Q&A with LivingVertical founder Stephen Richert

With permission from Team LivingVertical

LivingVertical founder Steve Richert climbing in Coopers Rock, VW. | With permission from Team LivingVertical |

Climb your way to the top.


Steve with his wife Stephanie and their newborn baby. | With permission from Team LivingVertical |

Steve with his wife Stefanie and their newborn baby. | With permission from Team LivingVertical |

Steve Richert founded Living Vertical in August 2011. His website says LivingVertical was born, “to create and promote a ‘new normal’ of life with diabetes by showing PWD (People with diabetes) taking on extraordinary feats in the vertical world. We are committed to changing the perception of diabetes and its limitations through our Films and Climbing Projects.”

Steve is ready to break history and needs your support. Check out his video about what his latest project is all about.

Steve was nice enough to do a Q&A with me. As you’ll see below, Steve answers with honesty and heart.

His answers really blew me away and I hope you can appreciate the depth of his answers as I do.

How has physical activity helped you in your diabetes management?

Physical activity (in general) is one non-medical thing we can do to improve our health and combat diabetes. It is how we can take control and “reverse” the sickness by increasing health. I think simply the psychological element of that has been the most beneficial element. It also gives a positive incentive to all of the dietary micromanagement. My wife one day pointed out that my dietary regimen is akin to an olympic athlete and I realized that fine tuning our diet to yield higher performance is a gift that diabetes has given me. Fitness and physical activity is how we capitalize on that.
Climbing came along when I got burned out on fitness for fitness sake. Going to the gym and exercising to look better or feel better just stopped really motivating me after several years. I spent some time in the “hating exercise” boat. Turned out, I needed to have a reason to be exercising, a narrative that was more than just trying to outplay the diabetes. Getting outside and being free–getting exercise but not “exercising” led me to photography and filmmaking and it gave me a reason that, in plain speak, did not suck–to be pushing myself further–and finding ways to bring my diabetes with me.
Lows during exercise…I adjust my mealtimes such that my bolus is out of my system around the time that I start exercising. This makes highs gentle enough that they settle out of their own accord and lows “slow” enough that I am not scrambling to pack my face with sugar. I can usually get by eating what feels like normal snacks at regular intervals. Avoiding the rapid is the key.
With permission from Team LivingVertical

This is Blake McCord, drilling on the lead on a recent new route expedition on the Acopan Tepui in Venezuela. What might not be obvious is that Blake has had #diabetes since he was ten. There’s a lot that’s not obvious about diabetes, like the fact that it can make you stronger and more motivated to #gobeyond. | Caption & photo with permission from Team LivingVertical |

How do you create a healthy living environment when so much of what you do revolves around diabetes?

Staying positive has been my mission- to push back against both the “woe is me” and the somewhat carnivorous nature of diabetes advocacy- not by calling it out others, but simply by offering a clear alternative and letting those who can see the difference choose for themselves. Most people don’t understand the challenges of being truly grassroots unless they have experienced it themselves.
At times it feels like being stranded on this island where you write and write and post and publish and plan and work- only to have people seemingly not care.  Seeing the feeding frenzy for pharmaceutical industry dollars and not being the one getting flown to conferences all over the world and being hailed as a hero for creating newer, softer marketing for device and drug sales can get under your skin if you lose focus on why you’re there.
You have to find a way to make it fun. Care less and be free. Caring too much- or should I say, being too attached to an outcome- is not good. You have to follow your heart. Creating change and real advocacy isn’t just flowery nonsense- it’s gritty and raw in its execution. It’s rock and roll, not Justin Bieber. You have to abandon all of the modeling out there and let your advocacy come from the heart- where you hold onto the things worth fighting for. When you start to care or get weighed down by the struggle- step out of the ring and recharge.
I had a moment like that recently. My personal life was a wreck. I was about to become a parent. I was broke and pouring all my time and effort into making another climbing project that no one cared about. I was almost in tears on a daily basis- staying up till 4 am publishing blogs, getting no comments, meager amounts of likes on social media. It wasn’t good for me any more. So I stepped away. Took some time to cool off and stop feeling like I owed anyone anything to enjoyed my daughters arrival. I realized that none of this stuff really matters other than the good it does- so if it’s not doing any good, let it go!
Then I decided that I felt like getting my hands dirty again. So now I am back in the fight. But the difference is that now I am going at it for me. I’m not expecting anything from it so I am free to let it be organic.
I don’t think I have found balance. I only know that I am able to embrace what I do fully or step away from it fully- and feel good about it either way. Feeling that freedom is how I cope. Once you lose the freedom, the joy won’t last.
Awesome day out #bouldering with @laudahl who grabbed this photo--we beat the rain by enough time to get in a good session and some laps on this particular problem that I finally sent the other day after years of backing off the spicy moves up high. My hand is feeling good and my #diabetes is doing nothing. Just hanging out with me while I #climb. | Text & photo with permission from Team LivingVertical |

