Crystal Chilcott has never been one to sit idly by and watch from the sidelines. The 25-year-old starting training as a competitive figure skater at 7 years old and earned the pewter medal in the 2013 U.S. Collegiate Championships. She’s participated in multiple pageants, finishing in the top 10 at the 2017 Miss Colorado competition. And she’s rarely in one place for long: After she studied abroad in London back in 2014, she developed a love for travel and adventure, and has since visited 26 different countries and 32 different states.
But Chilcott’s most life-changing event happened in September 2016, when she was 23 years old. After moving to Reykjavik, Iceland, to become a figure skating coach, she started experiencing strange symptoms.
Feeling unusually lethargic, Chilcott slept one night from 6 pm to 11 am. She felt extremely thirsty, no matter how much water she drank. She went on to lose 10 pounds in just over a week, and both her ankles began swelling up. “Based on a Google search of the symptoms, I suspected diabetes,” admits Chilcott, “but no one believed me.”
Getting the Diagnosis
When her first doctor said everything looked fine, Chilcott asked for a blood test anyway. Her hunch was right: Her blood glucose levels were 3.5 times higher than they should have been. Chilcott was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
“At first I was relieved that we finally had a diagnosis, but also it felt like a bad dream,” recalls Chilcott. “I didn’t, and still don’t, understand why my body just suddenly stopped doing a basic life function after 23 years and 8 months of doing what it was supposed to do.”
The basic function she was referring to was producing insulin, the hormone that helps keep blood sugars in the body under control.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakes insulin-producing pancreatic cells as a threat. As the immune system attacks the pancreas, it destroys the person’s ability to produce insulin. Learn more about what type 1 diabetes is here.
Type 1 diabetes, formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes, is often associated with children and young adults, but it can begin at any age. (Here are more myths about type 1 diabetes, debunked by patients.) Currently, 29.1 million people in America live with type 1 diabetes (including 208,000 children), according to the National Institutes of Health. Another 40,000 Americans are diagnosed every year.
As surprising as type 1 diabetes diagnosis was, Chilcott wasn’t about to give up on her goals. “I was met with so much negativity when I was diagnosed, and people started telling me that I could no longer travel or compete for my dream job of Miss Colorado, because how could I walk across a stage with bruises from insulin injections?” says Chilcott. “I realized that I was going to have to deal with diabetes wherever I was and whatever I was doing, so there was no reason to stop doing the things I loved.”
A Children’s Book Inspired by Type 1 Diabetes
One of Chilcott’s many talents is writing. In addition to her travel blog, Stranger in a Strange Land, she has been writing novels and short stories for most of her life, but these have mostly been geared toward adults and young adults.
After the diagnosis, Chilcott decided to pen a new project: a children’s book she titled Gliding on Insulin. “I chose my target audience as children because they are in the most formative part of their lives and I wanted to inspire them not to let their disease keep them from going after their goals,” says Chilcott. “I’m not sure what my life would be like if I was diagnosed in childhood.”
Dulcie, the 12-year-old protagonist of the book, is an international figure skater who travels the world, trains, competes, and enjoys her unique life, all while managing type 1 diabetes. On her trips to places like Turkey and Ireland, Dulcie deals with common diabetes struggles: keeping insulin at a safe temperature, packing juice boxes for emergencies, and knowing where the nearest doctor’s office is.
But perhaps more importantly, readers can get inspiration from how Dulcie doesn’t let her type 1 diabetes treatment stop her from getting on the ice. Throughout Gliding on Insulin, Dulcie wears an insulin pump while skating.
Keeping blood sugars at a healthy level while exercising is a concern for all athletes with diabetes, something Chilcott knows firsthand. “No matter what I’m doing, I have to manage my blood sugar,” says Chilcott. “If I am exercising, I test it more often, because it can go low faster during exercise.”
Dulcie’s experience demonstrates the 24/7 nature of diabetes management, and it’s something young readers with type 1 diabetes don’t often see from their favorite fictional characters. Representation—the concept of seeing people who “look like you” in movies, literature, and leadership—has the potential to boost self-image and help readers feel like they are valued and capable.
Inspiring a Generation to Dream Big
For Chilcott, dreams often turn into a reality. Her remarkable determination and grit have helped her find success in many areas of her life. Friends and family may have initially been skeptical of her ability to juggle her ventures, yet it’s not exactly surprising that type 1 diabetes hasn’t stopped her—and she wants to inspire others to keep pursuing their dreams, too.
“I hope [readers] become inspired to live beyond their diagnosis. Their disease does not define them,” says Chilcott. “Treat it seriously, manage it as best as you can, but you are more than your diagnosis.”
Chilcott will compete in the 2018 Miss Colorado competition on June 14-16, where she is able to continue her advocacy for children with type 1 diabetes. You can receive a personalized copy of Gliding on Insulin by donating $20 to Chilcott's fundraiser with the Children's Miracle Network, a partner of Miss America, prior to the competition. Check out this link to donate and receive your personalized copy of Gliding on Insulin.