Tell us a little bit about yourself
Hello! My name is Nicole Matuszynski and I am from Littleton, Colorado but am currently going to school at Montana State University in Bozeman. I love being outside and going on outdoor adventures, from rock and alpine climbing, mountain biking, triathlons, to thru hiking/backpacking. One thing that might make me a little different in the Outdoors community is that I have Type 1 Diabetes. I was diagnosed when I was 13 and it honestly shook my world up. I grew up extremely active and with a healthy lifestyle so I was confused and distraught that I wouldn't be able to continue doing the activities I love and eating food was also a big concern. However, I did not let diabetes limit me in any way. I have run several half marathons, one full marathon, I have summited 26 out of 52 of the Colorado 14,000 peaks, and I recently thru hiked the Colorado Trail in 24 days.
What is your passion and how did you find it?
My passion is definitely sharing the outdoors with others, especially those in the diabetes community. I have observed how diabetics often hold themselves back, and I think this is because there is a lack of understanding and a lack of prominent role models with diabetes in the Outdoors community. When I was first diagnosed, I was first told of all the things I cannot do anymore. How I wouldn’t be able to serve in the army, air force, or navy, I couldn't become a pilot, athletics would become harder, I’ll have to always watch what I eat and be prepared for dropping or raising blood sugar levels, and the list just went on. Right away all this information did not sit well with me. Although I do appreciate advice, I am a person that doesn’t like limitations, so I started to scheme on ways I could push some diabetes loopholes. I really started to immerse myself in the Outdoors community after people started to question my ability to do activities outside. I became a big trail runner and wanted to push my body as much as possible by completing large mileage days. People were always concerned that I wouldn't be able to manage my blood glucose and should hold back a bit “just to be safe”. I recognize that safety is important, but there is something about pushing limits of what my body can handle that draws me in. After consuming myself in running, I was then introduced to backpacking. I decided to do a last minute trip with some friends in the Maroon Bell Wilderness called 4 Pass Loop - a 35 mile loop that climbed over 4 passes (hence the name). I had no experience and my backpack wasn't even designed for backpacking - it had no hip strap and offered very little support. This first experience changed my life, and I began to form bonds and memories with those around me in a whole new way. The simple act of walking and carrying all you need to survive on your back became my new obsession. So much so that my next backpacking trip I decided to test myself on a different level with the Colorado Trail - a 492 mile trail that travels across the state of Colorado, climbs 89,000 ft of elevation and decends 87,000 ft., passes through 6 different wilderness areas, and is only completed as a thru hike by 17% of people who attempt it. When I first brought it up to friends and family that it was my next adventure, doubt was the first response I received. They told me that I couldn't do it because it's too long, too much effort to plan, and mainly because of my type 1 diabetes. There was no way in their minds that I would survive because it would be too much of a challenge. This only made me want to do it more. I planned what I would eat and decided to go off my insulin pump and just take shots of insulin when I needed to eat and bring a glucose monitor to check my levels. In all reality, I had no idea how the trail would affect my diabetes so I understood the concerns from others but knew that I could work through anything. My goal was to hike the trail in under 30 days, averaging 17 miles a day not including any rest days. I did it with my friend who was 16 years old at the time and we made quite the team. We were some of the youngest people on the trail and our abilities as two younger girls were immediately questioned. Despite this, we were hiking the trail faster than all those around us. We started with a 25 mile day and then continued to push upward 20 mile days. We reached the 100 mile mark in Breckenridge in 4 days, much faster then our original goal. I even completed a personal best with a 32 mile day on day 18 on the trail. As the trail continued on, I learned a lot about managing diabetes while backpacking. I found that my body, even though my beta cells (insulin producing cells) were inactive, was maintaining stable levels because of the constant hiking. I ended up using ¼ of the normal daily dose because of the extreme level of activity I was putting my body through. We finished the trail in 24 days, averaging a little under a marathon in daily mileage and were able to summit an extra 14,000 foot peak, San Luis, as a bonus side trip. This journey proved to myself and others that diabetes is just an extra challenge to overcome when adventuring in the outdoors.
What has been the biggest obstacle you had to overcome while pursuing your passion?
The biggest obstacle is a lack of education about diabetes. Approximately 1.25 million Americans have Type 1, but despite this, education is at a minimum. Diabetes does take a large toll both physically and mentally on people, and it can be hard to be consistently doubted on your abilities to take care of yourself. If there is more education, both people with Type 1 and others will have a deeper understanding that diabetes doesn't limit you in any ways. I am a firm believer that if there are more role models and figures with Type 1 for kids to look up to, kids with Type 1 can achieve so much more than they ever imagined.
What has been the highlight moment of your passion project?
My highlight moment has to be when I first connected with another Type 1 diabetic in the outdoors. I had the opportunity to drop out of high school my junior year and pursue an internship through Jeffco Outdoor Lab, where a different group of 6th graders would spend a week at the camp learning about the importance of conservation and stewardship in the Outdoors. The program was also designed to connect their science curriculum to a real world setting - teaching kids hands-on about biosphere, hydrosphere, and geology. I got the chance to work with a girl who had Type 1, and she quickly expressed her concern about the 1 mile hike on the geosphere trail. She wasn't confident she could complete the entire trail with diabetes on her own. I encouraged her and understood her worries about regulating her sugars and came from a perspective she could relate to as a fellow diabetic. She absolutely crushed the entire hike. Her confidence exponentially grew and she was so extremely mindful and aware the whole hike. She also learned so much on the trail it was incredible to witness true learning that sparked genuine passion. As the week went on she began to inquire more about how she can get outside, and after staying in touch after the week at the Lab, I was ecstatic to learn she joined and became a force on her middle school cross country team. It blew my mind how one simple connection with someone who shares a similar hardship can change a perspective and end imitations one puts on themselves.
What's the next step in your passion project?
My next step is to create an organization that gets kids with Type 1 outdoors. I am still in college so I am going to have to wait until I graduate to get it fully going. However, in the program, I will encourage kids to get into rock climbing, trial running, backpacking, and camping. I want to show them that they can do anything they set their minds to, and that diabetes just makes it an extra challenge which in the end just makes us stronger. It will be great because a lot of the reasons that kids aren't immersed in the outdoors is just because they don't have the resources available to them or someone with the knowledge to take them out. Parents with kids with diabetes also often struggle financially because the cost of insulin, test strips and other supplies is so high and can be such a financial burden. The program would be great to give access to the supplies needed to do adventurous activities outside and provide role models to the younger generations of kids with Type 1. My personal next step is to thru hike the PCT, AT, and CDT within my lifetime. Completing these three thru hikes would deem me a triple crowner, which would be an incredible accomplishment.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give someone who is considering starting a passion project?
The most important aspect of who someone becomes is passion. Passion is what drives us and gives us purpose in life. Oftentimes when people have a loss in the direction in their life is because they don't have a sense of what they want to accomplish. Humans need something to drive them forward. Just getting out and exploring the world and forming bonds with others help us in discovering what is important to you. In the end, everyone has something they are passionate about, it just can take some effort to find what that is.
How can we connect with you?