Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why Bicycle Across the USA for JDRF?

To donate to find a cure for Emily and Sidney please click HERE!

Often, when I tell people I want to bicycle across the United States, especially at my age, they give me funny looks.

As Will Rogers once said, they smile to your face, but internally they pity you.

I'm going to be 62 in a few days.  I say:  Why NOT?

First, I ride for my daughter Emily. She handles being diabetic without complaint. That's her above. Her mother and I think she's pretty.

I also like to ride because you get to see the country at a human pace. Below, I offer examples of scenes you might see on the road. I thank Dan and Rebecca Staebler for use of the following photos. Their daughter, Sidney, 7, is a type-1 diabetic.

Sidney 's family (they wanted me to leave their last name out for internet purposes)
and her younger brother Sam live in Bozeman, Montana.
This scene is from their home.

This is Sidney, picking flowers for her mom.
Notice her pump at her waist.

This is Sam gathering flowers for his mom, too.

Sidney and Sam at Artist Point in Yellowstone.
It looks like Sidney has a chokehold on her brother; but trust me, she's not the type.

A grizzly bear in Yellowstone.
You would not want to meet a grizzly while riding a bike.

Gates of the Mountain, Montana.

Snow in North Dakota. 
Okay:  not really bicycling weather.

When we think "ghost towns" we usually don't think Eastern Oklahoma.

This is Carhenge, near Alliance, Nebraska.

The family has been traveling around the country for two years.
They've seen a lot of cool sites.  Here's where the legend of Sam Walton began.

This is the Sponge Man in Key West, Florida.
(Some think he's Sponge Bob's dad.  Look close and you may notice the family resemblance.)

The family visited Ft. Ticonderoga, too.
Maine lobster during one stop on their trip.

Gooseberry Mesa, Utah, not far from Zion National Park.

Here we see a moonrise over Zion National Park
and a view of the tunnel leading into the canyon.
(Obviously Dan and Rebecca take good pictures.)

Here, Sidney marks two years successfully taking care of her diabetes.

Sam is ready to come to your rescue.
That's a big truck even if Sam and Sidney are small.

The Great Salt Lake.
Sam and Sidney don't do anything unless it's creative.
Sunset near San Diego.
When I bicycle across the country I ended up near Tillamook, Oregon.  It's cheese country.
Here the family visits one of the factories where cheese is made. 
When I rode through the area all I could smell was the waste cows were making.
You need their milk to make the cheese.
Then the cows do what cows gotta' do:  they poo.

Sidney collected these samples of petrified wood near Gooseberry Mesa.
You'll see later why this picture has significance to me.

I rode to raise money for JDRF in 2007.
There are all kinds of places you can see on a bicycle.
Monticello, Virginia, home of Thomas Jefferson.

This is one of my favorite pictures from my 2007 ride.
Near South Pass, Wyoming, where the Oregon Trail used to run.

Another "older" rider I know, Chuck Boehme, took this picture.
He was riding from San Francisco to Yellowstone (above) at age 65.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Kyle Williams: "What you see is what you get."

Kyle is a good man, by land or by sea.

To donate to find a cure for Kyle please click HERE!

I first met Kyle Williams in August 2005, when he walked into my Ancient World History class at the start of seventh grade.  People who meet me for the first time, and hear I taught middle school most of my life, often give me a look, as if to say, "You spent your life working with teens," like they pity me in all my suffering.

Working with a young man like Kyle was easy.  He was insightful in all his comments and always good-natured and considerate of peers.

Today, Kyle is finishing up his senior at Loveland High School and plotting his future, as best anyone can at age 18.  If he gets his wish he'll be heading for Ohio University next fall, or possibly staying closer to home at Raymond Walters.  When asked if he was going out with anyone seriously, he laughed a little and said, "I've been talking to a couple girls."  So, ladies, it looks like there's at least one good man available!  When I wondered how he was taking care of his diabetes, he admitted he was eating and not checking as carefully as usual.  "I'm just being a teenage guy, honestly," he explained. 

During our conversation the word "honest" came up several times, including a description Kyle's mom gave of her son.  "He's hard-working," she told me, "honest, and what you see is what you get, overall, a great kid.  I'd give him a 10 out of 10," she added.  Then she said with the slightest hint of complaint that she has to ask him to give her a hug now, when she never did when he was younger.

Okay, what teenage boy is ever perfect?

What else can we say about young Mr. Williams?  He likes Coach Thomas, at the high school, and has taken weight lifting classes under his guidance.  He also likes Mr. Danewood, who teaches Fantasy Science Fiction and 12th grade English.  He likes history, too, but thinks in college he might like to study radiation technology.  Right now he works about twenty hours ever week at Home Goods, a store that mostly attracts a female clientele.  Kyle called it a "chick store" and when asked, said some of the customers are rather attractive.  (In other words:  the guy still has a good eye.)  Eventually, Kyle hopes to get a good job, earn good pay, and go scuba diving in Australia.  He has already dived in Mexico and Hawaii with his brother and cousins, and loves it.

