The American Diabetes Association® is proud to offer its camps as a way for children living with diabetes to just be kids and enjoy traditional summer camp activities—all while learning important self-management skills from trained medical professionals and gaining self-confidence by spending time with peers who also live with diabetes.
This story comes from Jessi Thaller-Moran, a 19-year veteran of our Diabetes Camp program. Read on—then find out how to become a Camp Champion.
I attended Camp Carolina Trails (C.C.T.) for the first time in 1997, at the age of 9—three years after I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Like many of our campers, C.C.T. marked a milestone for me: It was my first week away from my family, and my first time in a community where it wasn’t “weird” that I had to take injections or eat snacks at certain times.
I don’t remember much about that week other than learning how to walk to the shower in flip flops, but by the following Saturday, I was hooked! I proudly introduced my parents to the camp’s motto (P.M.A., or “Positive Mental Attitude”), eloquently explaining that it was “a pretty big deal.”
It turned out that P.M.A., and the Diabetes Camp community, would play an even larger role in my life than I expected. My two younger siblings, Daniel and Cameron, also were diagnosed with type 1 at a young age. More recently, my cousin, Kyle, started attending C.C.T. after being diagnosed with type 1 last year. To top it all off, my wonderful mom, Julie, ended up losing her battle with a brain tumor in August 1998, just a year after my first trip to camp.
In the midst of those challenging life changes, though, the three of us kids always looked forward to camp. It was a constant in our rapidly changing lives, a week with our “diabetes family,” and probably the only time our dad slept. It gave us a week to just be kids.
That community remained an invaluable part of my life as I grew older. When I spent the summer in a Washington, D.C., “bedroom” made from a curtain strung across half of a living room, three camp friends drove all the way from North Carolina to visit me for one unforgettable trip. Two of my three bridesmaids had type 1. The surprise flash mob (!) at my wedding, which featured several camp friends, used choreography from a 1999 camp talent show act set to a Backstreet Boys song.
And perhaps the best proof of camp’s influence on my life: This June, I returned for my 19th year at C.C.T.! (These days, I’m a counselor.)
I take so much pride in the atmosphere that we foster for our campers—we show our campers the value of P.M.A. in life, in diabetes care and in personal relationships. We conquer the high ropes, summit mountains and play camp games. We share personal stories and aspirations, often in the same breath that we “talk shop” about our favorite way to adjust insulin before exercise, or the latest pump skins. Diabetes is an important part of our lives, but it does not define us.
As a now-veteran counselor, one of my favorite parts of camp is seeing the growth in campers from Sunday to Saturday, and then from year to year—campers who come with concerns about injections, but by the end of the week are interested in an insulin pump; campers who arrive homesick, but hide from their parents when it’s time to go home; campers who begin as strangers and go on to become college roommates.
Diabetes brings us together, but there is so much more to this community that makes it special.
Want to get involved with Diabetes Camps? Become a Camp Champion! By donating to the Association’s Diabetes Camps, you’ll help Team Tackle—an initiative uniting current, former and upcoming players from all 32 professional football teams—provide life-changing experiences for children with diabetes. Learn more at diabetes.org/campchampion.