Awesome day out #bouldering with @laudahl who grabbed this photo–we beat the rain by enough time to get in a good session and some laps on this particular problem that I finally sent the other day after years of backing off the spicy moves up high. My hand is feeling good and my #diabetes is doing nothing. Just hanging out with me while I #climb.
| Text & photo with permission from Team LivingVertical |

What can we, as adults living with type 1 diabetes, do to become empowered? 

When we get diabetes, the add-on that we get which is never diagnosed is fear. Diabetes is simple enough to treat if you are disciplined and diligent. Certainly there are highs and lows, but not to the point of debilitation. Fear of those highs and lows are where we are held back. Overcome the fear and we overcome diabetes, for diabetes has no teeth for a disciplined, active person–aside from fear. There is no cure for diabetes, but there is a cure for fear.
Being empowered is about managing risk. Facing and defeating fear. Understanding that we have the ability to live life for the positives that motivate us and not be chasing our diabetes everywhere. Many people with diabetes spend their lives waging war on their diabetes like a parent might chase an unruly 2 year old on a bender–but diet and exercise if taken seriously can CHANGE that and put you back in control. It takes willingness to experiment gradually and always be learning.
Empowerment is rolling up your sleeves and finding a way.


With permission from Team LivingVertical

With permission from Team LivingVertical

What do you feel are the positives and negatives of being a diabetic in the world of social media? 

I dont know that there are special positives and negatives of social media that relate to diabetes aside from my tirade on question #2. I think the danger of all social media is that it promotes the idea that sitting on ass and talking about things is just as useful as actually getting out into the real world and doing something that makes a difference.

I have tapped into social media because I realized that that is where I would find the people who needed to hear what I had to say. Ironically my message is all about getting out and not staying on social media. There is a sacrifice that happens for me to spend as much time creating content for others when I could be playing.

Bullying and depression are huge problems. None of which have solutions on computers. Both of which are improved by simply getting outside into nature and moving. I suppose it’s good for people to have an outlet to vent about their diabetes which social media does provide, but it also can lead to an unhealthy focus on diabetes instead of the things that make diabetes worth managing. Honestly I am insulated from a lot of these issues with kids. I have heard some about them, but I don’t “get out much” in the diabetes world, being consumed with my own projects–asI’m sure you can imagine!
These are the people with diabetes I have heard of and want to reach. If they know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, then that makes everything worthwhile. Much of what I do is trying to get the parents to back off and let their child be empowered, because the road to hell is paved with good intentions and well meaning parents coddle and baby their kids so much that they fear everything and stand out socially. If parents believe you’re sick and fragile and raise you that way…it’s likely that you will see yourself that way and be easily discouraged. Having just become a parent though, I have recently learned that taking advice on how to raise your child is something that is not easily taken in stride…

Thank you again Steve for your time and sharing your insights. We can all achieve whatever we desire. You have reminded me of that.


With permission from Team LivingVertical

With permission from Team LivingVertical

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  1. Thanks for this great interview! I love Steve’s positive message and agree wholeheartedly with just about everything he has to say (tirade included). This is a great example of why I like your blog – only light can drive out darkness, right? 🙂 (apologies to Martin Luther King, Jr for the sloppy paraphrase)


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