Famous People with Diabetes: Nat Strand

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By : dLife Editors

Claim to fame: winner of CBS’s The Amazing Race
Date of birth: December 15, 1978
Diabetes type: 1

Quote: “I’m never going to say diabetes is easy—I’m never going to say it’s something I would choose if I had a choice—but it’s not a limitation. It’s a challenge that we can all rise to meet and overcome.”

In the December 2010 Season 17 finale of The Amazing Race, best friends Nat Strand and Kat Chang made history as they crossed the finish line at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, California. Not only were they the first all-women team to win the reality show, but they were also the first team to include a contestant with diabetes.

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age twelve, Nat Strand has never let her disease limit her. She runs half-marathons, scuba dives, bikes, and skis, in addition to working long hours as an interventional pain-management physician in Newport Beach, California. The Scottsdale, Arizona native lives according to her personal saying: “Diabetes is a challenge, not a limitation”—the same belief that motivated her to sign up for The Amazing Race.

The Amazing Race is a worldwide scavenger hunt in which eleven teams travel around the globe, searching for checkpoints and competing in physical and mental challenges. The journey forces contestants to undergo excessive stress and frequent adrenaline rushes, issues that do not coincide well with type 1 diabetes.

Before leaving for the month-long expedition, Strand met with her medical team to prepare for various diabetic disasters. The producers of The Amazing Race refused to carry additional insulin or other diabetes-related health supplies, so Strand had to fit all her medical necessities inside a single backpack. Transforming her bag into a makeshift medical supply kit, Strand packed it with a month’s worth of insulin, test strips, syringes, blood glucose meters, a glucagon emergency kit, and snacks, among other reserves—so many, in fact, that she did not even have room to fit a hairbrush!

During the course of the season, Nat and her teammate journeyed across four continents, ten countries, and thirty-one cities. Throughout this period, Nat endured difficulties that challenged her diabetes care, such as lack of control over diet, an irregular schedule, limited supplies, inadequate rest, and intense amounts of activity. During the competition, Nat tested her blood sugar six to eight times per day, often in trains and taxis, and even one time inside a gondola in Norway. Her blood glucose levels ranged from the low forties to the high 300s—this fluctuation coming from high levels of stress or intense activity, like bungee-jumping off of a crane in Long Beach, California.

Strand found it difficult to maintain a diabetes-friendly diet. Limited time and money made it hard to eat healthy or have regular meals, so Strand lived on hotel breakfasts, airplane food, sports energy gels, and Power Bars throughout the trip. She found it difficult to count carbs, especially while eating unusual food (such as boiled sheep’s head) as part of challenges.

Ultimately, during the competition, she faced no overwhelming health obstacle, though she did endure daily diabetic irritations, like pumps that needed to be changed and others that frequently alarmed. Strand admits that “[Diabetes] was a huge pain in the butt, but it wasn’t an obstacle. It may have cost me some energy, a few minutes here or there, but it didn’t hold me back.” She credits resourcefulness and thorough preparation for her positive experience during the competition.

After rappelling down a canyon in the Middle East, dog sledding in the Arctic Circle, speed skating in South Korea, and enduring other exhilarating, bizarre, and stressful situations across the globe, Strand and Chang crossed The Amazing Race finish line first, earning $1 million. For Strand, becoming the first person with diabetes to win was an even bigger achievement than being part of the first victorious female team. She states, “It felt like a huge accomplishment, and I hope it shows that you can be as active as you want, and do pretty much anything with diabetes.”

After The Amazing Race, Strand returned to her occupation as an anesthesiologist. She regained control over her diet, exercise, and sleep schedules, causing her blood glucose to lower to the 120-160 range. She plans to use her newfound fame, as well as a portion of her prize money, to educate, increase awareness, and raise money for diabetes advocacy. Strand has been delivering speeches about her experiences and meeting with diabetic organizations to support diabetes research. She has received public praise thanking her for her realistic portrayal of diabetes on television, which enlightened viewers about the daily difficulties associated with the disease.

Her most recent accomplishment was the release of her book, A Woman’s Guide to Diabetes: A Path to Wellness, which she co-authored with Brandy Barnes, MSW. The book is an uplifting, powerful work that gives readers the message that they can do more than just live with diabetes. It’s an inspiring read that embodies the attitude that Nat lives by: “Diabetes is a challenge, not a limitation.”