When I asked Kyle if it bothered him to be a type-1 diabetic he said no, laughed a little, and continued, "I try not to think about it a lot.  Besides, it could be a worse, I could have AIDS."  While we were on the phone, his mom arrived home from work, and brought in a package from the mail.  "Awesome," Kyle laughed again, "new supplies from Medtronic!"

Anyone who has a diabetic they love knows what that shipment can mean.  Like most who have children who are type-1, Tammy Williams, his mother, worries occasionally about the "long term ramifications" of the disease.  You can't NOT worry a times  But she agrees diabetic care is improving steadily, even in the years since Kyle was diagnosed.

So:  let's keep raising money for JDRF and speed the day when medical advances conquer this disease.

Kyle would appreciate it; and in the meantime, you young ladies can find him hanging out with his good friends, Joe Molinaro and Jon Tobias (also good young men to have in seventh grade, as I well remember.)  Just look for the cute guy wearing a pump.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Matt Westendorf: A Hiking, Biking, Kayaking Fellow

Matt and his dad ponder life.

Matt doesn't let a little problem like type-1 stop him.

Matt has been know to go hiking in the Smoky

To donate to find a cure for Matt please click HERE!

Matt Westendorf is a man in search of a good book.  When I talked to him recently he said he was reading Dante's Divine Comedy, a work I can't say I've tackled yet.  So, it's clear pretty quick that Matt, 17, is a sharp guy.  His parents agree.

Dad, Jim, jokes that he can't stand the music Matt listens to, including Against Me and the New Zealand group Living End, but you can tell there's more humor in their banter than anything.  Matt hates talk radio, which his dad prefers, but both can agree they like the sound of Flogging Molly.

Matt has been diabetic since age 3, and surprisingly feels "lucky" because this is all he's ever known.  He says it became "second nature" to have to deal with the disease and he has never reallhy known any other situation.  In other words:  he takes it in stride.  Debbie, his mom, is a RN and she "just knew" when he began showing symptoms of the disease.  She asked to borrow a testing kit at work one day and brought it home; but even before she tested his blood she just knew.  When the test proved positive she changed his diaper, went down to the basement a moment, "and had a good cry."

Unfortunately, Debbie's family has long experience with type-1 diabetes.  Her mother was diagnosed at 25, in the days before pumps and easier blood testing, and still battled the disease sucessfully for nearly four decades.  Another relative currently suffers from complications:  loss of feeling in legs, poor digestion, and so hardly eats.  In other words, we still need a CURE.  The good news is that treatment continues to improve.  Debbie convinced her mother to get her first glucose meter in 1986.  Today diabetics have much better care options all around.

Matt deal with diabetes well.  He might get irritated once in awhile having to check carbs when he wants a bowl of cereal, but who can blame him?  And if he wants to drink a malt, he checks his blood, and if his blood sugar is high, he jumps on his bike and rides for half an hour before coming back and having that malt.

Now a junior at Princeton High School, youn Mr. Westendorf hopes to go to college, maybe OSU or Wright State, to study nursing or become a nurse-practitioner or a physician.  Mom says he'll do well in the medical profession.  He's "empathetic" and "smart" and "such an upbeat person," he'll be good working with people no matter what career he ultimately chooses.  Matt was a counselor for diabetic kids at Camp Korelitz last summer; his mom says "he just lit up" from the experience.  I asked Matt what he loved most about the camp.  "Geez, everything," he responded, "the people, the atmosphere, just the fact I got to go to camp.  For one week everyone is the same, just like you, and everybody is checking up on everybody."  Matt worked with 11-year-olds and loved the experience, but admits he was "dead tired at the end of the week."

So a career in teaching may be out.

Otherwise, Matt is your normal, average teen:  he likes rock music and plays the flute.  Has kayaked in white water and hiked in the Smokie Mountains, too.  (Someday he hopes to go back packing in Europe and see Stonehenge.)  He gets good mileage out of both his Xbox and his mountain bike.  You don't know where he's going to end up on that bike in in ten or twenty-five years.  Still, you get the idea he's going somewhere good.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bow Hunting with Joel McElfrish

Joel and the one that didn't get away.

Joel gets a lift from a friend.

To donate to find a cure for Joel please click HERE!

Joel McElfrish is a funny guy.  I know that, because I still remember his sense of humor from the time he "served" in my history class back in seventh grade.  Joel has been a type-1 diabetic since April 4, 2005, when he was in eighth grade, a date he never forgets because it was the same day North Carolina won the NCAA men's basketball championship .

Joel is probably lucky he remembers anything from that period.  When he started showing symptoms his mom and dad thought he had mononucelosis.  He was sleeping 18-20 hours a day and lost twenty pounds.  His mom realized something was up when his vision blurred so badly he couldn't read the guide on the TV. The final clue came when Joel says he drank "a whole Culligan five-gallon water cooler" worth of fluid in just a few hours.

