“Some things are beyond imagination. When Jerry Gore describes life clinging to a 1,500m. cliff in sub-zero temperatures in one of the remotest corners of the earth, pure white virgin territory, the mind reels at trying to conjure up the image. Yet this is only one of two worlds that Jerry frequently inhabits. The other one is definitely a world we all know – the office and the crazy 24/7 chaos of meetings, deadlines and daily challenges.”
And so ended the introduction for my inspirational presentations to business. But all that was BEFORE my diagnosis as an insulin-dependant Type 1 at the tender age of 40! It was January 31, 2001, and as I sat in the waiting room apprehensive of my first consultation I pondered the question would I still be able to continue my fast pace lifestyle involving a daily dose of business consultancy, a demanding family, and a training regime that allows me to attempt world class mountain objectives every year?
In my life I have overcome many obstacles and challenges including being ostracised as an Officer in the Royal Marines, death on an expedition, a direct strike by lightning on a remote Peak, as well as the collapse of a three year business project. My philosophy has always been to have a go, continually seek advice, embrace failure and learn through my mistakes. And by default I treat my diabetic condition with the same view.
Climbing is a part of my life that has been with me now for over 35 years, so I guess you would expect me to be able to cope with another criterion fairly easily. You would be right and more on this later. But what about coping with diabetes whilst going through a whole new experience that involves the upheaval of my family, business and home? My wife Jackie and I bought a mountain chalet deep within The Southern French Alps in 2003. Our new “home” was situated in a small mountain village called Vallouise (resident population 700!). Jackie saw the village and our chalet for the first time in November 2002. She phoned me up and told me she was in an alpine village, that the chalet she was now standing in fulfilled our top 10 most important criteria and what did I think. I told her I would phone her back in 15 minutes. Anxiously I consulted my bible – The Jingo Wobbly crag guide to Europe. It said that our valley was a Jingo Wobbly paradise with 300 days of sunshine, 5 different rock types and the widest range of rock climbing anywhere in the Alps. I phoned Jackie back and said “buy it!”
In Feb 2003, on the day I actually saw Vallouise and our chalet L’Acacia for the very first time, Jackie and I bought our dream home, and parted company with a significant sum of money. Two months later we moved the whole family, plus a large dog, over to France, where we set up AlpBase.com offering chalet based holidays for climbers, walkers and skiers. We live in the same chalet to this day and AlpBase now comprises over 20 different sets of accommodation. Plus we now run multi activity courses for many French and UK independent schools.
The first few years was hard. We had to cope with a new language, new business, new school for our two daughters, new neighbours, in fact new everything. Plus whereas my daily life in the England was determined and planned in advance, out in the Alps each day was markedly different. In France one day I could be out doing a big 24 hr climb, or endurance mountain bike ride, or ice climbing trip and the next work all on day on my PC trying to build up AlpBase, our brand new company.
Sugar is a killer and if left in high concentrations in your blood it will potentially lead to severe diabetic complications such as blindness, amputation, kidney failure and ultimately death. Conversely if you have too little sugar in your blood you will not be able to function at all. Coma and death once again are both very real possibilities with extreme hypos! The tolerance level is very small, a bit like constantly balancing on a slack line high above Yosemite Valley, but on a daily basis, and for the rest of your life. A drop or two of insulin too much can mean the difference between normality and Harry Potter. If I use pens to inject insulin I may inject as many as 10 times a day straight into my body.
In addition to daily exercise consistency and regularity are essential for good blood sugar control. And so the potential diabetic problems moving to France were daunting. But I did not even give it a second thought. Why? Because of my formula. I have resisted the effects of living in a nappy state where there is an overemphasis on safety, and where we have become consumed with fear and try to eradicate any risk from our lives. Why should there be any problems out in the Alps? France is a modern, organised First World country with a good health system. It is just another situation that involves organisation and planning, and it is this attitude that has allowed me to cope successfully with diabetes on a daily basis out in France.
Look out for Part 2 of 'Taking the High Road', Jerry's next blog instalment on Lifesystems.co.uk.