Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tom Youkilis: Diabetes Leads to Romance

If you would like to donate to help find a cure please click HEREClick on "donate to this event."  Then click on "Biking and Painting for Diabetes."

Donate $4 and I promise to ride 4,000 miles.

"I started out as a child," Tom Youkilis told me to start, and I could tell our interview was going to be interesting.  If you live in Glendale, Ohio, and know Tom you know you can expect good humor pretty much any time you meet him.

Tom is about to celebrate 44 years as a diabetic (and I use the word "celebrate" purposely), having been diagnosed in 1967, when he was a seventh grader at Walnut Hills (grades 7-12).  "I remember very specifically, drinking a lot of water," he says when asked about the events of that fateful day, "and had a cousin who was a diabetic."  His mom recognized the warning signs, sent for a testing kit, and the urine made the strip turn "a bright orange."

Suddenly, at 13, you're a diabetic, when being 13 is hard enough.  In those days, too, you really didn't have many treatment options.  You had to soak your syringes in alcohol and took one daily shot and then you kind of operated in the dark, not knowing for sure when you were going high or low.  Even Tom's doctor--and a good one--wasn't always sure what Tom needed to do.  "His philosophy was eat whatever you want" and try to lead a normal life.  So the teenage version of Tom carried candy in his pocket in case he felt low and ate pizza at night when he wanted to.  He did watch his food, mostly, it was just harder then to tell how you were doing.

Tom feels his mother did him a great service when he was first diagnosed.  She decided not to baby him and told him "it was my disease to deal with" and so he did.  It wasn't that she didn't care or didn't want to help.  She just wanted him to be independent and learn to handle the problems that go along with this disease for himself.

The plan has been working now for more than four decades.  Tom attended the University of Cincinnati, in those days as part of a Vocational Rehabilitation program, funded by the federal government, which paid his tuition because type-1 diabetes was classified as a disability.  For two years after graduation he did public accounting, but "detested it."  Then, in 1978, he went to work at Proctor and Gamble and has been there ever since.  His work as a purchasing manager has taken him as far as China on business, and he says P & G is selling plenty of detergent, hair care products and diapers in the dynamic Chinese market.

In his 20s Tom took an interest in the efforts of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.  He worked of fund-raising efforts and tried to call children and families who had recently received the dread diagnosis and assure them they'd be okay.  "It's not the end of the world," he liked to explain, just as a friend of his mother had explained to her, back in 1967, when Tom was diagnosed.  The disease can be managed; that's what he meant. 

Research, funded in large part through JDRF efforts, developed new and improved methods for treating the disease.  By 1982, Tom was president of the local JDRF chapter and soon organized the first big Bike-a-Thon event (at 13 different locations) to ever bring in $100,000 in donations.

There was a bonus, too.  One day Tom was attending a JDRF fund-raiser, when in walked Alison Zaring, a woman he had gone out with once, but hadn't necessarily impressed.  ((Maybe he had:  he just wasn't sure.)  Alison turned out to be the sister of Anne Zaring, another leader in the Cincinnati branch of JDRF and when she realized Tom had an interest in her sister, "she was immediately in my corner."  I should have asked Alison what she thought...whether she knew Tom was "The One," from the start.  Tom had no doubt.  Alison had a "magic about her" and the romance was officially launched.

It seems counter-intuitive to say, "I'm a type-1 diabetic and I've been lucky," but that's what Tom says.  "It's not the end of the world," as he puts it.  "I certainly wouldn't want any of my kids to get it," he hastens to add.  Yet he's had good control for 44 years.  He's had some eye problems which might have been serious twenty years ago.  Improved medical care has helped him, and he's had laser surgery to correct other problems, but otherwise "basic overall good health."

That's why I say he's celebrating:  Tom and Alison married and had three kids, Jordan, about to graduate from Indiana University, and assured a job with General Electric, where his degree in financial management and skills with Mandarin should prove invaluable.  Daughter Ashley is a professional photographer (following in the artistic footsteps of her mom), and Tom's stepdaughter Kara is living in San Diego and a few days ago presented them with their first grandchild, a little girl.

