Camp Connection

By Lauren Linklater

Linklater has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1999. She has been involved with the Diabetes Canada D-Camps program for over 12 years, currently in the role of Manager of Camps & Youth Programs with the D-Camps team. She has been an active member of the diabetes community through various groups and projects over the years, providing opportunities to engage youth in meaningful opportunities to develop self-advocacy tools while having some fun. Outside of the diabetes world, Lauren loves spending time with her dog, baking gluten free treats, and spending time in the outdoors.

The 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin has inspired me to reflect on the significance of this Canadian discovery and the direct impact it has had on not only saving but shaping my life story. When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of five, I could not have anticipated the instrumental and positive impact diabetes would have on my life. With no family history, no specific cause, and diminishing hope, my family had to pivot quickly in the search of resources. I was fortunate to start attending Camp Huronda, a camp owned and operated by Diabetes Canada for children and youth with type 1 diabetes, located in Huntsville, Ontario, at age eight. Prior to this I only knew a few young people in my community with type 1, but no one my age or anyone I truly connected with. That quickly changed one sunny July day in 2000. 

I learned a lot of things over my years of attending camp. Most importantly, I learned the true meaning of empathy, friendship, advocacy, and community. Growing up in a small town I was lucky to have a support system of understanding friends and peers. I knew they were always in my corner to grab a juice box with me to treat a low blood sugar or understand that plans may need to change to accommodate how I was feeling, like coming off a night of no sleep because of managing tricky blood sugars through the night. For that, I’m forever grateful. Being surrounded by an entire camp community of people who truly “get it” and understand the highs and lows of diabetes was lifechanging. Not having to explain anything, knowing I wouldn’t be looked at differently for having to sit on the sidelines to treat a low blood sugar, or recognizing that I could do anything my peers could – maybe with just a bit more planning – empowered me to shift my perspective of living with type 1 diabetes. 

Fast forward eight years and I obtained my first staff position with the Camp Huronda team, something I started dreaming about at the age of 10. Outside of being the best job in the world, the underlying hidden curriculum and skills a place like Camp Huronda had taught me became increasingly clear. Type 1 diabetes has given me opportunities and many silver linings to embrace over the years. I have often wondered where my life would have taken me had it not been for my diagnosis, with my resulting involvement in camp. 

All nine D-Camp programs operate under the same four goals: teaching independent self-management of diabetes, nurturing lasting friendships, improving self-esteem and providing a safe, fun and educational camp experience.  Some aspects and goals are obvious, while others you truly must see to experience. Summer camp fosters friendships for all kids, but the friendships, connections, and role models that are created through our camp programs feel particularly special. It is the difference between empathy and sympathy. Training medical professionals and near-peer role models to openly discuss fears and challenges related to life with type 1 in a non-clinical setting is powerful. All of the safe, fun and traditional camp activities that fill our days from campfires to archery and beyond can be experienced in so many places, but it is what happens behind the scenes in the diabetes community development that energizes me. 

I have now been a staff member for more than 12 years with Diabetes Canada Camp Huronda. During my tenure, I have had the great privilege of witnessing campers accomplish incredible things like diabetes milestones, but also being part of their growth during their time at camp. A “diabetes milestone” could be a young person independently delivering their insulin injection for the first time, inserting a pump or sensor site on their own for the first time, or completing an independent reservoir change. These milestones directly impact the day-to-day management and scheduling of a person with type 1 diabetes, but also support the empowerment and independence of self-management of their type 1 diabetes. 

While diabetes can often feel like an identifier or determining factor for aspects in someone’s life, it has also opened the door for me to see and witness the legacy of many of our camp participants and families. Meeting a camper at the age of nine who years later is applying for prestigious scholarships, to graduate programs, and even medical school, is one of the clearest examples of the growth and development we witness through our D-Camps programs. Through strengthening skills like communication, teamwork, critical thinking, planning, facilitation, risk management and more through the leadership development program and or staff experiences, we are looking through a window to our campers’ future. 

Having served more than 20,000 youth with type 1 diabetes over its history, it is no wonder that Camp Huronda is connected to educators, doctors, philanthropists, nurses, scientists, environmentalists, engineers, authors, and beyond. While I can only speak to a fraction of these young legacies, it is beyond my greatest privilege to support their personal growth. I craft, on average, over 50 letters of reference for various past and current campers annually. There are few experiences that capture true individual growth like camp, as the controlled risk-taking environment lends itself perfectly to personal and professional expression. Working in a camp setting is demanding, given the caliber of responsibility in the role, coupled with long days in the elements. From working as lifeguards, to coaching a young camper through a challenging experience, the examples I can draw upon for these references are endless. Finding ways to adapt programs to challenge others in their learning zones, acting as positive diabetes role models, prioritizing safety, and creating safe wilderness experiences while ensuring all are included is no small feat. 

Living with type 1 diabetes is hard. Working at an overnight camp is hard. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is hard. The legacy of D-Camps is the perfect balance struck in crafting these moments while balancing these hardchallenges and turning out learning experiences and growth opportunities. Legacy is something familiar to the Banting name and story. The discovery of insulin changed the lives of millions with diabetes, including mine. However, Dr. Frederick Banting lived a rich life outside of his diabetes research as well. One aspect of his story that has always captivated me was his time spent studying with members of the Group of Seven and his incredible artistic skill. As if a world changing medical discovery was not enough, he continued to pursue his passions and push to further his development as a physician in the medical research world. 

In the past 100 years so much has changed in the world of diabetes education, management, and technology. The technology advancements for diabetes management, support systems, and countless programs all tailored to the type 1 community are resources I never could have imagined in the first few years following my diagnosis. Without many of these advancements, my life with type 1 diabetes would look different. I’m sure Banting himself would be astounded by these advances. While I’ve had a front row seat over the past almost 25 years, it reminds me of how far we have come and the work we must continue to do. 100 years of insulin. 68 years of the Diabetes Canada D-Camps camping tradition. And while we still have nothing better than insulin after 100 years, I know we are grateful for Dr. Banting, one another, and for a special little place at the edge of the lake. Camp.