Crystal Bowersox: “You Should Have Won”

Even If you don’t have diabetes, it’s great to educate yourself about low blood sugar. If you know someone with diabetes, ask them how you can help in case of an emergency. I believe whole-heartedly that if we all do what we are able to, together we can accomplish so much. Changing the world for […]

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Even If you don’t have diabetes, it’s great to educate yourself about low blood sugar. If you know someone with diabetes, ask them how you can help in case of an emergency. I believe whole-heartedly that if we all do what we are able to, together we can accomplish so much. Changing the world for the better doesn’t always require a grand gesture to profoundly impact the life of another. Every act of kindness, big or small, creates a positive exchange.

I had the pleasure of interviewing singer/songwriter and Lilly Diabetes Ambassador, Crystal Bowersox. Crystal has been living with type 1 diabetes since she was six years old. Crystal is helping to kick off the educational initiative, Know Before the Low, by encouraging people with diabetes to educate their support network and develop a plan for low blood sugar and very low blood sugar emergencies.

Thank you so much for joining us Crystal! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

Thank you for taking the time. I’ve always had a passion for music, as far back as I can remember. When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It turned my world upside down. Music became the foundational pillar of my existence and was a necessary form of catharsis. Music was the navigator that led me through every difficult situation and emotion throughout my childhood and adolescence. I left the farm fields of NW Ohio and traded them in for the skyscrapers of Chicago at the age of 17. There, I discovered a whole new world — full of rich experiences and opportunity, with music as my constant companion.

In 2010, I auditioned for American Idol. I was a young, independent mother at the time. Several weeks into the competition, I was hospitalized and it very quickly became known to the public that I lived with type1 diabetes. Ultimately, I placed second on the show and realized I had just been given a megaphone. I realized I could share my story and possibly inspire other people living with diabetes. I’m an artist, a songwriter, a touring musician, a mom, and run a successful small business and I am beyond grateful to create for a living.

Being a Lilly Diabetes Ambassador in addition to my music career is how I define living to the fullest. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many amazing and inspiring people because of all of it. It has always been important to me to make a positive impact on my community and the world around me. For the past several years, I have been able to do just that through being a Lilly Diabetes Ambassador.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

Oh boy, I have so many stories to tell. I’ve met world leaders and celebrities, but I’m still just a farm kid from Ohio. One particular encounter that stuck with me happened after an American Idol episode. The show’s contestants were being ushered quickly to a backstage meet and greet area to spend time with a few select, well-known celebrities who had been in the audience that evening. I had to pass my one-year-old son in the hallway on the way and he spotted me. He started wailing and screaming to be with his mom, but the show’s security guards kept us moving toward the meet and greet. It tore me apart. I tried to pull it together and smile for our esteemed guests, but I couldn’t contain my tears.

A very well-known comedian was there with his family to meet us. He asked why I was so upset, so I told him. I took a few pictures with his family and did the best I could to maintain my composure. As he was leaving, he looked me in the eye and said, “Well, it looks like you’re one of us now, kid!”. His words sank in. I didn’t know what he meant when he said it, but the take away for me was a strong reminder to always stay true to myself for the sake of my son. I’ve never heard anyone confess from their deathbed that they wished they had worked more and wished they’d sacrificed more time with their children. The dying always wish for more quality time with their loved ones.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Never allow others to determine your self-worth, and if you chase the dollar, the dollar is going to run.

I used to play music on subway platforms in Chicago. Some days, travelers would simply pretend you didn’t exist. A performer is lucky to make a buck on a day like that. Other days, an audience would form on the platform around me. People would dance and share joy, and I easily would earn a grand or more in a few hours. I always made sure to pass along some of what I had made into the tip bucket of the next performer taking the spot. In both situations, my intentions were always the same; to heal myself and others through something I truly have a true passion for. I enjoyed playing music, and that was worth everything.

I’ve had plenty of support along the way to where I am now. As an independent artist, the relationship with my fans is so important. It’s like family. They have been incredible to my son and I, as well as my management, bandmates and crew. With music and with diabetes, I know I can depend on my network to support me when I need it. It took a lot of hard work and determination to get here, but gratefully, I’m able to do what I love for a living and inspire others through that.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

I’m inspired by everyone I meet. I think we are all students and teachers here to help each other. I could name some well-known, but I’m more inspired by the T1D kids I meet at camps as a Lilly Diabetes Ambassador, and by my son, Tony. They have made the most profound impact on my life. My son inspires me to be my best every day.