Tom Youkilis has seen great changes in the years he's been diabetic.  He has started and raised a good family.  He has handled his disease, and says the magic in his marriage "is still there."  He's on a continuous glucose monitor today, and this has made his life much easier.  If he goes too high or too low an alarm sounds and he corrects his blood sugar.

If he had to give any advice, he'd tell any diabetic olde enought to understandi, "It really is your own disease and you have to handle it."  You have to be independent and learn how to care for yourself.  It's part of who you are, like being left-handed, or Catholic.  It is what it is.  It's an immutable fact.  So you have to deal with it sucessfully, and Tom Youkilis does. "I get up every morning, brush my teeth, and have a shot," is how he puts it.

He's a type-1 diabetic and also a lucky man.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Noelle Fletcher and the Pancake Dilemma

If you would like to donate to help find a cure for Noelle and others, please click HEREThen click "donate to this event."  Last:  click "Biking and Painting for Diabetes."

Donate $4 and I promise to ride 4,000 miles.

Noelle can count on her brother Brent for help.
He's an Iraq War veteran.
If you are going to do a blog and explain why you are going to bicycle across the U.S. to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, talking to Noelle Fletcher, 28, is a perfect way to spend an hour.  Noelle is funny, upbeat, and vivacious, and since March, 2009, a type-1 diabetic.

When you talk to her over the phone, you hear a happy note in almost every word she says and sense that this is a graceful young woman, with a secure sense of who she is.  Noelle is a graduate of Vandalia Butler High School, near Dayton, and went on to Ohio University (2000-2004), where she majored in journalism.  She ran cross-country and track in high school and was "completely healthy" most of her life.  After graduating from college she moved to New York City and put her degree to work doing public relations for a variety of celebrities.  "The hours were crazy," she says, but she was young and living in an exciting city and life was great.  She worked with Mary Kate and Ashley Olson on their fashion line, and adds that they were "actually really smart."  Another client was Chase Crawford, now known for his role in Gossip Girl, a young unknown, "almost like my younger brother," when she first met him.  She also worked with the late Patrick Swayze.  "He was very polite," she assured me, "and you could always tell he loved his wife."

So far, so good.  Then it gets better. 

Her roommate is dating a cute guy--and he has a cute guy for a roommate.  So the roommates fix up their roommates.  Noelle and Jay Gramas have been in a serious relationship ever since, and you can tell when you talk to her, that Jay takes care of her and again she sounds happy.

In the early months of 2009, however, something goes wrong.  Noelle starts having trouble sleeping.  She loses 13 pounds, which she doesn't need to lose.  At first, she remembers thinking, "It must be this new Pilates thing I'm doing."  But for weeks she doesn't feel right.   One day she sits down at her computer, goes to a health website, and types in her symptoms. 

"You have diabetes," it tells her.

Her first thought is, "This stupid computer," but she soon discovers the computer was right.  Noelle heads for the hospital and doctors explain that she has probably been fighting the onset of diabetes for six months and only her youth and good health, partly related to all the running she still does, has allowed her to function at all.

At age 26, it comes as a shock.  No one else in her family is diabetic.  "You live your whole life healthy," she says when asked what that moment was like.  "I never had to go to the doctor, and suddenly I'm dealing with a lifelong health issue."  At one point the shock to her body caused her hair to start falling out.  It's one of two times in an hour of conversation that Noelle's emotions get the better, as she explains how Jay comforted her when she got down.  "It was very traumatic," she admits, and the memory forces her to pause.  Jay, she continues, has been great since.  "He gets on websites and reads up about type-1 diabetes" and "knows more about diabetes than I do."

She also admits that she was deathly afraid of the needles at first.  Finally, her brother Brent, an Iraq War veteran, told her to "quit being a baby," stuck himself to show her how it was done, and helped her get over her fears.  (Her tone is cheerful again and you can tell she and her brother have a close bond.)

