‘Don’t let T1D hold you back from realizing your dreams’

 Olympic swimmer Barbara Jardin shares her experiences of living with T1D as JDRF’s national ambassador to create awareness on World Diabetes Day. supplied

Olympic swimmer Barbara Jardin shares her experiences of living with T1D as JDRF’s national ambassador to create awareness on World Diabetes Day. supplied

By Susanne Martin

Imagine receiving a diagnosis that could put an end to the dream you’ve had since childhood. Imagine finding out that you have a disease that would – for the rest of your life – limit your chance of succeeding in the field you’ve made a name for yourself. That’s what being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) felt like for Barbara Jardin, a competitive swimmer who narrowly missed a spot on the podium at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London (she finished 10th in the 200-metre individual freestyle and fourth as a member of the Canadian team in the 4x200-metre freestyle relay).  

Jardin – who has no history of diabetes in her family – had sought medical help after feeling weak and tired, becoming easily dehydrated and experiencing problems with her vision. Recalling her visit to the hospital in September 2014, the 24-year-old says, “I was shocked to learn I had diabetes. I thought my swimming career was over.”


After living with T1D for a few months, I knew that training would actually help me manage my diabetes.
I went back to swimming.
— Barbara Jardin is an Olympic swimmer living with with type 1 diabetes

She stopped training, yet giving up the dream she’s had since she was 11 – to represent Canada at the Rio Olympics in 2016 – wasn’t easy. And Jardin realized it wasn’t even necessary. “After living with T1D for a few months, I knew that training would actually help me manage my diabetes,” she says. “I went back to swimming.”

Jardin, who first made the Olympic team at age 17, knows how demanding the training to qualify for the team is. T1D – an autoimmune disease that leaves a person insulin-dependent for life – makes it even more challenging.

At times, she struggles with the extra demands of living with T1D. “There are days when I want to cry, days when I’m exhausted and want to throw my insulin pump at the wall,” she says. Yet overall, she feels she is successfully managing her diabetes. “I have a great support team and JDRF is there for me as well,” says Jardin.

JDRF is an organization dedicated to T1D research funding and advocacy. Dave Prowten, Canada’s president and CEO of JDRF, understands that a T1D diagnosis changes someone’s life forever. “Every day, many times a day, you have to check your blood glucose. Typically that involves poking your finger, testing that and determining how much insulin you need,” he explains.

“It’s important to keep blood glucose levels stable and counteract highs and lows,” says Prowten. “There are many serious consequences that can come from not managing the disease properly.”
For Jardin, living with T1D means stringently monitoring her blood glucose levels to determine how much insulin she needs to administer. “Since I train, I have to poke myself at least 10 times a day to see what my glucose level is,” she says, adding that there are many factors that can cause spikes in blood glucose – different types of workouts, for example, or even stress.

Prowten says that while JDRF is committed to helping the many people with T1D live better lives and avoid complications related to the disease, the organization’s ultimate goal is to find a cure through accelerating the most promising research in the field.

Individuals like Jardin are examples of how people with T1D can lead full and active lives and succeed in the areas they are passionate about through carefully managing their diabetes, says Prowten. “Barbara is an inspiration for everyone,” he adds.

And Jardin is determined to “train her hardest” to fulfill her dream.

In addition to getting ready for next spring’s Olympic qualifying trials, Jardin is busy as JDRF’s national ambassador to bring the stories of Canadians living with T1D to the attention of the public during Diabetes Awareness Month this November.

“The campaign has the slogan ‘T1D looks like me,’” she says. “There are many people living with T1D day in and day out. While it’s hard and you want to be mentally prepared for anything, I would tell them, ‘Stay positive and don’t let T1D hold you back from realizing your dreams.’”

For more related to this story visit jdrf.ca.