Credit: Hank Devos
She went to summer camp, and never really came back. For People with type 1 diabetes, that’s a good thingCalgary, Alberta/Toronto, Ontario // Age: 28
Jen Hanson doesn't remember her life before diabetes—she was diagnosed at age three—and never let the condition define her. But she also didn’t feel like she quite fit in until she went to Camp Huronda, an Ontario summer camp for kids with type 1 diabetes, a disease that interferes with the body’s ability to produce insulin.
“I felt like a normal kid,” she says. “It was a nice break from all the questions—I didn’t have to explain why I had low blood sugar. My best friends, even now, are from summer camp.”
The experience opened her eyes to what a person with diabetes could achieve, catalyzing a lifelong passion for wild places and adventure. Every summer until she was 25, Hanson returned to Huronda from her family’s home in Sunderland, Ontario, climbing the ranks from camper to program director. In between, she volunteered for diabetes-oriented charities and earned a master’s in experiential education from Brock University.
“A lot of health professionals and the general population put limitations on what type 1 diabetics can do,” Hanson says. “Knowing those limits and pushing them, particularly in the wilderness, is important. I’ve seen the impact it can have, like major life changes.”
In 2009, Hanson signed up for Connected in Motion (CIM), a new non-profit outdoor education program for people living with type 1 diabetes. Before long, she had partnered with the organization’s founder, Chloe Steepe. “She is the perfect role model for the [diabetes] community we are working to build,” says Steepe. “She is active, outgoing and lives her life with diabetes without limits. She tries to engage and teach others to do the same.
“She never stops,” Steepe says. “Honestly. Never.”
Hanson leads many of the CIM trips, and also helps with the group’s website, fundraising and everything else it takes to run an active group on a tiny budget that leaves little extra cash for salaries. “When I got my master’s there was a point where I had to decide whether to get a real job and a consistent paycheque, or work with a non-profit,” Hanson says. “I chose the non-profit. It’s scary but it’s what I really want to do.”
This profile is part of our Top 30 under 30 feature.