking place in airport hangars throughout the country. George also saw his biggest triumph in 2016 when – after years of phone calls, meetings and medical examinations – he was finally awarded his Category 3 Aviation Medical by Transport Canada, which allows qualifying pilots to attain a private pilot license. His motto: Control your disease and live your dreams. 

Samir Dattani of British ColumbiaSamir Dattani of British Columbia

Samir will never forget the help he received from his community and JDRF when he was diagnosed with T1D in 2011 at the age of eight. Now 14, he is not only an avid fundraiser, but also a youth ambassador for the organization.  A frequent JDRF spokesperson, Samir has twice served as a delegate at the Kids for the Cure Lobby Day in Ottawa where he met with members of parliament and the media to share the daily challenges of living with T1D. He also appeared on Breakfast Television, as well as on a promotional video to raise funds for JDRF. To date, Samir has raised $40,000 from his participation in the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes. An outgoing young man who enjoys participating in a variety of sports, he is a firm believer in owning the disease and enjoying life to the fullest.

Laurie Lépine of QuebecLaurie Lépine of Quebec

When 11-year-old Laurie was told she had T1D in 2013, she was forced to accept that her greatest fear – needles – would now become a part of her day-to-day reality. As the only student in her school with the condition, Laurie chose not to share her diagnosis with her friends at first because she was shy and didn’t think they would understand. However, her outlook changed after visiting a symposium in Montreal and speaking to representatives from JDRF. Laurie soon became a youth ambassador for the organization, attending galas and heading a team at the annual JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes. Today, the confident 16-year-old has raised over $5,500 for JDRF and has put out a YouTube video to help promote and raise funds for the JDRF Walk. Laurie’s motivation: Finding a cure and making a positive difference in the lives of people with T1D and their families in Canada, and around the world.

John Shelley of OntarioJohn Shelley of Ontario

John learned he had T1D in March 2017. Familiar with the condition given his family history (his father and younger sister have it), the 32-year-old was still shocked to hear it was T1D – something he had always believed was diagnosed in childhood. Shortly after his diagnosis, John decided to register as a solo competitor in Canada’s only open water stand-up paddleboard race to raise awareness and funds for JDRF.  Though well-versed in aquatic sports, stand-up paddleboard racing was new to John and he began working with Victoria Pieszczynski, a nutritional coach accomplished in preparing athletes with T1D for endurance events. Determined to be in top condition so he could give it his best effort, John not only successfully crossed Lake Ontario, but was also the first to reach the finish line. His ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ attitude saw him raise almost $11,000 for JDRF. 

Sarah Urban of OntarioSarah Urban of Ontario

Sarah’s journey with T1D has been an emotional rollercoaster. Diagnosed three years ago at the age of 19, she was floored by the news and found it very difficult to adjust to a new way of life filled with carb counting, glucose testing and rampant sentiments of anger and sadness. Yet thanks to a supportive family and good friends, Sarah got back on her feet and enrolled in the Studio Art program at McMaster University. She became more active and embarked on 50 km bike rides that left her feeling empowered. Sarah also participates in the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes each year to raise funds for research, while making videos for the organization to assist with its millennial outreach efforts. As a vlogger, Sarah discusses the many aspects of life with T1D by sharing her experiences and offering hope to others living with the condition. Grateful to be in Canada where health care coverage is available, Sarah advocates for all those people around the world who cannot afford the high costs of insulin, blood test strips and other medical supplies related to T1D.

JDRF salutes each and every one of its T1D champions from coast to coast, congratulates them on their personal victories and extends a warm thank you to all for helping us turn type one into type none.


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