This week, we caught up with April Welsh, JDRF x Medtronic ambassador for this year’s One Walk Step Challenge.
April was the first female to race in the Formula Vee class with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and is an all-round force to be reckoned with, especially where diabetes is concerned! She’s joined the Blue Army to help you stay motivated, raise awareness of T1D and support Aussie researchers who are working to defeat it forever.
Read on to learn more about:
- April’s life with T1D
- How she maintains her mental health and well-being
- The impact T1D tech has had on her life; and,
- Her top 3 pieces of advice for the T1D community
First of all, we’re so excited to have you on board for the One Walk Step Challenge! Why did you get involved as JDRF x Medtronic Ambassador this year?
Since being diagnosed with T1D at the age of 3, my family and I have participated in the walk almost every year.
Being involved this year as a JDRF x Medtronic Ambassador is an exciting opportunity! I am looking forward to virtually meeting and walking with thousands of other Australians who are affected by T1D and all walking for the same cause.
Since being diagnosed with T1D, you’ve gone on to achieve such incredible things across your racing, career and personal life. What would you say is your greatest achievement so far?
I truly believe that my life experience with T1D has influenced me to become the person I am today! I became a JDRF Youth Ambassador at a very young age and have learnt invaluable life skills such as public speaking and learning the power of sharing my story. Being selected as the Australian delegate to attend JDRF Children’s Congress in Washington DC, USA was a huge achievement and something I will always be incredibly proud of!
Starting a racing career as the only female with T1D in Formula Vee nationally is also an achievement I continue to work hard at. It takes a team of people to compete in motorsport and a team of people to manage diabetes. I've discovered many similarities between the two - analysing data, adjusting to achieve a better result and requiring support from the people around you. I am so lucky racing provides me an opportunity to connect with others living with T1D, raise awareness and educate.
In your chat with My Lazy Pancreas, you mentioned your life motto is?“control diabetes, don’t let diabetes control you”.?What coping strategies do you use when diabetes gets hard? How do you take care of your mental health?
One of the biggest things I’ve learnt while growing up with T1D is never be afraid to ask for help!
I have struggled with my mental health and diabetes burn out over the years and even went through a period of depression as a teenager. I was also diagnosed with Scoliosis at the age of 15, which required surgery. I struggled with the prospect of heading into years 11 and 12 with multiple chronic health conditions… while still trying to be a ’normal’ teenager.
Living with diabetes and other health issues has taught me how to be resilient and appreciate the wins, but one of the biggest things I do for my mental health is to be kind to myself. Not every day is going to be great but that’s okay. I’ve always had high expectations of myself and sometimes I must remind myself that just because I didn’t get it right, doesn’t mean I’ve failed! I sometimes find keeping notes in my phone and reflecting on my day is a good way to feel in control while acknowledging the positives. I often surprise myself with how much ‘good stuff’ I can be thankful for.
You’ve participated in many clinical trials – why do you think research is so vital for people living with T1D? What possibilities are you most excited about?
I’ve always been an enthusiastic participant in clinical trials! The opportunity doesn’t only allow you to review your diabetes management, control and overall health - it also provides you with a unique opportunity to make a difference. Without volunteers and participants, our ability to find a cure, explore new opportunities and ultimately become closer to a life without T1D would be impossible!
I have always been very interested in the possibilities of stem cell research and prevention! While not having T1D anymore would be literally life changing, I think our biggest challenge is how we prevent T1D for future generations.?
You were the youngest person in WA to start on insulin pump therapy. How has T1D tech impacted your life?
It has been remarkable to watch how quickly technology has advanced in my ‘short' lifetime with T1D. Within 20 years I went from multiple injections a day with different types of insulin, to an insulin pump and now CGM technology!
Starting on an insulin pump as a young child instantly changed my life. My mum often says that it brought my spark back. I had the energy again to play on the playground, enthusiasm about going to school and wasn’t becoming unwell as often.
In some respect, T1D tech inspired me to start racing. My dad was watching the US IndyCars and excitedly called me into the living room. We sat there watching Charlie Kimball roar around the race track while his CGM was sending data and a constant blood glucose reading to his pit crew - we were amazed! I knew that if I wanted to race, this was the sort of tech that would make it possible!
I currently use the Medtronic 670G insulin pump in Auto Mode. Auto Mode provides me with the complete confidence that I can go about my day or jump behind the wheel of my race car at speeds of over 200 kms, and know the tech will do the hard work of keeping my BGLs safe within algorithms in the pump. We are then able to analyse and review my blood glucose data before, during and after racing to identify trends, areas of improvement or to see how the game plan worked. Prior to this tech, I had no other option but to prick my finger sometimes as often as every 15 minutes on a race day, just to predict what my BGLs were going to do. Safe to say my fingers were sore before my hands had even touched the steering wheel.
What top 3 pieces of advice would you give to someone who is newly diagnosed with T1D?
- Surround yourself with a supportive network including your family, friends and credited diabetes team.
- Spend time researching the best diabetes management option for you in consultation with your treating team - diabetes isn’t a one size fits all and you can be involved in determining what works best.
- Never let diabetes control you, you control it!