Monday, March 26, 2012

I am fortunate to live in the healthiest county in the state with the lowest incidence of obesity in America. Here, in Boulder County, everyone looks like they just finished a marathon. Most probably did. There is a foot race, bike race, duathlon or tri just about every weekend in the summer months. And everyone has a bike worth more than their car.

I sometimes forget that this is not representative of the rest of America.

I spent a share of last weekend in Dallas, TX with sponsors Sanofi and the ADA promoting good health and talking about diabetes management in the context of athletics.  In truth, I was a bit apprehensive because I was traveling with someone I'd never met - Bobby Heyer - from the Tri Team. I wasn't sure how this would go. Three days in a mall, eight hours at a time. I was hoping I'd like him. Good news is that it's hard not to like Bobby. He's just a little bit nuts.

I think the key at these events is to connect with people without becoming a Proselytizing Pain in the Ass. Like some of the formerly obese persons I know who are now fit and trim, it's easy for myself - a mediocre endurance athlete with a vegan diet and a pulpit of the masses - to roam a shopping mall and preach to helpless bystanders about the wonders of kale and nutritional yeast and interval training. I'd venture most people would rather get a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  I have to resist the temptation to run around sharing "helpful" insights with people who really don't give a crap. (However, I believe that's why they invented blogging...which is to say that it allows all kinds of people a soapbox, but in a venue unlikely to disturb the general public. Thank goodness for that.)

The good news is that, in Dallas, people came up wanting to talk. About 600 people every day, for three straight days. The message was simple: AGENCY. It's about taking ownership of yourself, your body. My husband has an unfortunate affinity for Jimmy Buffet...but there is a line in "Fruitcakes" that rings true: "Some people treat their body like a temple, you treat yours like a tent." I think a lot of people who are overweight or out of shape (or both) tend to look upon their body as a rental rather than as their own personal property. It's just there to haul their brain around. Same goes for those fitness fanatics, who keep running even though they know that they're going to pay for it afterwards in the form of injured knees, torn muscles, or sundry pain. When you take ownership over your body, you don't just grab the nearest bag of Lays when you are hungry.

I was on my own for the first day. Bobby's flight itinerary had him visiting about ten airports with a dozen layovers, so I was holding the fort down alongside the ADA and the Dallas Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute. I'd been there all of three minutes when a large gentleman in a motorized scooter pulled up to the table, and struck up a discussion. Turns out, he had been a fire fighter in NY on September 11th, and was critically injured when the second tower came down on him. He has since been confined to a wheelchair, gained 250lbs., and has been diagnosed with diabetes. He described it as the "fight of this life."

From there, I spoke with hundreds more impacted by diabetes. In Boulder, the other diabetics I know are all athletes. Team WILD, Triabetes. Every third Saturday, they go out and train together at Dawn Phenomenon. These are active 'betics, who are in better shape than the general population. They are owners, not renters. In Dallas, everyone had a story about the stereotype of this disease: blindness, amputation, a cocktail of meds for blood pressure and cholesterol and other comorbidities, poor control, kidney failure, stroke...

I was glad when Bobby arrived late that evening. I was ready to connect with the kind of diabetic to whom I can relate. Bobby came up, grabbed my shoulder and began talking. He is a bit of a live wire...even on the heels of a day spent hopping planes with nothing but the airline snakes for food. I could tell he probably had a 24oz. slab of beef in mind when Amanda from Van Wagner looked at him and asked, "Where you taking the vegan?" Yep, Bobby. Bad news. He recovered quickly, and spent the rest of the weekend being a good sport about it all. In fact, Bobby is more than "my kind of 'betic." He aims for a blood glucose of 80. He's got amazing control, and a good strategy for management. It was an education for me, as well.

I got up early on day #2 for a run. Those who know me well know two things: 1) I never miss a workout and, 2) I have no sense of direction. I set out for about a 5k...which, after I got lost, ended in a nice nine mile jog through a Dallas industrial park. By the time I got back, I was sweating buckets in the TX humidity and had lost the ability to speak.

With my workout completed, Bobby and I made our way back to the mall for yet another busy afternoon. We met a mother with T1 who was really well-controlled and active, and was raising her children with a focus on health and exercise. She had a lot of questions about preventing lows during long periods of activity, but was really "doing everything right." I had a father and son with T1 come up and speak to us for some time. The son was well-controlled, but the father is only testing once a day, and administering insulin based on "how he feels." I spent a long time talking with him as a parent with diabetes, and we discussed at length the value in modeling good control to our kids. We met a 19 year old girl, living with T1 since age 5. She was working on losing 60 pounds to gain better control, and had dropped her a1C from 10.3% to under 6.5%.

All good stuff. And the Dallas Mavs Street Team had put up a giant inflatable shoe for a few games of pop-a-shot, which attracted scores of young children.

Ah, kids. I am a parent, so I get it. I get that the world seems set-up to inhibit play. But the kids we saw were, in many cases, clearly inactive. Adults talked about the difficulties of getting their children outside, given the "dangers" of the city. It made me wonder when the transformation happened by which kids have been declared too fragile to "go out and play" like we did. I know you all think the world is much more dangerous now. Maybe it is. But I suspect it's more our thinking that's changed. Twenty years ago, we still had traffic, pedophiles, rusty nails, drugs, bullies, broken glass, rattlesnakes, and even serial killers. What we were missing was an epidemic of childhood obesity and all the accompanying ills. I digress...

The day ended with a dose of panic. A gentleman came up to Bobby and began to talk about his diabetes, and his desire to be placed on an insulin pump. He told us that he was running high all the time, with blood sugars in the 300-400 range. Bobby is something of an expert on all things relating to glucose control, having been a life-long 'betic and the beneficiary of a doctor who gave him a smattering of every known treatment for the disease. He tested the guy's blood sugar. Sure enough: 390. It was, at this point, that I observed that it was now 5:30, and the gentleman would be headed to dinner. That was his pre-meal BG! Turns out, this man had been hospitalized twice over the weekend with high blood sugar, and had passed out that very morning.

In this situation, all you can do is plead with the other party to seek better, more prudent medical care. I'd be lying if I said I didn't spend the rest of the weekend worrying about that guy...

Day three was a bit more tame. I didn't get lost on my run, which means I got in about half the workout. I'd arranged my transportation home, and was ready for a final day in the mall. Truly, I think both Bobby and I were ready to be home. We still had some good stories and met some wonderful people, like the daughter, concerned about her mother with Type 2 because she was not taking seriously the disease.  We talked with a young girl, diagnosed with Type 1, who was on her senior trip and was active in her local JDRF chapter. But really, you can only spend so many hours confined to a mall without becoming a bit stir-crazy. It was a good, productive weekend, but I was longing to be on a plane back to CO.

Bobby took off earlier than I since his flight was scheduled to leave first. Usually, when I say goodbye to a teammate, I do it knowing we will have another event in the coming months...but, as Bobby is a Triathlete and I refuse to get in an open body of water for any reason whatsoever (hello, chlorine), we have no idea when next we will meet. 

I left a few hours later, only to find myself delayed at the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. Bobby, on the other side of the city, was delayed at Dallas Love Field. High winds. Bummer.

In all, it was a great weekend. The partnering organizations were fantastic. Mostly, though, I enjoy hearing others' stories. The best part of this gig is the part where we get to listen to people tell us how they got to wherever they are, where they think they are going next...and to help push them down the better road, the one where they own the temple instead of renting the tent. Glad to be home.

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