Noelle's father, Dave, is an eighth grade American history teacher at Loveland Middle School and a friend, so I know he worries about his daughter the same way I worry about mine.  That's the only other time Noelle sounds anything but cheerful, when she says she's sorry her diabetes worries her dad.  I tell her how proud of her her father is and explain how proud I am of Emily, and we both get a little choked up before we can go on with the discussion

Otherwise, talking to Noelle Fletcher turns out to be an almost joyful experience.  She's still a serious runner, and hopes someday to do a marathon, and all the exercise helps her manage her disease.  (Dad got her started in running when they used to go out together, back when she was still in middle school.)  She likes to travel and next week heads for Las Vegas.  I asked Noelle what else she does for fun.  "Well, there's always a new restaurant to go to" or something exciting happening in the city, so "being in New York is like a hobby."

Today, Noelle has a new job, working for a legal firm, helping recruit law students out of college and getting them settled into life in the city.  She says working young men and women just coming out of school, it's "rewarding helping them find jobs."  During the worst days of the crashing economy, Ms. Fletcher was laid off temporarily--and her first worry was how she'd pay her medical bills.  She remembers sitting down with her father and totaling up how much all her medications and doctor's visits might cost.  But Noelle is a talented young lady, and found a new job, and three months later her old boss called her back and offered her a raise and a promotion.

She's been doing fine ever since.

In fact, that's the message you get, when you listen to Noelle.  You might be a type-1 diabetic, but you're going to be fine.  That doesn't mean you can ignore the challenges and doesn't mean you don't need to take care of your health.  It just means you can live a full, happy life.  Noelle says she has reached the age where birthdays aren't all that exciting ("amen" to that), but she does look forward to that day now, because it's the one time she doesn't worry about sugar intake "and I eat regular cake."  She laughs, too, when food comes up and says, "You know, I really like to go to breakfast, and I want pancakes in the worst way," but she knows she has to watch what she eats. 

Noelle turned up diabetic at a relatively late age in life.  So she's still adjusting, and doesn't haven't any other close friends who are diabetic.  She laughs again, and explains, "It's kind of funny when I'm out at a bar and have to check my sugar.  All my friends want to test theirs," and so there's a little bit of extra sticking, and for Noelle Fletcher life goes on.

Someday, shel may come back to Ohio, perhaps when it's time to start a family.  She has an advanced pump now, which helps her maintain good blood sugar control.  You talk to her for an hour and don't hear one complaint.  Most of the time, she's laughing, and she's not mad, but this turning up with a disease is like some bad cosmic joke.  How did I end up a diabetic?  I'm a happy, well-adjusted young lady, in a relationship with a great guy!  And now this!

So Noelle accepts fate, gives up the pancakes, and goes on with her life.  It's no honor to be a diabetic, but if you have an upbeat outlook like she does, you know it's no tragedy, either.  It's just part of who you are.

You deal with it, smile, and keep on running.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nick Hopkins: A Very Normal Young Man

Nick Hopkins, left, hiking in the Smoky Mountains.  Spencer Schmitt, his friend, right.

 To donate to find a cure for Nick and all other type-1 diabetics, please click HERE!

 Trying to put together a blog about people who happen to be diabetic has turned out to be fun.  Today, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Nick Hopkins, an eighth grader at Loveland Middle School, a student in the Loveland City Schools all his life.

A pattern seems to be emerging in such discussions; and from the start, when talking to Nick, the pattern is clear.  That is:  People who are type-1 diabetics have a sense of who they are and what really matters.  Since they're stuck dealing with a disease every day--and "stuck" is the word--they don't let little problems ruin their day.

Nick has been diabetic since he was six years old, but his dad Mark told me "I can't even remember the last time I heard him complain."  Nick was at Golden Corral one night with his family and Connie, his mother, noticed her son was drinking a lot and having to go to the bathroom repeatedly.  If you have a diabetic in the know the signs.

It's off to the hospital!

Eight years later, Nick doesn't remember what it's like NOT to be diabetic.  It's just part of who he is.  And who is he?  Nick is an animal lover, for starters.  He has three dogs, Peanuts, Buddy and Ruthie (shown at left), and a bird named Pipi.  He has an older brother, Austin, and although they sometimes wrestle, the two boys almost always get along.  "He looks out for me," is the way Nick sums up their relationship.

Wait???  Is this guy actually a teenage boy?  Nick sounds too normal!  (And I say that fondly, as a former teenage boy.) 

