Hello again and thanks for taking the time to read my words here about life with Type1 Diabetes. This month I wanted to write about some of the things that annoy, frustrate me in life:
-Lines at the post office
-People putting their seat backs on short flights
-Cost of Fuel
-My washing machine that feel’s like it is going to shake the walls down in my house
-Changing Prime Ministers
-A day of erratic blood sugars
These and of course many other things can make an otherwise smooth day seem like an absolute pain in the backside. Especially if I let the associated feelings infiltrate me. One of the things I tried very hard to learn as an athlete and that I try to teach the athletes I now coach is the notion of being ‘like Porcelain’. Being stronger than your problems, not letting any trivial issues/ criticisms infiltrate your being and distract you from your focus. However, I had an experience this past month that put a lot of these worries/ annoyances into perspective.
This past week I travelled to a country called Timor Leste. Timor
Leste or East Timor is one of the newest nations in the world, first
proclaimed as it’s own country by the UN in 2002 it sits between
Darwin in Australia and Indonesia part of the larger island of Timor
which is part of Indonesia. Timor Leste was a colony of Portugal until
1975 when the Portuguese government decided to withdraw their
occupation of the region, shortly thereafter the Indonesian government
took over the resource rich part of the island and ruled over a
population that never considered itself to be Indonesian with an iron
fist. 98% of modern day Timor Leste population classify themselves as
Roman Catholic making it one of the most religious nations in the
world and well at odds with the predominantly Muslim Indonesian
nation. Tensions came to ahead between the local population and the
Indonesian government in the late 1990’s when those in east Timor held
a vote on wether to become independent from Indonesia. The vote
resulted in a resounded YES to Independence. Indonesia did not take
lightly to this act of rebellion and retreated from the area with a
‘scorched earth’ policy destroying nearly all the infrastructure in
the small region and murdering thousands in the process. During the
retreat of Indonesia and the ensuing tensions between numerous rebel
groups within East Timor 200 000 people were murdered. The UN led by
an Australian military mission took control in attempt to establish
peace and a new nation.
I was visiting Timor Leste now nearly 20 years after the destructive war to compete in the country’s largest sporting event the ‘Tour de Timor’ mountain bike race. This has been operating since 2009 initially as an initiative of the country’s first president Jose Ramos Horta to promote peace and friendship in the country. This year was the 10th anniversary and many agree the race has been a great attribute to maintaining peace in this small but spectacular nation. we raced for 5 days across the enormous mountain ranges that dominate the nation. The mountains here rise to 3000m, subsequently as you can imagine the race is very difficult.
Although on a positive trajectory of development now the years of troubles here have left Timor
Leste as one of the poorest countries in the world. Sixty percent of the population live on less than US$1.75/ day. As a comparatively wealthy Australian on a bicycle worth close to $10 000 seeing the living conditions here is a real eye opener. Of course as someone with type1 diabetes I also had to bring with me all the supplies I use everyday to keep myself alive namely Insulin and BSL testing machinery. I had to let the race organisation know of my condition and the extra attention I may require whilst participating in one of the most difficult bike races in the world in one of the hottest countries in the world. The race medics had never dealt with T1 diabetes in the Tour de Timor before and their number 1 concern was being able to keep the Insulin cool as temperatures on the race courses and in the campsites had in the past exceeded 50 degrees celcius for hours upon end. Refrigeration is a very rare commodity in Timor Leste and very costly. I had to take matters into my own hand I found an insulated capsule that I knew could sustain a cool temperature for at least a few days. I then negotiated with the medics who were able to have this capsule passed from esky to esky as the race progressed. In the end I survived and did not cook any of my insulin pen
However, the reality was and is that living with T1 diabetes in
Timor Leste is very, very, very difficult at least I would say close
to impossible. I could not find any data on T1 diabetes in Timor Leste
through scouring the internet, I suspect reaching an opportunity to be
diagnosed would be highly unlikely for the bulk of the population here
whom mainly live in remote small villages that are cut off from a lot
of infrastructure and transport. This is not an issue unique to Timor
Leste and something I have seen/ experienced in other parts of the
world such as central Africa also. I am sure there are some very
intelligent people working on it but this race got me thinking. Where
are we at with research into ‘heat resistant insulin’? This would be
such a game changer for millions in the developing world with T1
diabetes. We are seeing soo much development in the first world into
CGM’s, closed loop technologies which is FANTASTIC and is helping so
many lives for the better. I just wonder and I hope that heat
resistant insulin is also on the radar of the people much smarter than
I working on diabetes treatment development.
Despite all the apparent challenges on life in Timor Leste one thing that has stuck with me is the overt displays of joy and happiness of the people here. In the race there was over 70 competitors who were local athletes these guys and girls rode rudimentary bikes supplied by the government. There were over 60 of us Westerner athletes who would wake up each morning moaning and groaning about the difficulty of the race. The Timorese riders would wake up each morning singing and laughing.. As we rode through the villages locals would be singing magical songs, smiles from ear to ear, clapping and chanting to us passing by in the race. Each store I visited I was greeted with an enormous smile and gratitude. There is constant noise in Timor Leste, noise of happiness. Music, laughing, car horns, talking. The locals here are not stressing about traffic on the Sydney harbour bridge or about their washing machines or bank accounts. The thing that means the most to them seems to be FREEDOM and they have that now, it is written all over the country on buses, walls, cars ‘Liberado’. It goes to show that stresses I often experience in the first world sometimes need a good dose of perspective to keep their ramifications in check. When compared to people whom had lost their entire family through war and now do not have access to refrigeration, does the 30minute delay on the motorway really need to upset me? No. And the fact that I can access and store more insulin than I need in my own home. I am actually one of the luckiest people on earth and I need not let trivial issues infiltrate my happiness about being alive and being free!
After receiving a diagnosis of type1 diabetes at age ten, Justin’s dreams and goals in life were threatened. Turning to cycling to help him cope with type1 diabetes quickly proved to not only be beneficial but also the start to a successful pro cycling career. Justin spent five years as a professional in road cycling travelling the world racing his bike. Dealing with the challenges of sport and diabetes across five different continents has given Justin a wealth of stories and knowledge about dealing with challenges on and off the bike.
Having since transitioned from a pro cycling career to completing two university degrees in psychology and education from Macquarie University in 2015 and being awarded with a University Blues Award for excellence in sport and academics. Justin continues to fuel his competitive streak with multi day mountain bike racing for team SubarumarathonMTB.com, having achieved podium finishes at The Crocodile Trophy, The Simpson Desert BikeChallenge, The Pioneer in New Zealand and The Mongolia Bike Challenge.
Since 2011 Justin has complemented his cycling career with sharing a message of hope, empowerment and overcoming adversity to audiences internationally.