Utah boarder heading to Antarctica
Busby is hoping to inspire people who suffer from type 1 diabetes
DRAPER He's trained to be an Olympian.
He's been at the top of the mountain as a professional snowboarder and is widely recognized as one of the best in the world at what he does.
Now, Draper's Sean Busby wants to turn it all upside down and hit bottom literally.
Next week, the 24-year-old University of Utah student, Wasatch Academy Snowboarding director and relentless thrill-seeker will join an expedition to Antarctica, where he will shred some of the last runs ever to be tackled.
"There's going to be a lot of first ascents and a lot of first descents," Busby said. "It's pretty exciting to think we'll be the first on some of those slopes."
The trip, which begins Oct. 25 and ends Nov. 15, has visits along the way to such misnamed places as Paradise Bay. He, along with his party that includes snowboard and mountaineering experts John Griber and Doug Stoup, will climb some of the most rugged and demanding mountains in the world.
In the process, Busby hopes to raise awareness of, and provide inspiration to, those suffering from type 1 diabetes.
It's a disease Busby only discovered he had a few years ago.
While racing as a pro in 2004, Busby was hit with symptoms he didn't understand. He was fatigued, began losing weight and energy and because his performance on the slopes began to fade losing sponsors, too. He sought treatment and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
The treatment for that diagnosis, however, did not lead to improved health and, after dropping 30 pounds and passing in and out of a near-comatose state from diabetic ketoacidosis, he was finally given the correct diagnosis of type 1 or juvenile diabetes.
"At that point, I was seriously considering giving everything up," he said. "But at the same time, I saw how fortunate I was to be diagnosed at a pretty late age. I was old enough to deal with it."
Now, vigilantly monitoring his blood sugar and keeping up with the latest medicines and technology to treat his diabetes, Busby is ready to climb back to the top or bottom of the world.
Busby's quest for extreme treks is not something he decided to do on a lark.
He grew up a skier and snowboarder and frequently watched films of backcountry skiing produced by the likes of Warren Miller. That kind of exposure planted a seed in his mind that is now coming to fruition.
"I'm excited to go see the penguins, actually," Busby said. "One of the days, our plans are to be out there in colonies of penguins. They say there will be something like 60,000 pairs and their babies ... the wildlife will be pretty prehistoric to say the least."
The crew involved will spend time on the frozen continent documenting their travels and experiences. They will also take satellite phones and laptops in order to upload daily broadcasts and updates to children's hospitals where patients suffering from diabetes are receiving treatment.
The disease Busby is fighting has given him a drastically different outlook on life and his profession.
"It's given me a different direction in my life," said Busby, who will graduate in December with a degree in health promotion and education. "This disease has grounded me from where I used to be. ... I like what diabetes did for me. It has brought me down to earth."
Busby calls diabetes "my new best friend because even though we might get into fights sometimes, it will always be with me."
And the disease which is tricky to treat and manage will be much more so in the extreme temperatures and altitude. It's just one more wrinkle to iron out in preparing for such a demanding trip.
"Circulation is an issue," he said. "I have to keep my feet as warm as possible to keep the blood flowing. And I have to keep my insulin from freezing. I've got a new insulin pump that has a continuous glucose monitor and has an alarm any time I'm too high or too low. Then I just have to push a button and I get a shot of insulin."
Any problems, though, could be deadly.
"If something goes wrong," Busby said, "I'm days away from help."
With that in mind, Busby said he is training his traveling partners on some of the basics of diabetes. In an emergency, they'll be able to get him help and rush him to a medical station.
Of course, diabetes is only one of the dangers Busby and company will be dealing with. The harsh climate and treacherous conditions are probably the biggest threat they'll face.
With hidden crevasses, sub-zero temperatures, high winds and unknown landscapes, the explorers will carry much more than snowboards as they hit the mountains. They'll pack crampons on ice boots, ice axes, mountaineering ropes and lots of warm clothes.
Of course, all this is a change from the days he raced on the slopes and even competed in the 1998 Olympics.
"The commercial side of snowboarding isn't as exciting any more," he said. "The lift lines, the waiting. There's so much more out there to explore."
And so Busby has turned his attention to hitting slopes rarely seen by other humans.
He recently returned from a training trip to New Zealand and has expeditions planned to Greenland, South Georgia Island and other remote locations in coming years.
"I've never felt this addicted to the sport," he said.Nor has he felt so alive. A blessing he says he'll never take for granted again.