Meet Maggie Crawford
Meet professional climber and spring catalog model Maggie Crawford. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 24 but that didn’t sideline her adventures. Read on to learn how she’s kept an active lifestyle thanks to her support system (and cute dog), and find out how she’s turned her experience into something truly positive by helping others.
You’re a speed mountaineer. Can you tell us what that is?
Speed mountaineering consists of climbing up big mountains as fast as you can. My favorite part about speed mountaineering is that there is no “right way up,” which transforms mountain climbing into a creative process. I get to choose what route I want to take, what type of gear I want to use to protect the route, and also what other mountains and ridges I want to link together. My favorite place to climb is in the Sierra Nevada, where there are beautiful granite ridges that stretch for thousands of vertical feet.
As if that isn’t challenging enough, you also have type 1 diabetes. How has your lifestyle changed since your diagnosis?
When I was diagnosed with diabetes I started eating a vegan diet. My lifestyle hasn’t changed much in the sense that I still plan my days around physical activity and what sort of adventure I can fit in. Since diabetes is a lifelong diagnosis, it did teach me a lot about commitment— I would say my main lifestyle change is that I feel more comfortable committing to my relationships and career than I did before.
When getting ready for a big adventure, do you prepare differently in order to consider your diabetes?
Absolutely! My insulin (the medication I must use to manage my blood sugar) is ruined when it gets too hot or too cold, so I am always coming up with solutions for keeping it cool when I am on hot weather adventures and how to keep it warm when I am playing in the snow. I also need to have sugar available in case my blood sugar goes low. This means that I have lots of delicious snacks around, and in surprising places. I keep carbohydrate gel packets in my wetsuit and dried mangoes in any pocket I can find. Also, diabetes has taught me that balance is very important to health. I used to seek out the longest, most brutal adventures I could find, but now I am more likely to go on epic day-long adventures where I can come home to food and sleep instead of disappearing into the mountains for days at a time.
Figuring out how to manage your diabetes and keep up your active lifestyle has been a years-long process. What are some of the positive milestones that stand out?
Leading up to my diabetes diagnosis, my body was falling apart because it couldn’t use any of the carbohydrates I was eating. My muscles started to disappear and I felt very sick. Once I was started managing diabetes, my muscles grew back and my body started to recover. At first, routes that I had previously climbed easily were impossible because I didn’t have the strength. That was frustrating, but a good lesson in patience, because my muscles did come back and I could once again climb beautiful routes.
I’ve picked up surfing since having diabetes— it has taught me to sense if my blood sugar is low or high without a glucose monitor, and to be confident in my diabetes management decisions since I can’t bring my medicine into the ocean with me.
Also, I have learned how powerful stress management is to both physical and mental health. Before my diagnosis, I rarely did yoga. Now, I consider yoga an essential part of my health management.
Give us the update on getting your PhD at UC San Diego to help other diabetics.
Exactly one year after my diagnosis, I started a PhD at UC San Diego in public health, with a focus on health behavior. I am now a doctoral candidate and have worked to focus my research on diabetes management. I did a separate Masters in Public Health along the way, which built my skills in population health and statistics. My goal is to use this education, paired with my intimate knowledge of diabetes management, to help other people with diabetes 🙂
Tell us more about training your pup to alert you when your blood sugar is high.
Exactly one month after my diagnosis, Timbo and I bought a puppy who we named Muir. I taught Muir to recognize the scent of my saliva when my blood sugar is high or low. Muir is the cutest glucose monitor around!
You’ve been with your now husband, Timbo Stillinger, since your diagnosis. Tell us a bit about how he’s been a source of support.
Timbo has been my main source of support in my diabetes management. He is incredibly positive and patient, which helps keep my diabetes in perspective. We have worked together to make pushing our athletic limits and adventuring in remote places safe and simple, even with diabetes on board. If I have a rough diabetes day, he talks about it as a ‘learning experience for next time,’ and then cracks a joke that gets me giggling.
Undiagnosed diabetes is what ultimately took you away from your record attempt to climb all of California’s 14ers in 5 days back in 2012. Any plans to try again now that you’re on top of your diabetes?
It was pretty hard for me to step away from the 14ers record since that is what I focused my energy on for multiple years. It is my favorite sport, in my favorite place, and I began to judge my personal successes based on that record. I have learned so much about health management since stepping away from the record, both from my personal exploits in diabetes management and from learning about cardiovascular health at UCSD. Five long mountaineering days in a row is destructive to my blood sugar, so I’ve started focusing on equally as cool and fun goals that are better for my overall health. In a way, stepping away from the record might have been a good thing— because I probably wouldn’t have let anything short of a major medial diagnosis take me away from that record!
You can find Maggie on Instagram and check out more pictures in our Spring 2018 Catalog.