Who Says the Sky is the Limit?
Many people with diabetes tell the story of how, shortly after diagnosis, a friend, family member or healthcare provider says something along the lines of “You can’t be a truck driver or join the military, but career-wise anything else is open to you.” I’ve been lucky enough to meet people for whom “anything else” became a fireman, teacher, scientist, nurse, journalist, hair stylist, runner, singer or professional athlete.
But meeting Michael Craig still wowed me. Because for Michael, “anything else” included competitive swimming and rugby, ballet, 22-hour days working on an Alaskan
fishing boat, and professional skydiving. And he hasn’t even hit 30 yet.
Here’s what Michael had to say when I asked him about living with diabetes and his work as a skydiving instructor.
Can you tell us a bit about when you were diagnosed?
I was diagnosed at age 9, in Michigan where I grew up. I used multiple daily injections for about 9 years. My doctor started talking to me about an insulin pump when I was around 15 and I really resisted. I was an athlete in high school and didn’t want to be tethered to something.
But then, in my senior year of high school, I decided to give it a try. I was getting ready for college, where I’d be swimming for the Dennison University swim team. With getting ready for the college competition schedule, I wanted the flexibility and fine-tuned insulin delivery of a pump.
How did it go?
It was a bit of a rocky start for me. I’m glad I gave myself the summer to get used to it before starting the competitive swim schedule in the fall. I had to learn to do a lot more/more accurate carb counting than what I’d done before. But it was key to the freedom and flexibility I get from my pump. I’d say I’ve spent the last 10 years fine-tuning my settings.
Competing at the college level of swimming is pretty impressive, but that’s not all you’ve done over the last decade, right?
Yeah, I played rugby in college and worked on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska for a while. It was really hard work – 22-hour days sometimes – but a really interesting and rewarding experience. I also studied at the Chicago Ballet School for a while.
Wow! So, what was the most taxing job/activity?
Easily the ballet. It’s such rigorous exercise and practices are long and multiple times a day. Figuring out how much insulin to take with that kind of workout schedule was tough. It was definitely the most taxing on my BGs (blood glucose numbers). It was also really hard on my knees, which was why I ended up dropping out.
So, what’s your day job today?
Today, I’m a professional sky diver in Camarillo, CA. I take people who want to experience skydiving on tandem jumps. I jump out of an airplane multiple times a day, six days a week.
What’s the most you’ve ever jumped in one day?
My record is 38 jumps in one day.
And how high are you jumping from?
Personally, the highest I’ve jumped is from 18,000 feet. But for the tandem jumps I do at work its 10,000 feet. So, it takes about 15 minutes to go up in the plane and then about 5 minutes to come down.
Tandem skydiving is when you’re connected to another person via a harness, right? That’s a pretty big responsibility, since that person is usually inexperienced and relying on you during those 5 minutes to make it to the ground safely, correct?
That’s right. The United States Parachute Association, our governing organization, requires that all its skydiving instructors have a Class 3 Medical Certification from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). That’s the same type of certification as the pilot of a private plane. It took me more than two years and a lot of time spent working with the FAA. My doctor had to submit 6 years of medical reports to show I can control my diabetes. And, now that I have the certification, my doc has to submit updated reports periodically. It’s a great motivation to maintain good control.
If that’s work, what do you do for fun?
I love all the outdoor stuff to do here in California – hiking, mountain biking, surfing, rock climbing. My pump has seen it all!
What would you say to someone recently diagnosed with diabetes?
There’s nothing you can’t do, save drive a big rig truck and join the army. Find what you want to do. It will probably take more work and planning than if you didn’t have diabetes, but it’s worth it. Don’t let anyone tell you no – advocate for yourself!
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION
- Medtronic Diabetes insulin infusion pumps, continuous glucose monitoring systems and associated components are limited to sale by or on the order of a physician and should only be used under the direction of a healthcare professional familiar with the risks associated with the use of these systems.
- Successful operation of the insulin infusion pumps and/or continuous glucose monitoring systems requires adequate vision and hearing to recognize alerts and alarms.
Medtronic Diabetes Insulin Infusion Pumps
- Insulin pump therapy is not recommended for individuals who are unable or unwilling to perform a minimum of four blood glucose tests per day.
- Insulin pumps use rapid-acting insulin. If your insulin delivery is interrupted for any reason, you must be prepared to replace the missed insulin immediately.
Please visit www.medtronicdiabetes.com/importantsafetyinformation for complete safety information.