It only gets "stranger" the longer you talk to this young man.  Nick gets along great with his parents and he and his dad (who both feel they are a lot alike) go out and play golf whenever they can.  In first grade he remembers getting an award for "most improved reader" and he's been mostly an honor roll student since fifth grade.  Right now, he's reading a series of books called Fable Haven, about two kids and magical animals.  I asked him if he normally likes school and he said he's had a lot of good teachers.  One he liked, was Mr. Sievering, for eighth grade Language Arts.

Sometimes we hear so much about goofy celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, we forget how many good people are out there, and Nick is one.  You get the strongest possible impression from talking to him that he's going to be fine in the future, diabetes or not.  Right now he likes to rollerblade and hang out with friends, Jake Hilliker and Spencer Schmitt, being two of his best buddies; but if there are any cute ladies in his life he isn't saying.  Nick likes to be outside, play with his dogs, talk to his bird, and consider his future. 

Right now, he's suffering from asthma/allergic reaction which makes him insulin resistant at school--where his blood sugar always spikes.  This has meant he must spend most of his time at home with a tutor and working with mom, who can handle the math.  Environmental experts have failed to pinpoint the problem.  Nick would like to go back to school this year; but if that doesn't work, he has already shadowed his brother twice at Loveland High School and had no allergic reactions.

Talking to mom, you know right away, how much she loves her son; and dad sums it up nicely, once telling a doctor he was ready to do whatever it took to help his son:  "If you want us to drive him to the moon, we will," was how he put it.  I asked dad, finally, what would you say to a family that had just received a diagnosis of type-1 diabetes for a loved one.  "It's going to be okay," he said he tell them.  "The first six months are going to be terrible.  You don't know what you are going to do.  You're going to be okay [though] and so is your kid."

That's Nick, from what I can tell.  Diabetic for six years--but still okay (and, really, more than okay).

I asked him what he would do if they ever cured diabetes.  He said he'd be excited, "because my mom says she'll give me $1,000" and "that would be fun."  Then he turned serious and said, it would be great, "no more shots, no finger pricks, no infusion sites."

Right now, Nick is using a pump and a continuous glucose monitor, which checks his blood more than 200 times every day, and this gives him superior control, and protects his overall health.  Nick expects to see a cure in his lifetime and let's hope he's right.

                                                    Pipi (shown right)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Audrey Lake: Diabetic for (Almost) 50 Years

To donate to find a cure for all type-1 diabetics, click HERE!

I don't think anyone can ever say, "It's good to be a type-1 diabetic."  But if you ever need a model of how to manage the disease effectively, Audrey Lake is the lady you need to meet.

We all know how terrifying it can seem when you first hear someone you love has been diagnosed as a type-1 diabetic.  But if nothing else, keeping this blog reminds me that having a diabetic child doesn't mean the world is ending.

It's scary, of course, and you have to be careful; but it doesn't necessarily ruin your life.

Audrey Lake, a retired Loveland teacher, is proof of that.  Audrey has been dealing with type-1 diabetes for going on half a century.  Yep, you've got that right:  She was diagnosed back in 1962, when she was a 17-year-old senior at Greenway High School in Coleraine, Minnesota.  You can figure out how old she is, if you do the math, but I am too much of a gentleman.

Audrey is a type-1 diabetic--and then again, she isn't.  She has the disease.  That's true.  But she deals with life like she doesn't.  That is:  she doesn't let it define her, or sour her attitude towards life, or in any way hinder what she wants to do.  She started teaching at Loveland Junior High (later Loveland Middle School) in 1981, which is when I first met her.  At the time her son, Bill, was in my class and Audrey took over for another teacher who left the profession, and ended up with her own son in her English class.  One day, I stepped out in the hall, and there was Bill standing by his mother's classroom door.  He was a straight-A student, so I asked, "What are you doing out here, Bill?"

"Aww, my mom said I was disturbing class, and she threw me out," he admitted in an embarrassed fashion.

So the lesson was:  mom doesn't play favorites; and don't mess with Mrs. Lake.

What all of the rest of us on staff soon found out was what a remarkable lady Mrs. Lake was.  At lunch, sitting in the teachers' lounge, we watched Audery poke her finger with those old-fashioned lancets, the ones that looked like little aluminum spears, and marveled because she never complained and never ever stopped smiling.  She did admit recently that it was "very painful" to use those old lancets, several times every day.  But she wasn't complaining.  She was just making an observation.

