Jan 14, 2022

Navigating the rough waters of Type 1 diabetes together

You don’t have to know Chris Jarvis for long before understanding that he’s always up for a challenge—and never backs down from one. So it’s fitting that when the Olympic rower started an...

You don’t have to know Chris Jarvis for long before understanding that he’s always up for a challenge—and never backs down from one.

So it’s fitting that when the Olympic rower started an organization for people with Type 1 Diabetes, he called it “I Challenge Diabetes.”

Formed as a grassroots program by Jarvis in 2007, and later founded as a charitable organization, I Challenge Diabetes (ICD) offers many types of programs and events that focus on experiential learning and skill-building for people of all ages with Type 1 Diabetes—through adventures, activities, practical education, workshops, meaningful support—and challenges.

Jarvis feels there is a gap in the system that leaves young people especially overburdened and in need of help. That’s where ICD comes in, as well as key sponsors like Medtronic, who support the work they do.

“So many teens are just frustrated with living with a chronic illness every day,” Jarvis said. “That can really deter their motivation to keep up the daily efforts. We offer an opportunity for people to connect with others who know how hard diabetes can be,” he said, adding that while they work with all ages, one area of focus and growth is teen programming.

Jarvis can relate to the challenges ICD participants face. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1994 when he was 14. When in high school, he played sports and started rowing. He found some support among peers and coaches, but still struggled with the daily challenges of the disease.

A few years later, at Northeastern University in Boston, a coach told him he'd never row on the varsity crew because of his diabetes. Not only did Jarvis prove him wrong, but he was also voted team captain his senior year. At one point, he was told to restrict his daily activity to a half-hour step class. That didn’t last, and soon a determined Jarvis was doing 18 practices a week and 60+ km a day.

Diabetes continued to serve as an extra challenge to his athletic career—mentally, physically and financially. But he continued to train, gaining acclaim and winning international competitions. In 2004, he competed on Team Canada at the Athens Olympics.

Later in 2004, an opportunity arose when Jarvis was invited to go to a national conference on diabetes and was introduced to an insulin pump from Medtronic.

“I'd never heard of an insulin pump before and it was a really big eye-opener for me,” he said. “I'd always been reactive in managing my diabetes. So if my blood sugar went low or high, I would correct it, but I was never trying to come up with a strategy. And that's what insulin pump therapy with Medtronic really gave me—the ability to plan in advance.”

Soon that pump was connected to a sensor, and Jarvis was one of the first in the world to be prescribed the insulin pump and CGM system.

In 2007, the same year he won a gold medal at the Pan-Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, Jarvis launched I Challenge Diabetes. In 2011, he and Imran Nathani applied for non-profit status and began to expand the range and reach of the programs. In 2015, it gained official status as a charitable organization, and also added an empowerment fund that offers financial help to those in need.

Since 2011, ICD has run over 740 events, served 127 unique Canadian cities and hosted more than 60,000 program participants.

“It’s been wonderful to see the programs grow,” said Jarvis. “I know how critical the support was for me to try to figure out how to manage diabetes. There are so many others who need that support, too, and to see people become stronger and more confident is amazing.”

Along the way, said Jarvis, “Medtronic has been an anchor, supporting programs across the country and allowing us to grow.”

Learn more at medtronicdiabetes.ca and ichallengediabetes.org.