Like my daughter, Emily, Joel was soon being rushed to to Children's Hospital, but he was in much worse shape, with a blood sugar of 1088, and remained there for two weeks.  "The best hospital in the world," he says of his experience at Children's.  The Viall family would agree.

Joel admits he "cried like a baby" when he found out he was diabetic.  Like most diabetics, he just doesn't complain.  "If I don't give a shot in front of my friends, they don't know I'm a diabetic, because I never say," he told me recently.  In fact, Joel says he "leads a life that is 99% normal."  "You can pretty much do anything you want," he added, and as a bonus noted that"being diabetic made me grow up a lot faster."

So what is your "typical" type-1 diabetic like?  Not typical, really.  On Joel's bucket list, he he wants to hunt bear in Saskatchewan.  He has been an avid bow hunter (I should have asked him if he'd hunt bear with a bow!!) and fisherman since age 9, and doesn't let low blood sugars interfere with his hobbies or his daily life.  He does admit he went low once when sitting up in a tree stand and it was a little hard to climb down, but again, when he tells me the story over the phone, he doesn't complain.

It's just what it is.  Your diabetic and it isn't going away.  So we all hope for a cure and Joel keeps giving himself the shots and takes care of what he can.

Joel is a counselor at Camp Korelitz one week every summer, for five years now, where he works with other counselors and campers who are type-1 diabetics.  He calls that "his favorite time of the year."  Since graduating from Scarlett Oaks he has worked in construction and recently enrolled in a welding certification course, with hopes of being an aircraft welder at GE some day.

The only time diabetes has stopped Joel so far was when he had to give up his dream of joining the United States Marines. 

Other than that:  he's pretty much your typical young man, just funnier than most.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Physicist, Jazz Piano Player, Type-1 Diabetic: Adam Kavka

Adam Kavka and Shelby Copenhaver (she's also a cool former student).

To donate to find a cure for Adam please click HERE!

Adam Kavka would tell you he's "a pretty typical college student," and he is, except that he hopes to pursue a PhD. in physics someday and says his dream job would be to work on the CERN partical accelerator in Switzerland. 

I first met Adam when he was in seventh grade and in my American history class. It was obvious even then that he was going to be a success in the future. Adam is gifted in mathematics, hard working, and humble about his talents, always funny and polite. 

That year I missed three days of work when my daughter Emily, 14, was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes and had to spend the time at Children's Hospital. I was tired and a little scared the day I came back to school, because our family didn't know what to expect. Adam waited until after class and then quietly approached my desk. "If you have any questions about diabetes, I'd be happy to talk," he said.

I was deeply touched by Adam's concern, his kindness and his wisdom, at 13, to approach someone four times his age and offer solace. Suddenly, I felt better, knowing that someone so young could face up to this unfortunate situation so bravely.

And I have seen the same courage from many other diabetic kids since.

Adam, himself, was first diagnosed in sixth grade. His father, John, happened to read a story about a Pittsburgh Steelers player who had type-1 diabetes. A few days later he noticed Adam was struggling in one of his soccer games. "You just didn't seem to have much energy," he told his son when he came off the field at the end of the contest. Adam admitted he had been tired and thirsty most of the game.

Dad knew then:  lack of energy, having to go to the bathroom contantly, unexplained drop in weight in recent days. Adam might be diabetic.

Once the diagnosis was confirmed the Kavka family decided to make the best of the situation. Patty, Adam's mom, Becky, his sister (also a fantastic former student) and dad made it their mission to help Adam any way they could. "We were very accepting," Mr. Kavka remembers today, "we had a health problem, and we had to deal with it the best we could." 

One of their few low moments came the first time they sent Adam out on Halloween after his condition was diagnosed. "I have a terrible feeling that Adam will be out there, and he'll fall behind his friends, and be laying there alone in the dark,"  mom told dad. Adam made his rounds just fine and has been handling his situation with success ever since. You know you can't let down, because the health ramifications can be great, but his a1c counts are almost always under 7.0, which is like getting an A+ if you're a type-1 diabetic. Adam is now on the pump, and like our Emily has seen real improvements in care options available in the last few years. JDRF funding has been instrumental to new research.

Adam really isn't a "diabetic." It's unfair to classify him in just that way. He's a freshman at Ohio State, with the usual freshman concerns. He's on the debate team and lives in an honors dorm. He still plays the piano, as he did in the jazz band at Loveland Middle School and Loveland High. He says he works a lot (no doubt true), has a good time, and doesn't worry because "worrying doesn't get you anywhere." Dad says, "He's a unique individual."

That he is.

If worrying doesn't get you anywhere talent and effort do and I believe Dr. Kavka is going to be running that partical accelerator someday.

I also predict they're going to cure this disease.