It is one of the largest diabetes conferences for people with type 1 diabetes in the world, at the most magical place on earth.
It’s also one of the major highlights of my year, every year, and one of the most rewarding experiences of which I have ever had a part.
Also known as Friends for Life, CWD is typically held in July, and it’s where thousands of children with diabetes and their families congregate for a week of learning, advocacy, fun, and most importantly: meeting other families affected by type 1 diabetes.
The kids move through the conference in tracks determined by age. It’s there they can meet new, lifelong friends from all over the country (and world!) and learn more about managing their diabetes, from tips and tricks for school to keeping blood sugars in control during exercise. Parents get to listen to high-profile speakers within the diabetes world, most have diabetes themselves, and learn the most cutting-edge research and standards of care for their kids. Pump companies offer trials of their pumps (below you can find more details on trialing a t:slim X2 pump). There’s an exhibit hall, where companies like Tandem have booths and share the newest products through fun booth activities and giveaways. There are designated days for going to the nearby theme parks, and it’s just an incredible opportunity to meet SO many others in a similar situation to you.
I started coming to CWD in 2008 as a rising junior in high school who was VERY self-conscious about my diabetes and a shy person overall.
(Clearly, things have changed just a little bit).
I showed up with no idea what to expect. I had gone to diabetes camp for a few years when I was younger and figured this would be the Orlando spin on that…
…and left the week a completely different person. I’m talking about confidence that carried into my life in ALL areas.
I had never met so many amazing, supportive people with diabetes in one place at one time in my life, and I actually learned a ton at the same time – growing up in Milwaukee, I had a very limited view of what the world was like, especially pre-Instagram and before the growth of the diabetes online community.
I returned to the conference for the next couple years, kept meeting more and more people, learned more and more, and suddenly, I graduated and went onto college. I am now following a career path in diabetes.
Given how much the conference had changed my life, I wanted to give back...and joined the volunteer staff.
I’ve been staffing since 2011, and have rearranged summer classes, research commitments, and two consecutive summers of dietetic internship training to make sure I could be back.
Why I keep going back…and why you should go
“Sure, you’ve had a great experience, but how do I know my family and I will?” you ask.
Because it’s like NOTHING you’ve experienced in the diabetes world.
You know those events you go to when you leave on a high that carries on for a solid week afterwards? Where you feel like you’re floating?
If you take advantage of what CWD has to offer and put yourself out there to learn and grow, that is 100% guaranteed to be your experience.
Each summer I'm staff in an area of the conference called Sports Central, where I’m basically running around with the kids for the entire week, playing every sport known to man, and helping them learn how to manage their blood sugars during exercise.
There is no greater feeling than to know you’ve helped positively impact a kid’s life, especially within the diabetes realm.
It’s all about that connection you make with them, helping develop their confidence in not only their skills with diabetes, but also in life.
There are kids I worked with my first year on staff, who are now going off to college, that I’ve seen grow up through the years. It’s crazy to witness how things change with time.
There are those two-minute conversations you have with a kid that you may have forgotten about, but it meant the world to them….
…and the coolest moment is when they come back a year later and tell you how much it resonated with them, and how they made a change because of that very conversation.
We sometimes forget how powerful our words can be, but the kids really do look up to us, and I love the opportunity to positively impact as many people as possible.
This goes for the parents too. When a parent comes back and tells me how they’ve implemented a recommendation I gave, it is just the coolest thing in the world.
Those are just a couple of the bigger reasons I keep coming back…
Then there are the little things:
Those moments where you’re walking down the hallway and someone gives you a high five because you have the same pump as them.
The moments you see a kid, who was by themselves earlier in the week, now walking around with a squad of other kids and having the time of their life.
The moments I get to catch up with all the people I may only get to see once a year.
If you are the parent or caregiver of a T1D, I highly recommend trying out the conference at least once.
You won’t be disappointed.
And, when you do come, make sure you come by Sports Central to introduce yourself!
Author Bio: Ben Tzeel has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1999. He has a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a registered dietitian. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, is a published fitness model, and writes about exercise and nutrition.
Ben Tzeel was compensated by Tandem Diabetes Care for his contribution on this topic. However, he created the content and it is based on his personal knowledge, experiences, and observations.
Note: The t:slim X2™ insulin pump is approved for individuals 6 years of age and greater.
From time to time, we may pass along: suggestions, tips, or information about other Tandem Insulin Pump user experiences or approaches to the management of diabetes. However, please note individual symptoms, situations, circumstances and results may vary. Please consult your physician or qualified health care provider regarding your condition and appropriate medical treatment. Please read the Important Safety Information linked below before using a Tandem Diabetes Care product.