Finding a Wingman with T1D

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Matt Kriech’s interests are far ranging. He has a doctorate in chemistry, runs a craft brewery and marathons … and became a pilot after his diagnosis with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at age 38. Matt applied his technical proficiency and his endurance training to getting his diabetes under control. As for the pilot’s license? That was a “bucket list” item, but it led to an enduring friendship and terrific support for coping with T1D.

“As a chemist, the technology helped me adapt quickly. I did lots of experiments on myself, learning how to fine-tune it,” says Matt.

“What got me smart about being an athlete with T1D was attending the JDRF PEAK Program,” which brings together physicians, caretakers and people with diabetes to explore safe physical activity. Matt planned for every training session, factoring in how long he’d be out, how much sugar to carry, ensuring his CGM was calibrated and that the proper amount of insulin was on board. The added discipline made his training regimen more consistent and brought down his race times. He also became more involved in JDRF through endurance events, which led to fulfilling a life goal.

In order to get a pilot’s license, Matt needed a Class 3 medical certificate. Per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), diabetes is a disqualifying condition for any class of medical certificate.

While training for the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes, he mentioned to a teammate that he was in the process of appealing the FAA’s initial disqualification to receive a special issuance in order to get his pilot’s license. He also mentioned he needed an instructor.

Matt’s teammates hooked him up with a plane for lessons and a wingman—their colleague Mitch, a certified flight instructor (CFI) who happens to have T1D.

Matt credits Mitch’s motivation to completing his Private Pilot Certificate, which lets him fly under VFR (Visual Flight Rules), with the minimum 40 hours of flight training. Mitch also is training Matt for an instrument pilot’s license, which allows flying in a broader range of conditions.

“Mitch was able to train me, get me prepped and ready to go,” says Matt. “From the beginning, there was no option. I would be an instrument pilot too, because that makes me a better pilot all around. Once I completed my Private Pilot check ride he told me I could land, high five my family and celebrate, but the next day I had to get back and train on the instruments.”

Mitch has been a great resource for Matt. He knew the rules and regulations of flying with T1D, how to apply for the special issuance for the medical certificate and how to deal with the FAA. Mitch gave experienced advice on how to monitor blood sugar and handle prolonged sitting while flying.

“The key to becoming a pilot is having a CFI you get along with. Mitch and I hit it off quickly and he’s become one of my good friends and a great mentor,” says Matt. “We work on a weekly basis and still have a great relationship.”