I received the labels of “fencer” and “type 1 diabetic” virtually simultaneously. One by choice, after becoming obsessed with fencing while watching the Olympics. While I was looking up Youtube videos about fencing parries and practicing in my kitchen with a wooden spoon, I had no idea that my body had turned against me and was starting to attack itself. The other label, type 1 diabetic, was thrust on me randomly and a huge shock. I think I only had three or four fencing lessons before my diagnosis.
Fencing and diabetes is a bit messy. White fencing gear and checking my blood sugar between bouts isn't the best combo. Plus, shaking an opponents hand after the bout with a finger still spewing blood isn't that great!
I thought lancets kind of looked like sabers. Sabers looked kind of like giant needles. Those three hours of fencing a week became the best part of my week. I can't thank my fencing group enough for not minding me stopping at random times to check my blood sugar or minding all the blood that didn't always stay on my meter or hand. Everyone was supportive but not overbearing and I still can't thank them enough.
One time, I felt really tired, shaky, and nauseous during a bout and my opponent kept asking me, “Are you okay?” I thought I was just tired from an hour and a half of fencing, but when I checked my blood sugar, it was 2.3 mmoL/ 41 mg. That's really low. I showed her my glucose tab stash after that.
At my first fencing competition, my blood sugar had the opposite problem, shooting up to 14 mmoL/ 252 mg. I had heard that adrenaline could change your blood sugar, but I was surprised to see it shoot up that much over nothing but the adrenaline of competing. I won my first bout, made it to the semi-finals, won my semi-final bout, and advanced on to the finals. The final bout came down to two Americans, the other was a type 2 diabetic! We got to 14-14 and I lost the final point, so I ended up second. My first fencing tournament was a lot of fun, but it was only when I was translating the back of my medal that I saw “Icelandic National Championships.” Wait, had I just competed in the (adult beginner category, but still) Icelandic National Championships? I asked my fencing instructor the next practice if it was really the Icelandic Nationals and learned that yes, it was. My fencing class remains one of the things I miss most about Iceland!
I've joined a fencing league back in Colorado and so far, my blood sugar has cooperated fairly well. As far as my white uniform goes...the tiny blood stains from testing my blood sugar in the middle of practice have not cooperated so well!
It took me four tries, four times purchasing a ferry ticket before the ferry actually sailed to Vestmannaeyar (Westman Islands in English). My first attempt in May was foiled due to the weather and it wasn't until Thanksgiving Day this year, that the weather finally cooperated (barely) in order for me to actually visit the island!
If you want to book a ferry to the island, you can do so here. I highly recommend frequently checking their Facebook page, where all the latest updates on the schedule are posted. Sometimes they do send out text messages or emails with changes, but I have found these notifications to be inconsistent and the English translations rather inaccurate. This time, the ferry did depart for the island at the planned time, though it was a very bumpy ride. It also left the island three hours earlier in an attempt to avoid bad weather. If the weather got worse and the port at Landeyjahöfn closed, our ship would get diverted three hours to Þorlákshöfn.
On the journey home, we were holding our breath as they made the announcement in Icelandic about where we would arrive. When the Icelandic passengers were laughing and smiling, I hoped that meant it woud be a 35 minute journey and not a 3 hour one and that was fortunately the case!
Vestmannaeyjar is best known for the 23 January 1973 eruption on the main island of Heimaey. Thanks to stormy weather the day prior, the fishing boats were docked on the island, and the 5,300 residents were able to escape with only one death. The eurption lasted for six months and 360 homes were buried.
Housing these ruins is Eldheimar, a volcano museum. I've visited Pompeii twice and was fairly certain Mt. Vesuvius was about to wake up during my most recent trip. I somehow always find myself around an active volcano. During a geology class my last semester of university, we had a unit on volcanoes. My professor had a slide with various volcanoes and asked "Has anyone ever been to Mt. Etna in Sicily?" Me: "Yes." The rest of the class: "No." "What about the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica?" Me: "Yes." The rest of the class: "No." "Has anyone ever been to Iceland where the Eyjafjallajökull volcano caused all those air traffic problems a few years ago?" Me: "Yes, and I am moving to Iceland in January." The rest of the class: "No." "Did anyone go see the Pompeii exhibit when it was in Denver?" Me: "No, but I've been to Pompeii." The rest of the class: "No." I don't actually seek out active volcanoes, I just sort of gravitate to them.
Aside from hanging around an active volcano, there was a bit of time to explore the town. I was surprised at how populated it was (by Icelandic standards of course). I finally got a handknit Icelandic peysa at Gallery Heimaey. The peysa I selected was 16000 ISK, far cheaper than anything you'd find in Reykjavik! The lady working was helpful and had quite the selection of handknit clothing.
The hills were gorgeous, but there wasn't enough time to explore much without missing the boat. And we didn't want to miss the boat because the Emerald Isle was calling...but more on that later.
Hi, I’m Crystal! Just like you, I love to travel. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 24 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgHappy Travels, Crystal
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