Audrey doesn't look "tough" but she is and this helped her in dealing with diabetes.  She grew up one of eight children, and for a good part of her early days lived in crowded little homes, including one where the kids hugn sheets and bedspreads over wires to give themselves "privacy" in one big shared room.  But even when Audrey talks about tough times growing up years in northern Minnesota, she seems happy about life.  In fact, that's Audrey, diabetic, yes, but happy about life.  After graduating from high school she attended Itasca Junior College for two years and then went on to the University of Minnesota, where she earned her degree in education.  She is married and has two kids, Bill and Kim, also a great kid to have in class, and last time I heard, involved in nursing.

Audrey, of course, has been diabetic since the dark ages--when care was more taxing and life expectancy was often shortened by this disease.  The circumstances surrounding her diagnosis are intersting.  "We were going to have a chemistry test," she admitted recently, "and I wasn't really prepared.  One of my friends wasn't feeling well and she was going to leave school and go to the doctor, so I thought, maybe I'll just make something up and go along."  Audrey had been feeling tired, anyway, and when she talked to the nurse they decided to run some tests. Blood was drawn and the nurse came back and told Audrey her blood sugar was very high and they should send her to the hospital at once.  Audrey had to get back to school to catch a bus for the twenty mile ride home, so she was getting nervous, and they let her go, making her promise to return the next morning.

When she got home that afternoon her mom thought she was lying about where she had been; but soon realized Audrey wasn't joking, and the next day it was off to the hospital for a ten-day stay.  In those days, she remembers having to boil glass syringes and needles every day so she could give herself insulin shots.  Her blood sugar would go up and down, and it was much harder to keep good control; but Audrey never let it get her down, kept smiling, kept checking, four to six times a day, year after year.  Today, of course, she has seen tremendous progress in treating the disease.  She wears a pump now and doesn't let diabetes slow her down. 

"I can do almost anything anyone else can do," she says and for fifty years she has been proving just that.

If you're a parent, with a child recently diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, keep Audrey in mind.  She's not afraid--and never once let this medical problem dampen her mood.

If you see Audrey, look for her smile.

To donate to find a cure for all type-1 diabetics, click HERE!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fat Boy Getting in Shape

If anyone knows of a type-1 diabetic who might be interested, I'm still looking for names, so I can ride in their honor.  I'm going to head out to Loveland on my bicycle this morning, and my old school is going to let me send out a letter in the name of several Loveland kids.  I hope to log about 70 miles.  Then I'm going to try to come home and refrain from eating.

I'm excited to ride across the United States again to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, and if you're interested here is your chance to help:

To donate to find a cure for all type-1 diabetics, click HERE!

If you wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to bicycle across the USA at the age of 62, here are a few pictures that provide an answer.

During my 2007 trip, I made my own campsite next to this mountain stream near Leadville, Colorado (two miles above sea level).

I thought the stark beauty of this scene north of Rawlins, Wyoming was fantastic.

Lake at the summit of Togwothee Pass, near Grand Teton National Park.

Horsetail Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Twenty years ago a 600 ton piece of rock broke off the cliff in the background and fell into the lake.
A wedding party posing on the bridge got completely soaked, but otherwise no harm done.

Most people who bicycle across the United States are young.
I met these two fellows in Kansas but lost their names.

This young lady, Sarah Brigham, 22, was riding a thousand miles, from Yellowstone Park
to Durango, Colorado. 
She told me she made the tutu, herself.
I ride mainly because I love my daughter, Emily (above right), type-1 since age 14.
Sarah, left, is cool, too.
Emily is studying nursing at Ohio State. 
Sarah is doing graduate work at Yale to become a nurse practitioner.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Katy Rogers: The Diabetic as Artist

To donate to find a cure for Katy, and all other type-1 diabetics, click HERE!

I've been trying to get hold of Katy Rogers for some time now; but we keep missing connections. 

So I'm going to start by telling you what her dad, Robert, said.  Katy was 11 when she turned up type-1.  She's now 20, and taking college classes down in Texas. 

