Room full of icons.


I was fortunate enough to attend the Diabetes Advocates MasterLab in Orlando last week. I was there thanks to a scholarship provided by Diabetes Hands Foundation. My thanks to everyone who made this event possible, and made it possible for me to attend.
This is about the experience. Showing up at an event like MasterLab, taking place in the middle of the Children With Diabetes Friends For Life conference, means a lot of potential D-celebrity sightings. At the same time, I’m there for a reason, and it isn’t to be a fanboy (I really hate that term, but it’s quite descriptive in this case).

Knowing I was going to see some amazing writers and diabetes advocates that I had admired from afar but hadn’t met yet definitely had me pumped up as I made my way to Orlando. I can’t say I felt intimidated. I’ve been in rooms with important people plenty of times. I just try to be as nice, as polite, and as kind as I can, and you’re either going to talk to me or you’re not. No big deal. My worry is always that I’m going to meet someone who thinks I’m annoying, or that I’m keeping them from something they feel is really important. If I did that to you last Wednesday, I’m sorry. That was not my intent.

The real truth is that for me, attending MasterLab was an emotional experience. On a number of levels. Including and especially on the personal level. So please allow me a moment to get all fanboy link-a-palooza on you. I may not cover everyone I encountered here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value you… it only means my memory sucks.
Before I came down to Orlando, I knew that Manny Hernandez was a big deal. It wasn’t until I actually met him that I realized the magnitude of his personality. We’ve got a good person helping to lead the charge.

I did meet two people I hadn’t heard of before Wednesday. These two people sat at my table. This is the only photo I got of any of the special people I met during MasterLab.

Mike Ratrie is a media publisher by trade. He’s also been a Type 1 for forty years or so. He’s smart and quick-witted and fun to talk to. During one of the breaks, we went across the hall and gave blood for celiac screening and other testing that the TrialNet folks were doing. Sia Figiel is originally from Samoa. She’s living with diabetes, and she’s lost over 100 pounds in the past year. Lately, she’s been participating in a CNN-sponsored project called Fit Nation. She’s one of six people chosen by Dr. Sanjay Gupta to train for a triathlon in September. Each participant is dealing with a serious health condition. Sia’s story is amazing, full of bravery and resilience. She sounds like she’s doing great. Here’s a video of her and the other Fit Nation participants from back in February (Sia appears near the end– sorry, I couldn’t get it without the ad at the beginning).

Christel Marchand Aprigliano reminds me of my mother-in-law (some fanboy comment, eh?). Really, I mean that in a good way. My mother-in-law was a good and kind soul who was always glad to see you, and always made you feel like the most important person in the room. Everything good about Tish is everything I learn from and admire about Christel.

Another writer I enjoy reading is Sue from Diabetes Ramblings, who’s living with Type 2. I was really happy to meet her since she was the one who wrote me nominating the daughter of a friend for one of our Champion Athlete With Diabetes medals. I don’t think I saw her not smiling whenever I saw her. Something like this has that kind of effect on you.

Another Type 2 present was Kate Cornell, from Sweet Success. As we speak, Kate is collaborating with Laddie Lindahl at Test, Guess, and Go on a series of Type 1/Type 2 conversations that are already leaving me on the edge of my seat. I think this event really got Kate’s advocacy mojo going. It will be interesting to see where it takes her.

When I was getting set up in the meeting space that day, I was looking for a wi-fi password so I could do some live tweeting from the event. The people at the next table appeared to have everything up and running, so I decided to ask one of them if they had a password. I tapped on the shoulder of the person with their back to me, and Meri Schumacher turned around. Umm…. Hello Icon. I don’t generally read blogs written by parents of children with diabetes, but Our Diabetic Life is something I read often. Simply put: Sometimes the written word moves you, even if you don’t have kids.

Speaking of awesome D-parents, Tim Brand came up and introduced himself, and unfortunately for me, I didn’t spend enough time talking to him. I always like to hear how people got to where they are at a gathering like this, and I would have liked to hear Tim’s story. Next time I hope. In the meantime, I’ll keep following his tweets and reading his excellent blog posts as he continues to advocate for the two of his four children who are living with diabetes.

When I found out Alanna Swartz was there, I knew I had another person to add to my must-meet list. Alanna is making a career out of outreach and advocacy for people like her and me by serving as outreach manager for JDRF Nova Scotia. Her blog is like many others… when you read her story, you sit up and say “me too!”. I look forward to reading about her for a long time to come.

It was a very nice surprise when I met Briley Boisvert. When I was her age, I thought I was so smart and creative. But Briley is so much smarter and more creative than I could have dreamed about then. I’m kinda jealous, to be honest. That phrase “I wish I knew then what I know now”? That’s what I think of when I read her blog.

And Jess from Me and D said hello! I think she’s got one of the biggest smiles I’ve seen in a long time. If you want to read what it’s like to really live on the diabetes front lines, you should visit her on the web. She tells it honest and with feeling.

Like everyone else, I enjoy reading Heather Gabel’s blog entitled Unexpected Blues. To my chagrin, I was only able to say a brief hello. Maybe my biggest regret of the day was not getting five minutes to sit down and listen to the voice that puts all those great words on my screen.

I was negligent last August when I attended the DSMA meetup in Philadelphia. I knew Sara Nicastro was in the room, but I didn’t say hello. I’m glad I was able to right the wrong this time. I’m also glad that Sara is so patient with me, because it seems like every time I’m involved in a project with her, I always screw up something. Hopefully, I’ll get the June Best ‘Betes Blogs post right the first time.

One of the people I really wanted to meet that day was Kim Vlasnik, writer of the first diabetes blog I found online. When I found it about three years ago, I was in a deep, very not happy place. It was really important for me to tell her how much it meant to me that I found her blog, what it touched off, and that who I am today is a direct result of finding her online back then. That was an emotional moment for me, though I think I hid it well. Oh, and later in the day, I was able to duck into the exhibit hall and see the You Can Do This Project booth. Another emotional moment for me. And I picked this up:
I ain’t takin’ it off either.
There were also many whom I had met before and were thrilled to see again in this space. People like Karen and Cherise and Kelly and Scott and Kerri and Christopher always light up every room that they enter.

What’s really nice (and yes, I get emotional about this) is the feeling of acceptance I felt that day. With acceptance, I don’t have to have my guard up all the time. I could physically feel the stress going away as the day went on.

So thanks for letting me get all this out. I’m lucky, and grateful that my D-associates are a brilliant, diverse, and accepting crowd. They make me want to be just like them.

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  • Sue  On July 9, 2014 at 10:34 am

    It was great to meet you, too! I’m sad I didn’t get a picture with you. What an amazing experience!


  • Shannon  On July 9, 2014 at 10:35 am

    GREAT post, Stephen! And I totally get it – that’s how I felt when I met you and some of the others in DC last year at the CWD Focus on Tech conference…. It’s hard to explain how it feels to be in a place where you FIT IN…. I’m so glad you were at MY table with Karen and Kerri and Scott and Chris that weekend…. And I hope more than anything that I can finally make it to a CWD in Orlando next year!


  • Meri  On July 9, 2014 at 10:46 am

    It was so wonderful to meet you, Stephen!!


  • Kim  On July 9, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Meeting you in person was one of the highlights of that day, Stephen! Also, I owe you an email. 🙂


  • Alanna  On July 10, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Thank you for your kind words. I always know you’re going to be there and reach out if I or anyone needs it. It was lovely to chat with you!


  • Karen  On July 17, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    I felt so lucky to get to see you again!! I’m so glad we got to spend some time chatting over dinner, and I’m extra glad Pete got to meet you.


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