Instagram introduced me to Matt and his FTF Warrior team, and I’ve been following along on their journey via social media since. We met in person at the TCOYD ONE in San Diego a few months ago, and having a chance to talk with Matt, his wife (and business partner) Lisa, his sister (also a T1D), and several other members of his team was truly inspiring. Today, Matt is joining me here at SixUntilMe to talk about his diagnosis, his journey towards empowerment, and his platform over at FTF Warrior.

Kerri:  Thanks for stopping by the blog!  Can you tell SixUntilMe readers a little bit about yourself?

Matt:  Hello SixUntilMe readers! My name is Matt Vande Vegte. I grew up in San Diego, California, and I have lived in a few different places throughout the world. Growing up, I was a very active and rambunctious child. I thrived in nature and loved any opportunity to go off into the mountains, forest, beach, etc. to explore new areas, which often landed me with new injuries to match. I’ve broken bones, torn ligaments and muscles, had stitches, and had surgeries, but none of that slowed me down. While adventure is no longer my everyday life (because, you know… silly work and responsibilities get in the way), I still enjoy a good adrenaline rush.

Currently favorite memory including an adrenaline experience is the time I went skydiving over the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I’ve been very blessed to live a fast life, but things are slowing down after getting married to my amazing and supportive wife and starting a new business. I am now studying to become a Master Fitness Trainer, taking business classes online, training to become a firefighter, working here and there as a male model, running my own business, and working on a secret project for the business that launches in a few months. (Wait, didn’t I just say things were slowing down? Ah, oh well.)

Kerri:  And what’s your connection to the diabetes community?  

Matt:  In high school, I knew this girl that had type 1 diabetes, though to be honest, I only knew it as diabetes- I was not well educated in what diabetes was or the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. All I knew was that she had some machine attached to her all the time (an insulin pump) and ate a lot of skittles (likely treating her low blood sugars). Flash forward a few years all of a sudden I know A LOT more about diabetes. December 23, 2009 is a date that I will never forget, though it is pretty easy to remember with it being a day before Christmas Eve and all. That was the day that I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and forced into a world that would change the way I see life forever. (Read my diagnosis story HERE). At first, I was sad, angry, and depressed. I fought denial and I didn’t take care of myself initially, it was a rough transition (as it is for almost everyone being diagnosed with a chronic lifelong disease).

My family and friends came to the rescue. I was extremely lucky to have an incredible support system that was and will always be there for me; however, it still took me years to grasp the incredible importance of checking my blood sugar daily. I had my diabetes undercontrol, but I was not incontrol. For the first 8 years of having diabetes, I was completely unaware of the diabetic community that exists online. I literally had no idea that there were blogs about life with diabetes, companies that exist to serve diabetics or products made to help diabetics. It was only when my wife and I created a company to help diabetics that I discovered this network of amazing people sharing experiences, struggles, and victories online AND in person.

I was hooked.

Kerri:  What exactly is FTF Warrior and what drove you to create that community, and who is part of your team?

Matt:  The company that I keep mentioning is called FTF Warrior and it is an online health coaching company for diabetics. We currently run a program for newly diagnosed diabetics to learn how to best manage their diabetes while living a fearless life, becoming healthy as well as happy. In this program, we coach on diabetic education, mindset training, nutritional education and recommendations, as well as guidance on fitness routines and how to keep blood sugars stable while exercising. Very shortly, there will be a new program that addresses the mental health aspect of diabetes and how to properly navigate those emotions while still taking care of yourself. These are needs that I would have loved help with when I was first diagnosed, and I noticed that they are also needed to be addressed in the diabetic community.

Fun fact: FTF stands for “From the Fight” which is what my last name, Vande Vegte, means in Dutch. My wife and I run the programs and are both certified personal trainers and nutritionists. She has her BS in Psychology and I am studying for Master Fitness Trainer. We continue to push ourselves to learn more so that we can help a greater number of people, we are here to help and serve.

Kerri:  What’s your goal for FTF Warrior?  And what’s the future looking like for your organization?

Matt:  Our goal at FTF Warrior is to expand, both in knowledge and reach, in an effort to help as many diabetics as possible worldwide. This company was founded with the intention of making sure that no diabetic gets lost in the dark, that everyone has access to the information they need to live an extraordinary and healthy life, and to help diabetics find a community of other diabetics going through similar life changes and challenges. I want this company to offer the help that I wish I had access to when I was first diagnosed, as well as when I was going through some really dark times and experiencing some pretty heavy mental health struggles. The future of FTF Warrior is bringing access to the knowledge and tools necessary for all diabetics to live a healthier and happier life and presenting it in an easy-to-digest lesson format for people of all ages to participate in. Everyone deserves to live the life they want, and we help you get there.

Kerri:  What message would you have for a newly diagnosed person with diabetes who has stumbled across this interview?

Matt:  My message for anyone newly diagnosed with diabetes is simple: it gets better. YOU get better. I’m not saying that you heal over time, I’m saying that you get better at giving shots, treating lows, managing this beast of a disease. What’s more is you learn that you are not only capable of taking care of yourself, but that you are stronger than you ever imagined. This disease forces you to take control of your life and to be responsible for your own health. Through that process, you learn that you truly can do anything that you set your mind to.

My practical advice to you is this: take it easy on yourself. There is not a diabetic alive that has perfect blood sugars every single day. You will have good days and you will have bad days. Acknowledge that you are doing your best and try to move on. Do what is necessary to correct the lows and the highs and then move on with enjoying your life! You were meant to thrive, don’t let this disease hold you back.

Kerri:  And how about a message for PWD who have been at this for a while and might be a bit burnt out?

Matt:  For those who may feel like the shots are getting old, the mealtime calculations are getting redundant, and hope seems to fade away, I encourage you to reach out to someone close and ask for help. If you feel it is necessary, seek out professional help. I say this because I’ve been there, and I had to seek that professional help. I’ve been at a place with this disease where I just wanted to give up, but because I voiced that to my wife and family I was surrounded by encouragement and love. They talked me through the hard times and helped me access a psychologist to teach me new coping strategies for the dark times. Remember that you are not alone in this fight, and that you are a WARRIOR. Keep up the Fight!

Kerri:  Thanks so much for hanging out here, Matt.  Anything else you’d like to add?

Matt:  You can do this!  Let me know if I can help.

If you’d like to learn more about Matt and his team, you can visit their website. He’s also very active on Instagram and Facebook, if you’d prefer to connect there. And they’ve just launched a new podcast, Pardon my Pancreas – more on that later this month!