Diabetes can’t chill an adventurous Will
Will Cross wants the world to know that diabetes doesn’t have to mean disability. To prove that, Cross, who was diagnosed 25 years ago at age 9 with type 1 diabetes, is getting ready to trek across the Antarctic to the South Pole. The expedition will set out in November, with a goal of reaching the pole by New Year’s Day.
Last year, Cross went to the North Pole. He also has climbed several mountains, including Alaska’s Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America, and taken part in expeditions to the Sahara, Patagonia and India’s Thar Desert.
On his latest mission, the “Ultimate Walk to Cure Diabetes,” his aim is to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s efforts to find a cure and to show others, especially children, that there is no reason diabetes should keep them on the sidelines.
“I hope to inspire younger kids and their families who are wondering whether their kid can participate in school activities and sports,” Cross says. “I played sports all through school, but people are very hesitant to include the diabetic, because what if your blood sugar suddenly goes low? What if you need medication? I was always striving for independence. If you don’t, you don’t get to participate.”
Type 1 diabetes, which affects 8% to 15% of the 30 million diabetics in the USA, results from destruction of insulin-producing cells in the body. It usually is diagnosed by early adulthood and requires daily insulin and careful monitoring of levels of blood glucose, or sugar.
Cross, who wears an insulin pump that delivers a constant supply of the hormone to his body, says he has never let his illness stand in the way of his explorations. Now 34 and the father of four, his life is a series of adventures, from his day job as principal of the Alternative School in Pittsburgh, where he works with students with behavior problems, to his expeditions in hostile climates.
Diabetes is a disease that requires patients to “be fit and eat well if you’re going to live long,” he says. “It becomes a lesson in how to manage what you eat, to test your blood, exercise for at least an hour, four or five days a week.” How well that is accomplished, especially early on, is critical, he says. “Research shows the better you manage during your first year of diagnosis, the better off you are, long range.”
On his treks, he works with the University of Pittsburgh on studies of diabetic metabolism and how a diabetic might react to a 7,000-calorie-a-day diet and 12 hours of exercise pulling a 200- pound sled. “That’s exercise and eating in the extreme, but it’s relevant to the newly diagnosed diabetic, because it gives a brutal understanding of how the body will manage under those conditions,” he says.
“If you can manage under this environment, you certainly can in high school or at work.”