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Olympian Barbara Jardin, managing Type 1 diabetes and crowdfunding her comeback

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Barbara Jardin is ready for her first overseas meet since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

The 23-year-old is part of the 20-swimmer Canadian team competing at the 2015 Summer Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea, beginning Friday. Getting to the point where the Montealer, accompanied by Intensive Training Program coach Tom Rushton, can travel across 11 time zones to compete is a major step for someone who believed she might have to retire.

While not as high-profile as the Pan Am Games or FINA World Championships, Jardin hopes the Universiade is a step back towards the Olympics. Jardin was 10th in women’s 200-metre freestyle three summers ago in London and her ambition is to return to the Olympics and be a beacon for aspiring athletes who have diabetes.

Jardin has started a personal Pumped For Rio campaign ( in order to cover the costs of her insulin pump and medications, along with training and competing at World Cup. Her aim is to raise $8,000 by the end of next week; at this writing, she’s more than halfway there but still looking for support.

“I started off this year saying that I was going to stop swimming – ‘I can’t do this, I’m tired all the time, I can’t have something else wrong with me,’ ” says Jardin, who was also on the Olympic 4×200-m relay team that finished fourth.

“I kept thinking about it, especially about one thing that my aunt, Anne Jardin, who won two bronze medals at the 1976 Olympics, told me. She was on the team to go to the 1980 Olympics [in Moscow] when Canada boycotted [because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan]. She told me she regretted not going for another four years.

“That’s what was in the back of my mind: ‘I have to do this for me and I have to do this for other people who believe in me.’ I want to inspire people. I don’t want them to look at me and say ‘she kind of gave up.

” I want to keep going and inspire people who have had a little bump in the road, and believe in the impossible.”

— Barbara Jardin

Five-time Olympic gold medallist Gary Hall Jr. is one example of a top swimmer who learned to manage the rigours of swimming while having Type 1 diabetes.

Jardin says she was initially in denial that she needed to see if she had diabetes. Common warning signs – constant thirst, dehydration, oversleeping – started appearing in early 2014. Jardin believed that was a result of balancing her training with her studies at the University of Montreal. At the 2014 Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships, but had “trouble finishing my races – but I had a big load, four individual and three relays, so I figured fatigue was normal.”

Jardin notes that delayed reaction might be particular to young athletes, which is why she’s sharing her story.

“I kept giving myself excuses – there’s this, there’s that,” she says. “I should have gone to the hospital sooner.

“We’re athletes. We’re always, ‘we’re OK, we’re OK,’ but it’s better to get checked just in case.”

Jardin received an insulin pump last month and says she sat out just two workouts due to low blood sugar or glucose levels. She keeps a constant vigilance on her condition while working with nutritionist Alexia de Macar and her sport doctor, Dr. Suzanne Leclerc.

“Being diagnosed with this and realizing how expensive it is, I just want to make sure I’m not worrying about the money,” she says. “It’s the medications, and the needles that add up to about $350 per month. I’ll be swimming full-time, so I’ll have to pay my own insurance, about $450 a month. Plus Tom and I want to go to some World Cup competitions in the fall and do a training camp in Thailand.”

Jardin and Rushton have their sights set on next spring’s Canadian Olympic Trials, which will determine who represents this country in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Summer Games. At this point, they are working on establishing a routine in a sport with such a heavy volume of training.

“The margin of error for her is a lot slimmer,” Rushton says. “If her blood sugar and glucose levels get too low, or something goes wrong, we don’t have the same elasticity that we do with other swimmers.

“At least now she knows,” Rushton adds. “It’s not a blessing, but at least we have the knowledge.”

Jardin competed at the CIS championships in March, where she remembers needing U of M teammate Katerine Savard to help her out of the pool after the 400-m freestyle. She competed at the Team Canada Trials in Toronto in April to earn her spot on the Universiade squad.

“I have almost have to treat her like a new athlete,” Rushton says. “She has to re-learn how to go to a meet.

“It’s funny, because Barbara is such a great athlete,” Rushton adds. “She’s done everything you can do in the sport. She’s been to the world championships, she’s been in an Olympic final in a relay. Yet I’m more protective of her than I am of my other athletes. I’m almost like a protective parent with her.

“That’s the big thing with the world university games, that we’ll go on that trip together and we’ll do some information collecting about how she responds.”

Whether she gets on the blocks in Rio, Jardin’s journey has given her a glimpse of a potential post-swimming career. She was focusing on the sciences when enrolled at the U of Montreal, thinking she might pursue marine biology. Now she is thinking of nursing.

“It really opened my eyes,” she says. “When I was diagnosed I hung out with a lot of nurses for a good three weeks. They were talking to me and I realized that’s what I want to do – help people with diabetes, especially athletes. If I can tell them about my story and experience, maybe it can help.”

The 2015 Summer Universiade runs through July 14.