One of the most profound life lessons I’ve learned thus far came from a complete stranger. On a whim, I traveled alone to Istanbul, Turkey when I was 21 years old. To make a long story short, my original host wasn’t able to host me. So on my very limited budget, I instead went to stay at a youth hostel. At the hostel, there was another guest who kept taking my food out of the shared refrigerator. Having diabetes, this was obviously an issue for me. I never accused him of stealing or even let him know that I knew it was he who was taking my food. Instead, I asked him for a meal, and he fed me whenever I asked.

One night, I finally confronted him. He just smiled and gave me a hug. He took my face in his hands and asked, “Have you gone without?”.

A few moments went by. I threw my arms up and just hugged him back. We spent the rest of the evening sharing stories about our lives and talked about culture and pursuits. It was a lesson I’ll always take with me. It taught me to have more faith and to let things go as easily as they come.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

I write songs that include stories of triumph over tragedy. Music is a powerful tool for positive change in the world. Fans have been very generous throughout the years and have made donations to what I like to call the, “You Should Have Won” fund. Its name is in reference to my time spent on American Idol. The money collected after each show is then donated to several different non-profits who are doing amazing work in the world.

I’m also very excited to be part of the Know Before the Low initiative to help people with diabetes be more prepared for low blood sugar and very low blood sugar emergencies. As someone with diabetes, I know how important it is to be prepared for low blood sugar and to share your rescue plan with those around you, in case of an emergency.

Managing diabetes can be stressful but knowing that you have a support network empowered with the knowledge to help in the event of a very low blood sugar emergency is one way to feel prepared. I’d encourage anyone living with diabetes or anyone who knows someone with diabetes to visit to learn more!

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

The “You Should Have Won” donation fund started when a fan after a show jokingly said to me, “Boy, if you had a dollar for every time you’ve heard that phrase…” — I thought, why not! To collect donations, I use the same tip box that I used as a street performer. Thankfully, I no longer need to play on subway platforms to get by, but I continue to spread joy and love by making donations to organizations I believe are making a positive difference in the world. When you have more than you need, one shouldn’t build a bigger wall; we should build a longer table.

It’s important to Know Before the Low because even with careful monitoring, planning and preparation, low blood sugar can happen unexpectedly. Once during a concert, I began to experience mild low blood sugar symptoms — rather than stopping to get my supplies or cancel the show, I explained what was happening to the crowd and asked if anyone could spare some candy or a sugary snack. Suddenly, the entire audience became my support network. The front of the stage was filled with sweets! Fortunately, I was only experiencing a mild low in which candy was able to help raise my blood sugar, but in the event of a very low blood sugar emergency, I’d need a rescue treatment to recover. When I’m on tour, my tour manager, band and crew are my primary support network. I know how important it is to make sure those around me know my rescue plan and how to administer a prescription rescue treatment in the event of a very low blood sugar emergency. If you have diabetes, your support network should go beyond your family and friends to co-workers, teachers — or in my case, my tour crew.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

The first “You Should Have Won” donation collection went to a Native American family living on a reservation in Montana. The eldest of the family had several pressing health issues but had been unable to get medical attention due to a lack of transportation. With the fan sourced donation they received, the family was able to purchase a modest vehicle. Having a vehicle is something so many of us take for granted, but it made all the difference for them. Another recipient was an organization called, Retrieving Freedom. Their mission is to train service dogs for wounded veterans, veterans suffering from PTSD, kids with autism, and they are now beginning to train diabetic alert dogs.

I’m proud of the Know Before the Low initiative because it is empowering for people with diabetes and those around them. I feel more confident when the people around me know how to help in the event of an emergency and hope that other people with diabetes will feel comfortable and confident telling their support network how to help as well. I used to be hesitant to share my condition with others but I’ve found that people are eager to learn more and want to know how to help — whether it’s bringing you candy or juice for mild to moderate lows or knowing what to do in the event of a very low blood sugar emergency.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Yes! There are many things that people can do to help support Know Before the Low. At there are great resources about low blood sugar, including signs and symptoms and why and how to help those with diabetes who may be experiencing a low. If you have diabetes, three simple topics to consider are: Knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms and treat different stages of low blood sugar, Preparing for very low blood sugar emergencies by talking to your diabetes healthcare team about a rescue plan that’s right for you, and lastly, sharing your rescue plan with your support network. It’s also critical to understand how to spot the signs and symptoms of mild, moderate and severe low blood sugar, as well as knowing how mild and moderate low blood sugar can progress quickly to a very low blood sugar emergency, and share this with your support network. Even If you don’t have diabetes, it’s great to educate yourself about low blood sugar. If you know someone with diabetes, ask them how you can help in case of an emergency.

