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Bec Johnson – a life without limits

News story

Curtin Adjunct Research Fellow doesn’t let type 1 diabetes hold her back and is showing others how to not only survive, but thrive with type 1.

People with type 1 diabetes are superheroes.

That’s the firm belief of Curtin Adjunct Research Fellow Bec Johnson, who is co-founder and CEO of the Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre in Perth.

She finds endless inspiration in the courage, resilience and strength of the people and families she meets who are affected by type 1 in some way. Whether they have the condition themselves or are the families, supporters, teachers or friends of someone with it.

“The people I work with just blow my mind,” says Johnson. “It’s not every person who faces their own mortality as a child, and that builds something. That builds real character.”

Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the immune system destroys the pancreas’s ability to produce the vital hormone insulin, which turns glucose from carbohydrates into energy. People with the condition must inject or pump insulin into their body and monitor their blood glucose levels their whole life.

As a person with type 1 diabetes herself, Johnson has proven capable of her own superhuman feats.

She’s an accomplished endurance swimmer, completing multiple marathon swims, and most recently smashing her first of three ultramarathon swims, the 19.7km Rottnest Channel Swim, as part of her Life without Limits fundraising campaign.

Johnson started the Life without Limits campaign for two main reasons: to be an ambassador of the Family Centre’s spirit of giving by personally fundraising for the not-for-profit and to show others with type 1 that they can achieve anything they dream.

When she was diagnosed at 17 years old, a lot of the conversations people had with her revolved around the barriers, risks and challenges that lay ahead. It made her realise the importance of positive messaging and role models for others, particularly children, who are newly diagnosed.

“I think it can really help us frame up our thoughts and our approach to type 1 diabetes for life if we’re exposed to people who are managing and crushing their goals” she says.

Johnson wants to show people how to not only how to survive, but thrive with type 1. That’s why she’s pushing herself to her own limits by attempting not just one, but three ultramarathon swims in 2020 to reach her fundraising target of $85,000. With one swim down and two to go, she has already raised over $65,000 of her fundraising target.

Three ultramarathon swims are no small task for a person without type 1, so for Johnson, there’s a lot of extra planning and consideration, and a little experimentation. To reach her goal, she developed an approach called the Four Ts: Tucker, Timing, Training, and Therapy.

She started a blog about her journey and 4 Ts approach so that others with type 1 could use it. It covers everything from her ketogenic diet, to the way she’s collected data on herself to train more efficiently and technology she adapted to meet her needs.

 

Always curious and keen to try something new, she is excited to team up with Curtin and further the research into type 1 diabetes, as well as discover new, better outcomes for people living with it.

“What I like about Curtin’s philosophy as a university is it really does have at its heart innovation” she says. “Type 1 diabetes is so much more than medical. Type 1 is behavioral. It’s about our habits. It’s about our beliefs. It’s about our sense of self efficacy. And I think that the curiosity the team at Curtin have had around that is unusual and really, really valuable”

This curiousity is being channeled into researching the behavioural side of type 1 diabetes and also a case study on her endurance swimming. She hopes her novel approach to the milestone swims will pique interest in the world of academia.

“There’s a lot of different clinicians who would be curious to understand the approach,” she says. “I hope we can create an interesting paper out of it as well.”

Hearing Johnson’s outlook on life, it’s clear that her greatest superpower is her positive attitude and the care she puts into supporting the type 1 community.

“I just get a lot of joy out of hanging out with a lot of people who I really deeply admire”, she says.

If you’d like to support her mission, you can donate on the Life without Limits website.