Meet Maren, a 10-year-old dancer living with type 1 diabetes from British Columbia who’s success is pushing her family to take a leap of faith. Of course, with T1D, that leap is broken into many small calculated steps. Building confidence and taking them beyond their dreams … and into hers.
Maren loves to dance, she dreams of her future as a performer and has a goal to live the life of a professional dancer and to teach others to dance too. She actually wants to work hard daily, striving for polished technique and sharing emotion through her dance. She wants to do this all in a healthy way as she loves the process of perfecting small details in her dance. She also wants to manage the small details in her blood sugar levels at just 10 years old. It is all a balance and the two most important parts of her life are similar in many ways.
She reads about dance in books, about the history of ballet, about life in a dance academy. Most importantly, she reads about a very special dancer with type 1 diabetes in her favourite book called “The Sugarless Plum”, written by the lovely Zippora Karz. Zippora is a former soloist ballerina with New York City Ballet who spent 16 years performing on stage from 1983 through 1999. She now serves as a teacher and repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, rehearsing and staging Balanchine’s choreography for a host of national and international dance companies. She is also a diabetes spokesperson and educator who regularly addresses major diabetes conferences and organizations. Zippora is an advocate for healthy living and diabetes awareness, and she is a true friend and inspiration to Maren.
The (her leaping in the splits on the beach) photo is a dream image that might float through many children’s heads, but in our case, that is our daughter floating through the air. The challenge for our family is how we can safely follow this dream, how this is all going to work and building the process to help get Maren into a place where she is able to focus and feel supported to succeed. We move forward as parents trying to set up safety nets as her safety is number one. Our philosophy is that we want to ensure she is covered while still giving her the freedom to rise and fall and rise again (without us bulldozing the way) in her pursuit of her dream and goal.
When Maren was accepted last summer to the National Ballet Academy for a summer program in Toronto, across the country from where our family lives. They weren’t aware until after they called her number then spoke to us that she had type 1 diabetes. We weren’t trying to be secretive, we just honestly did not expect them to call her number. Maren attended this introductory program as a day student. We set up for the summer together in Toronto and I would drop her off at 8:30 am and pick her up every day at between 3:30 and 5:00 pm. She was in heaven, exactly where she wanted to be. She was sad to go home at the end of the month-long program but has stayed in touch with many of her friends through writing letters.
In my mind, I honestly was not expecting they would accept her again. I thought it would be easier for them not to take that on, knowing that she had diabetes and there were so many girls to choose from. The next step is a full immersion and students as young as 10 years old are prepping to live on site, removed from their parents. I am so happy that I was wrong, that they wanted her back knowing some of the elements of care she needed and that is a feeling that kids without diabetes never have to feel. I want kids with diabetes to know that this doesn’t have to be something that holds them back.
We would like for our journey as a family and Maren’s journey as a dancer to raise awareness that children with diabetes are contenders in an elite program with the right support in place. She needs a committed team to do this, absolutely, but we will figure this part out one step at a time. It is nice to have ICD ready to support this transition. This future she dreams of is a possibility and we are just slowly saying “yes, we can certainly try” to each door that opens. So far, saying yes and trying has been so very rewarding and empowering. We will be basically handing her care over to her and the residence leaders for this next step. We hope that sharing this process of navigating these challenges is what will help other families when their kids have a dream.
Where we are in real life at this moment is I have an extremely happy little girl that is honoured to have been accepted to return to the summer program at NBS. This is the year that the summer program also serves as an audition for year-round dance and academic studies. Exciting and scary for Maren. Terrifying for mom and dad but if you can try to understand this child lives and breathes ballet. It is her heart, it is the place she feels whole and where her managed diabetes takes a back seat. (The key is managed….what is that anyway?! Not perfect, but persistent)
This is where Maren is truly Maren and where she thrives. So as hard as this is for mom and dad, as scary as this is, we keep moving forward slowly and carefully down this path. Doors continue to open and we continue to peek around the corner then walk right in. That pursuit, the process of getting there is hers. It belongs to Maren. Her health care as she grows becomes more hers than ours. For now, though, she is 10 and this is frightening but we are carefully moving forward.
We hope you enjoyed our story and know many of you struggle with how to proceed safely through the doors in life with T1D. If you are able, we ask you to share in our cause. We are fundraising for all aspects of children not limiting themselves or being limited due to type 1 diabetes, this is where mine and Maren’s heart are. A donation to I Challenge Diabetes adds a solid foundation for parents of and children like Maren to stand on.