As for turning up diabetic, It's the same old story:  no warning--mom notices Katy is drinking Gatorade like crazy--she calls the doctor--calls dad at work--and soon everyone is heading for the hospital.

If you're a diabetic, or you love someone who is, you know how bad that first day is.

"It just floored me," dad told me over the phone.  When he walked into his daughter's room he "just lost it, and started to cry."  Then he realized, it could have been worse, too.  "At least she wasn't shot or stabbed."

I'll add to this entry as soon as I possibly can. 

Katy is obviously artistic, as the top and bottom pictures show.

Dad describes her as a "social butterfly, very out-going, with a strong will and a mind of her own."  I think her pictures indicate she has a future in art.

As fior dad:  I know him from way back, when he was in my seventh grade class when both of us were young.

Katy and a friend (I personally like the idea that the foot on the sidewalk shows, as does the texture of the sidewalk).
Katy's friend, Shaney Collins.

Katy in the flesh (above) with blue headphones.

Katy's art below.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lauren Lemmon: Getting Ready to Challenge Billy Joel

Lauren hangs out with Brutus, Emily, her sister, in front.

To donate to find a cure for Lauren, Emily Viall, Sidney, Matt, Adam, Kyle and Joel and all other type-1 diabetics, click HERE!

I had to push myself to make phone calls tonight.  I'm trying to get hold of a variety of families with type-1 diabetic kids; but today I mostly missed connections.

I did pedal 62 miles this afternoon, though, which was my goal. So I'm getting in decent shape, at least for my age.  It probably wouldn't hurt to stop eating so much candy, especially for breakfast.

Luckily, I did have a chance to talk to Lauren Lemmon, age 9, a type-1 diabetic since age 3.  I posted about her before, but this was my first chance to talk to the young lady herself.  Lauren is a fourth grader at Bluffsview Elementary School in Worthington, Ohio, and I came away impressed.  What you notice right away is her poise and positive outlook.  I asked her if she liked school this year.  She said she did, then added, "I've pretty much always liked school."  This year she has Mr. Hale for a teacher.  Lauren said he was "funny," "nice," and then mentioned he was "funny," again.  I'm a retired teacher, myself, so when Ms. Lemmon added enthusiastically, "I really learn a lot from him," I pretty much knew Mr. Hale must be good, just as Lauren says.

Lauren was enthusiastic about almost everything we discussed.  Her favorite sport is tennis, which she took up last year, and will play again this summer.  "I'm really into piano," she added later.  "I'm kind of teaching myself."  She had a babysitter not long ago who taught her to play "Heart and Soul," but now she's trying to pick up the music on her own.

She did admit science and social studies are harder in fourth grade than in third, partly because they have to do more definitions this year.  But she wasn't complaining, just explaining.  I asked if she got good grades and she said she did.  Lauren also said she "works hard" and mentioned that her younger sister Emily, 6, is also good in school.  In science her group is presently working on a project--the topic, earthquakes, which is certainly in the news.  Right now, the group is thinking of getting sponges and using them to represent the earth's shifting plates.  I thought that sounded like a good idea.  Who thought of that?  Lauren replied, "Ummm...I don't really remember.  It might have been my idea, or, I think it was Caleb, he's in our group."  (It didn't surprise me that Lauren was willing to give credit to someone else.  Talking to her, you immediately sense that she has a good attitude toward life.)

She loves riding a bike, "it's awesome," she says.  She's looking forward to Summer Camp, and thinks her present babysitter (my daughter Emily Viall) is "very nice, kind of, responsible, you know."  Then she said, "Yeah, she's pretty cool."

From what I could tell over the phone that goes for Lauren Lemmon, too.  Pretty cool.  So make that two cool type-1 diabetics:  Lauren, 9, and Emily Viall, almost 21.  I'm going to be shocked if both young ladies aren't successful in life.

And if Lauren says she's going to teach herself the piano, I'm betting she does.  Billy Joel, you better start practicing!

P. S.  I was so impressed with Lauren I had to ask, "Is there anything you don't like?"  She had to think for a while, then admitted:  "Brussels sprouts...and meat loaf."

