This past week I have been on the road promoting LivingVertical and sharing about our upcoming LEAD initiative at JDRF Type One Nation events. Part of this process has involved distillation of the message of what we are doing and why–because I am going to be delivering keynote addresses in New England this weekend which center around the theme of empowerment–and as I have shared many times, I still struggle with concise messaging–because what we are doing doesn’t seem to easily “fit” anywhere. We aren’t a climbing camp nor are we professional athletes. Beyond those categories people start scratching their heads, and so we have to get a little more in depth to distill the mission.

I was asked at the JDRF DC Research summit after explaining about the Team LivingVertical expedition to climb in Wyoming this summer– “Well, have you ever thought about climbing Kilimanjaro for charity?” And while I thought about the reasons I had not, it occurred to me that what we are doing through the LEAD initiative places us in somewhat uncharted territory, as far as I can tell. It’s like climbing a first ascent–and still we may get 90% of the way through just to find out that it’s all been done before–and that’s ok too.

We aren’t climbing to raise funds for research. We aren’t climbing to promote a corporate sponsor. We aren’t trying to tag one of the seven summits that everyone will recognize. We also aren’t just climbing for our own entertainment. All of those are valid objectives, but they are not what we have chosen to do. So then what is left?

I’ll break it down. We are climbing to help people get access to basic diabetes supplies that have been brought about through all the research advances over the years. It’s important that new research is happening, and it’s wonderful that so many people and companies are supporting research but it’s also important that the benefit of that research is accessible to ALL people, not just a few. That’s why we hooked up with Insulin For Life. That’s all they do–supply clinics in the developing world with lifesaving medicine, and we can help them advance that mission!

The 2014 LEAD project is a grassroots initiative by climbers who have cobbled together enough savings and time off to get behind an expedition undertaken through minimalism. It’s real and its pure. Our allegiance is only to our message and mission. Don’t get me wrong, we’d love to have corporate partners who get on board and support what we are doing–but LivingVertical has always been about doing more with less, and it’s important to be able to be independent and stay true to the message.

What about climbing Mount Everest? Or Kilimanjaro (again)? Shouldn’t we climb more recognizable summits? This is something I have struggled with, because I want our projects to have maximum impact. On the other hand, what kind of message does it send if we take on projects that cost exorbitant amounts? Everest costs about 60,000 on average to climb and it’s been done. A lot. That’s not a bad thing–and I won’t say that its basically a “hike at altitude” or anything else to diminish the task. It was a huge privilege that I got to climb Kili this past fall, and I can tell you that altitude packs a punch, regardless how non-technical the terrain or how many climbers have come before you.

We have to be true to ourselves, and part of that is simple honesty about what appeals to us and what does not. All climbing involves risk and facing that risk requires conviction and inspiration. You can’t and shouldn’t climb any mountain because of what you worry other people might think.


That said, our goal is taking diabetes to places where it hasn’t been, to push into the unknown. If that means taking more time to explain our surroundings because they aren’t immediately recognizable, that’s a good thing. That’s kind of the point!

We are climbing according to our own standards but not just for our own entertainment. This may be hard to truly gather from a blog post, but as with Project365, there are many many logistical challenges associated with trying to capture and share this experience that dramatically skew the “fun factor” away from the climbing vacation you may be envisioning when we say “One month unsupported in the Wyoming backcountry putting up first ascents“.

As we move forward, there may be a lot more conversations explaining what we are doing and why. Challenges from those who feel our time, money and impact could be better spent elsewhere. I welcome those kind of exchanges. We are trying to start conversations about advocacy, empowerment and getting out of comfort zones. Breaking out of the normal expected roles that people with diabetes fulfill. Unconventional routes to advocacy have the greatest potential to reach outside the circle of those who already are informed.


There is risk in climbing, in diabetes…in life. It only stands to reason that there is risk in the process of creating a change. Now my hand is almost healed so I am ready to tie back in to the rope and start writing the message of diabetes empowerment in stone again. We have much to do and very little time.