I believe whole-heartedly that if we all do what we are able to, together we can accomplish so much. Changing the world for the better doesn’t always require a grand gesture to profoundly impact the life of another. Every act of kindness, big or small, creates a positive exchange.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Living with diabetes has taught me so many things that are applicable to every facet of life. I was six years old when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and I was really scared at first. No one outside my family knew I had diabetes so I felt very alone and wanted to be like all of my friends. But I’ve found that people are always interested in learning more about diabetes and are eager to help if you need anything. Similar to my experience at the youth hostel in Istanbul, allowing ourselves to experience something different than others can change our outlook. Telling people around you what’s going on with you is a great step in feeling more confident about yourself and helps us relate to one another in an authentic way.
  • If you have an off day, be gentle with yourself. This applies to diabetes management as much as it does anything else — no one is perfect, and that’s how it is supposed to be. It’s important to understand that others are there to support you, celebrate the good moments, and help embrace any challenges you may face while on your journey.
  • Educate and advocate for yourself. It will empower others to join you. With low blood sugar, this can be about educating yourself and those around you about how to spot signs and symptoms of a low, as well as knowing how mild and moderate low blood sugar can quickly progress to a very low blood sugar emergency. Knowing that the people around you can and want to help and support you can provide a lot of confidence to go out and achieve your dreams! Start a conversation with your diabetes healthcare team about low blood sugar and very low blood sugar emergencies to help you feel prepared and learn about what to share with your support network.
  • Expect the unexpected — like anything, low blood sugar can happen unexpectedly. It’s important to create a rescue plan for what to do in the event of an emergency and share it with those around you. Although it might be scary to think about emergencies, knowing that there is a rescue plan in place is crucial to being prepared for the unexpected — and managing your diabetes.
  • Be kind to one another! You never know what someone else is going through or how hard they’ve worked to get to where they are. It’s just as important to have a support network as it is to be one for someone else. Your network can stretch far and wide. Share your own experiences and ask others what you can do to help them.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There are so many important conversations happening in the world today. I really try to use whatever influence I have to lead by example. In addition to everyday acts of kindness and supporting social justice issues, I am passionate about the diabetes community and want to help people who may be struggling with the day-to-day of diabetes management. Low blood sugar is a huge part of managing diabetes, including low blood sugar events, which can trigger people to feel stressed, frustrated or overwhelmed. The Know Before the Low initiative encourages people with diabetes to be prepared for low blood sugar and very low blood sugar emergencies by talking to their diabetes healthcare team about a rescue plan that’s right for them, and sharing their plan with their support network — these are ways to feel more confident that you and your support network are prepared with what to do in the event of a very low blood sugar emergency. And personally, I want to share my journey to help others with diabetes and those who care for them be prepared in the event of an emergency. It could save lives!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

My grandfather always told me there were three important things in life (other than my grandma’s cooking). Education, family, and traveling the world. He wasn’t necessarily a rich man when he left this world, but he was happy. He had achieved all three things. He was fulfilled and was proud of the family he created. I want my own son to remember these things and pursue them with vigor.

Another favorite of mine is, “You’ll never get apples from an oak tree.” If an oak tree is all you’ve got in this world, then you just have to find a way to use acorns.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’ll shoot for the stars with this one. I admire the strength of Miriam E. Nelson, CEO of Newman’s Own Foundation. I could learn a lot from her. My “You Should Have Won” Foundation dream is very much a grassroots level operation currently, but I hope to someday be able to help people in a much larger way. Paul Newman’s vision and philosophy is exactly what I would like to emulate. I would love to talk to someone who possesses the knowledge and resources necessary to help turn my micro-grant giving effort into a more impactful, charitable foundation that could continue long after I’m done singing songs.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!

Truly, thank you for taking the time to talk with me!

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