It's nice to have cool daughters, even if one is diabetic
(Sarah Viall, left, Emily, type-1 right).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Simple Matter of "Heart"

To donate to find a cure for Emily, Lauren, Sidney, Matt, Adam, Kyle and Joel, and all other type-1 diabetics, simply click HERE!

Bicycling into Yellowstone, summer, 2010 (picture by Chuck Boehme).

I have pedaled across the United States before to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.  So, what  body parts matters most?  First, obviously, you have the two legs; but legs aren't the keys.  In 1976, a young man named Bruce Jennings bicycled coast-to-coast with ONE leg; and I used his story with 5,000 students in the next 33 years, to try to prove an important point.

It isn't the legs that matter most.  (And for students it was never the "brains.")

Another good guess might be the buns.  Yes, sitting on a bicycle seat for eight hours a day, can than fun.

Others think the key is the heart.  (My wife and children have been nagging me about getting a health check and renewing my precription for cholesterol medicine before I go.)  And the heart is the key--just not in the sense of blood pressure and clogged arteries and resting pulse rate.  The heart is the key:  for all the good people who donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, to all those working hard to find a cure, to all those kids who stick themselves with needles every day and don't complain.

I am so impressed with the diabetic kids I know, and the older diabetics, too.  They don't ever seem to complain.  It's hard to pedal up a mountain.  I admit that.  It's harder still to be a type-1 diabetic and deal with that.

When I was still teaching, we used to talk about "heart" and "determination" and "perseverance" in my class a lot.  I was never impressed by the smartest students.  I was impressed by the hardest working students.  And so, I know riding across the USA on two wheels, without gas, that, too, is simply a matter of heart.  I am not being falsely modest when I say almost anyone could do it.  Some would certainly be slower than others, many would be faster than me.  You just have to have the heart to say to yourself, "I can do this." 

This summer, for a good cause, I will.

Last summer I rode briefly in California with my older brother and three of his friends.  Let's just say, I was the young guy and start with at that.  "Age" is kind of in your head (and, alas, written on your face) and you have to think you can bicycle across the United States before you can; and the "thinking you can" is the hard part for most people.

The plan last summer was that my brother, Tim, and I would ride from San Francisco to Yellowstone with the other three men.  Chuck Boehme, a third member of our quintet would also be stopping in Montana.  Joe Ossmann and Rich Fowler would go all the way to Maine.  As it turned out, however, Tim crashed on the second day and could barely ride the third, although he gave it a great try.  So he and I dropped out; and I figured I'd ride this summer, instead.  So what did Chuck and Joe, and Rich end up doing?  Trust me:  they had to have "heart."  Tim, Chuck and I felt gassed the very first day just grinding up a giant hill near San Francisco.  But Chuck went over the Sierra Nevadas a few days later, at an elevation of 8,000 feet plus, and down the "loneliest highway" in America in Nevada.

He knew he could do it.  And that meant he could do it. 

I hope that makes sense.

Rich and Joe kept spinning those pedals.  Joe had one tough stretch when I was still riding with him, when his brakes got loose and rubbed his wheels for miles before he noticed, and he couldn't understand why he felt so tired.  But Joe believed he could do it, and kept going, celbrating his 64th birthday during the ride, ending up dipping his front tire in the Atlantic several weeks later.  And that leaves Rich.  Rich once pedaled across country on a tandem bicycle, with his wife in the back seat.  They came close to quitting around Chicago, but summoned up some reserve of determination and kept going.  The years passed--and Rich put on a little weight.

Some people would say at this point, "I'm too old to do it again," or "I'm too much out of shape."  Rich knew "heart" was still the key.  He lost 85 pounds, I think he told me, to get ready to ride again.  Then, at 67, when some people are just happy to be cashing their Social Security check, he took off on his bicycle, logging just over 4,000 miles.  There were times when the legs got tired some days and I'm sure there were days when the buns ached.

In the end, that doesn't matter.  "Heart" is always the key.

"Heart," when it comes to donating to the Juvenile Diabetes Fund is what really matters.  As I used to tell my students, the key to what we do in life comes down to determination, to an attitude where excuses can't get a grip, so that we say to ourselves, "No, I can't."