We have made our way through winter and are inching our way through spring. Our excitement and anticipation are building for Maren’s summer intensive/audition at Canada’s National Ballet school. The baby steps I spoke of previously are feeling more like leaps now, but leaps in the right direction and leaps that feel really good. I have to say that I am so beyond grateful to I Challenge Diabetes and President Chris Jarvis for helping us move forward with a clear path. It seemed like a mountain to climb but Chris has been over a mountain, several times I think, so he knows how to lead the way. Chris just makes it easy and clear to communicate Maren’s needs with the school, for her to go in there feeling safe and that she may be successful. We appreciate this so much.
I am also very impressed with NBS and their willingness to learn more about diabetes, emergency care, daily plans for Maren’s care and a night plan to ensure her safety. Meal planning and menu updates to help with carb counting etc. Everything we could have hoped for is falling into place. They are committing to helping set Maren up so that she can focus on learning and dancing as will be the focus of everyone else there. We all know she will still have all of the planning, the counting, the bolusing, pod replacements, adjusting for blood sugar highs and lows, but she won’t be on her own with it all. For Maren the opportunity to stay with the other dancers in residence is a dream come true. She has been in touch through mail with many of her friends from last summer’s session and looking forward to reuniting with them and being a part of that special closeness they will share in their residence. “The full experience” I guess you could say. What more could a girl ask for. Well I guess she could ask to be doing this all without the type 1 diabetes. However, I can honestly say I’m not sure she’d have even had the courage or the drive that she does today if this beast didn’t rear its ugly head. This is part of who Maren is, it’s part of how her spirit is growing. She is driven by her love of ballet, the hard work of each ballet class, the little details she works to improve continuously, the art of the dance. Maren loves that part of it all. The inner strength she has been forced to develop has complimented her work ethic and her drive to move forward toward her goals. There truly will be no stopping this girl. I really couldn’t say to her “No Maren, I don’t think this is the right path” or even attempt to steer her in another direction. Whether it starts now in this way, or whether she opens many other doors along her way this girl is going to go where she wants to go. We know there will be ups and downs. There will be highs and lows. There will be successes and failures; you don’t learn without failures. She will keep baby stepping or leaping forward whatever the situation calls for.
We hope that you can find inspiration in our attempt to support Maren in her endeavours. Please know that as a mom this is not easy, this is excruciating some times. I do lose sleep some nights, but then I wake up the next day and pep talk myself “just let her move forward little by little, just see what happens.” Like I said before little by little things keep happening, doors keep opening. I think having people who have experience taking chances like this should share their stories and encourage others. Maren’s grade 2 and 3 teacher in school was amazing. Maren was diagnosed the beginning of grade 2. Her teacher happened to also be a sailing coach that had coached a teenage athlete with type 1 diabetes. So he knew, he understood it all. Mr. Robert Douglas knew what effort it would take for Maren just to be a normal kid and he also knew what it would take to encourage Maren in her life to follow her big dreams. I also have Maren’s first ballet teacher Miss Jen Soo to thank for my willingness to let Maren go forth. A few weeks after Maren was diagnosed Miss Jen invited her down island to meet a friend of her daughter. He has type 1 diabetes and is also a world class gymnast. We visited them at the gym and were so impressed with this kid and the amazing things he was doing. Jen encouraged Maren to try new things and encouraged me to say yes to new possibilities for Maren. She told me that if in the future someone says that Maren can’t do something because of diabetes, that we will just need to find another place for her to succeed. These wonderful leaders in my child’s life set us both up to take chances. They gave Maren the support to take care of her needs openly and in a safe and encouraging way. No secretive testing no need to feel like she is a burden to a team or that diabetes is a burden to her success. Just open acceptance of something different that just needs to be dealt with.
Thankfully as Maren has moved on into daytime dance program we have met a very supportive group of teachers, dancers and families. There is never any need for Maren to feel alone in her growth as a dancer with diabetes. We have been so fortunate to be surrounded by support and friendship along the way. The friendship support is key and this reminds me of another great idea Chris brought forth to the staff at NBS. Maren will also have the opportunity to have a guest come to residence to help Maren discuss diabetes, what it is and how she manages daily. This will happen during the first week of July to help Maren settle in with her friends. So here we are, my daughter will in fact be living in residence at Canada’s National Ballet School for the month of July and training all day just as her heart has always desired. I will update as we move forward, I’m sure there will be some struggles. We can all learn from those struggles. I will have sleepless nights but I will also have the knowledge that she is safe and that NBS is prepared for her care in hopes she will thrive.