Take a Walk in Eliza’s Wet Soggy Boots! The Extraordinary Story of 6 Million Steps from Italy to Scotland for T1D
Meet Eliza Bartlett - a determined and successful cricket captain for Sturt Women’s Cricket Club in Adelaide, a mental health nurse and a type 1 diabetes (T1D) warrior. This year Eliza took on a solo, six-month long, 4300km trek from Brindisi in southern Italy to Aberdeen in Scotland with an 18kg backpack.
Why, you might ask? Why would she take six months off work, use up all her annual leave and self-fund this challenging journey with all her savings? As a 27-year-old, Eliza has lived with type 1 diabetes since she was 9. She has witnessed the pain of others who live with this chronic condition 24/7 and has heard of young lives lost too soon. Having experienced firsthand how technology and research has impacted her own life, Eliza was determined to do whatever she could to support the research of JDRF. She was also resolved to pay for this journey herself; any other money that came in would count towards funds raised.
To Eliza, a cure for type 1 diabetes means a life to be enjoyed free of needles, insulin pumps, test strips, blood glucose tests and future health complications, a life without constant challenges except for those on the sporting field and a life made easier for future generations.
Eliza’s 4300km trek is the second time she has pushed herself beyond unimaginable boundaries, to show to herself and other people living with type 1 diabetes that T1D does not need to define you, limit you and stop you from following your dreams. Six years ago, she walked from Adelaide to Melbourne and raised $25,000 for JDRF. She damaged all the tendons in her feet and ankles, developed stress fractures and required surgery after the walk but Eliza says she decided then and there that this wasn’t her last battleground.
Her journey across Italy, Switzerland, France and England through to Scotland wasn’t easy either. Her 18kg backpack was half-filled with diabetes treatment and half with maps for her route and other necessities. In Italy, the rain continued to pour despite the weather heading into summer and with rain came rivers and mud. Not exactly the right recipe when you are on foot and traversing the countryside. Mud would grip Eliza’s boots making each step harder, more slippery and treacherous. “There were times when my clothes and boots were so wet that only a hair dryer helped me prepare for the next day!” says Eliza. As someone living with T1D the daily stress of the trek, long hours, fitful sleeps and a high carbohydrate diet added to the roller coaster.
Surprisingly, each day Eliza woke up feeling positive, knowing that nothing would hold her back. Massive hills, busy highways, marathon distances, wet slippery declines, watery torrents and more rain were par for the course, but she didn’t let anything get in her way. Even when feeling ill from her type 1 diabetes, dehydrated from lack of water between towns, hungry from lack of food as the small towns she passed through were closed awaiting the summer, she simply pushed on.
As one would expect with any journey, the lows were also accompanied by highs – a concept particularly poignant for someone living with type 1 diabetes. Eliza climbed to the top of many mountains to see amazing vistas, stayed in picturesque villages that were off the beaten track and sat and took in breathtaking coastal views. When loneliness became overwhelming, Eliza befriended some fellow travellers from Adelaide in Rome and spent a little time being a tourist. “There were moments when I’d literally be dancing and singing while walking and just so grateful to be alive,” she tells us.
In the beautiful town of Acquapendente, Italy, Eliza was taken in by a family who had seen her story on Facebook. The family ensured she was well looked after and in the morning the Mayor of Acquapendente presented Eliza with a certificate in front of the community. According to Eliza, moments like this were truly incredible and will stay with her for a very long time.
Eliza hopes her nine-year-old self would be proud of where she is today, and that she hasn’t allowed type 1 diabetes to stop her, define her or win the fight!
While Eliza’s European Trek to raise money for JDRF has come to a close, she admits she’s already contemplating what her next campaign might be. Through her incredible journey, Eliza managed to raise more than $73,500 for JDRF to fund life-changing type 1 diabetes research.