The power of positivity


Canadian endurance athlete and inspirational speaker Sébastien Sasseville refuses to let type 1 diabetes stop him from achieving his dreams, as he explained to Ruby McGill, Director of Youth, during a visit to New Zealand last year.


When Sébastien Sasseville decided to climb Mount Everest, something he’d dreamed about as a child, he broke it down into smaller steps. Doing this, he says, ensures that when you look at the next step it’s never overwhelming. Once you’ve completed the first step – for Sébastien this was signing up for climbing lessons – step two won’t feel as intimidating.

Incredibly, on 25 May 2008, Sébastien became the third T1D person in the world to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He attributes this success to getting up, working hard every single day and being patient – and accepting that sometimes you have bad days and the only thing you can do to turn it around is to go to bed and wait for tomorrow.

And that’s okay.

Sébastien Sasseville refuses to let type 1 diabetes stop him from achieving his dreams. In 2012, the French endurance athlete completed one of the toughest running races on Earth, the Sahara desert race, and in 2014 he spent nine months running 7,200km across Canada.

Sébastien says he has learned many lessons along the way and he now shares these with the business world, travelling the globe giving  inspirational talks. He believes his recipe for success is simple but not always easy. Sébastien embraces life with a positive growth mindset and believes his diabetes diagnosis was a blessing, even though, he confesses, it certainly didn’t feel like that on Day 1.

His diagnosis at 22 years old was just like everyone else’s – tough, frightening and overwhelming. His brother had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes six years earlier and Sébastien recognised he was showing the classic symptoms. “I didn’t want to accept it was happening to me, but I drove myself to the clinic where I received the inevitable news from my doctor,” he says.

“The love and support of my friends at college helped me adjust to living with diabetes. They were interested in what was happening and always there to help if needed.”

But Sébastien never wanted to transfer the burden to them. He quickly learnt he had to be 100% responsible for his successes and take ownership of his diabetes. He didn’t have a choice and that is what he believes is the true blessing, even going as far as saying it’s one of the best things that has happened to his life.

“You are forced to adapt and find something about it that will be great. The positive choice was simple – caving in, not accepting it and being pissed off about it made no sense to me. It was pretty obvious it would lead to no good,” he says.

Sébastien believed early on that if he managed his diabetes properly, all his dreams and things he wanted to do didn’t need to go away. They were still possible. During public speaking events he is often asked how to motivate people that hate “it”, whatever that may be.

“It’s totally okay to hate it [diabetes] and don’t feel bad for hating it, but at some point you need to make a conscious effort to change how you feel about diabetes. Taking the first step doesn’t mean everything should be perfect the next day. You will need to allow for some imperfection. Diabetes is a process. It’s never a finished thing,” he explains.

Sébastien reminds his audiences that motivation comes after action. The first step is to get out there and do whatever it is you love doing, then the motivation comes. It’s not the other way around. This was certainly the case for Sébastien. Even though he has successfully completed what has been described as one of the toughest physical challenges on Earth – the multi-stage Sahara desert race – and run across Canada, when he first started running he could only manage 250 metres before stopping.


“Nobody likes running when they start, but then you start doing it and your body feels better, your mind feels better, you get healthier, you get faster, you get thinner, you get sharper and you get that endorphine release – that’s the motivation! Before you know it you’ll notice how you feel when you don’t run and that becomes your drive. You start and then good things happen. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.”

Sébastien wouldn’t wish type 1 diabetes on anyone but accepts that when you have it, there’s nothing you can do about it. Rather than letting diabetes restrict what he can do, he continues to challenge himself and views every obstacle or failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. It is this mindset that allows him to succeed in his endeavours whether that is summiting Mount Everest or delivering a change management presentation to business leaders.

He acknowledges it can be scary to put yourself out there and try something new, especially when you’re not sure if it will work. By creating an environment where it’s safe to fail and where if you do, you will learn something, you will always succeed. This is exactly how Sébastien embarks on any new training regime.

“If I have a low I’ll be able to treat it because I won’t be by myself and I’ll learn something. Same thing if my blood sugars go high.”

Sébastien is always thinking about the next big adventure and has set his sights on the 2019 Ironman World Championships. To prepare he knows he must train consistently, aiming for a little every day while paying close attention to his diabetes. This will allow him to put his diabetes on “auto pilot” during the race and provided everything is going to plan he can focus on racing, rather than his diabetes.

This kind of regime can be tiring and Sébastien acknowledges there are days where he may not test as often and longs for a tiny break from his diabetes. When this happens he readjusts the way he measures success so he’s not disappointed and avoids feeling bad about diabetes or bad about himself. He tells himself “today I’m going to do the best I can. I’m going to have that piece of cake or beers with the boys. I’m going to do the best I can to manage diabetes and if I go a little too high, who cares. I’m giving myself that room today.”

When it comes to living with diabetes Sébastien realises that the goal can change and sometimes it’s important to allow yourself not to be perfect. Managing diabetes is not easy, and is never ending but, as Sébastien has shown, it doesn’t have to stop us from achieving our dreams.

**This article first appeared in the Autumn 2018 issue of Diabetes Wellness magazine. Subscribe to Diabetes NZ today to receive your copy.

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Jo Chapman