I hit age 62 today.  Tomorrow, I plan to get a practice ride in of at least 62 miles.  Like Chuck and Joe and Rich, and my brother Tim when he isn't crashing, I know it's a question of heart.  I love my daughter, Emily, the type-1 diabetic. 

Riding across the country to raise money for a great cause seems like the very least I can do.

Here we see Rich in 2007 (picture at left) and Rich on his bicycle in 2010.
See any difference?

Joe rides hard (at left).  Chuck, Rich and Joe at the top of Carson Pass
(picture by Tim Viall, by that time incapacitated with cracked ribs).

I almost forgot to include a picture with my good brother, Tim, at far right.
He would have made the trip, too, if he hadn't cracked his ribs.
(That's me impersonating Little Red Riding Hood, second from left.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lauren Lemmon: A Bluffsview Elementary School Star

To donate to find a cure for Lauren and all other type-1 diabetics please click HERE!

Lauren, left, Emily Lemmon, right.
Mom says sometimes they fight; but we don't believe it from this picture.

Today, our subject is Lauren Lemmon, a 9-year-old fourth grade at Bluffsview Elementary School in Worthington, Ohio.  She's been diabetic since she was 3.

I haven't talked to her yet (but will soon and will update accordingly), but from what her mother says and what my daughter Emily tells me, Lauren is pretty cool.  My Emily Viall babysits for Lauren and her younger sister, Emily Lemmon, 6, and when I first asked Emily V. what it was like to watch the girls, she said, "They're really funny and goofy and always make me laugh." 

So babysitting these nice young ladies is a very nice gig.

I talked to Shawna, Lauren's mom and got a glowing review.  Did she have any stories about Lauren getting in trouble, I wondered (after dishing some dirt on Emily V.) and she laughed, "Not really, I've got nothing on her, she's pretty good."  Mom had to go back to when Lauren was two and got into the peanut butter and smeared it all over her face and hair and body, sort of making herself into a live art project, I guess you'd have to say.

For the first three years of her young life, Lauren was never sick.  Then all in one week mom noticed that Lauren was drinking way more than normal, called the family doctor to describe the problem, and ended up being sent to the hospital immediately.  If you have a diabetic child, you know what happens next.  When told her little girl had type-1 diabetes, Mom says her "heart stopped."  It was Fathers' Day, too, and Emily L. was only ten months old.

So the family had its hands suddenly more than full.

At times, Lauren felt bad, because she felt like she was different from other kids, but now she goes to diabetic camp in summer and that helps.  She also knows other type-1 diabetics at her school and in her church group, and has adjusted well.  She might say, now and then, "I wish I wasn't diabetic."  But she doesn't let it stop her, nor does she let it get her down.

Lauren likes school and likes to read (as an ex-teacher, I can say:  that's my kind of kid!).  She likes playing outside with her friends, although she's not into sports yet.  She does like tennis and swimming and hanging out with grandparents, too.  Sometimes they all go skating for fun.  Other times they go to the beach at Siesta Key, Florida to relax.  Like most sisters, Lauren and Emily get along most of the time, but mom admits, "Sometimes they act like they want to kill each other."

Look at that picture above!  NO WAY.  These girls must be angelic.

The first year was hard for the family, adjusting to this new reality, living with a threatening disease.  But you find out how many other families are dealing with the same problem, and you soon realize "you're not the only one" and it "puts your mind at ease."  You never stop worrying entirely, of course, but it gets a little easier and less scary as you go.  Lauren went on the pump recently, and has been feeling much better.  She and Emily V. even have the same kind of purple pump, which both think is kind of cool.

I asked mom what she wanted for the future for her daughter (and some of this would apply to Emily L., too):  She wants her to "find happiness and  peace" and "not feel that she's different."  Mom wishes she "could take the pain away," wishes she "could take the pain" herself, and "hopes to see a cure."

I've said this before and I'll probably say it again:  Riding a bicycle across the United States is nothing compared to being a type-1 diabetic.  Frankly, kids like Lauren and Emily V. are a lot tougher than me.

Lauren and Emily Lemmon on first day of fourth and first grade.
Something in their look tells me they'll be good students to have in class.