Monday, March 12, 2012

Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.
—Zen saying

Spring has finally arrived. Days are longer, there are daffodils in my garden, and the weather is warm enough for me to get out on the bike and off the trainer...

Except for Saturday. Seventy degree weather in early March is a rarity in CO but, lo! There you have it. A perfect Saturday for a ride. Only, I didn't get a glimpse of pavement. Instead, I was confined to a trainer inside the Colorado Convention Center, participating in rider recruitment efforts for the ADA Tour de Cure. Truth be told, getting there was sheer drudgery. Up early on a beautiful day, only to be stuck indoors. I'd forgotten my meter, so I had to make a frantic stop into the office to grab the one in my desk, making me late. And then I battled to find parking amid a sea of people leisurely driving through downtown Denver, which served only to make me later still.

I plopped down on a trainer next to Zyler. Diagnosed with diabetes at age two, his mother still cries when she talks about the early days in Children's Hospital, how glad she was to have a pediatrician who recognized the signs early on, how hard it was to leave her job and drive to Zyler's school to administer his insulin injections. She knew, right away, that exercise made his blood sugar more manageable, so she toted him dutifully to swimming and soccer and anything else he wished to do.

Zyler's story is one of equal dedication, and no less remarkable...but different in his gentle understanding of the ebb and flow of life with diabetes. He talks openly about self-management, and how well he has accomplished the task in the context of his school and athletics. Zyler completed the metric century ride at last year's Tour de Cure, and this year (at age 12, mind you), he intends to do the full century.

There were other amazing people, too. A woman, aged 64, who told us about leading a healthy and active life with diabetes at a time when people told her it would not be possible to do so with the illness. She came over to us and announced, warmly, "I am so proud of what you are doing here."

And the cyclist who had been in a tragic accident only a year ago, rendering him unable to ride his bike. He proudly registered for the Tour de Cure, and will be sporting a new hand cycle on his ride.

And then there is Sara, the first cyclist I met with diabetes after my own diagnosis five years ago. At the time, I was not sure I would be able to ride at all...let alone compete at a high level. I was apprehensive, uncomfortable with the illness and the label of "diabetic." Sara was confident, open and generous. She inspired me all those years ago.

Someone posed the question not too long ago: "What is the best thing about diabetes?" The answer, to me, is evident at events like Expo. There is a community of people with the disease and their families, and it is built upon shared experience and an understanding of an unique set of challenges and, to some measure, fears. No one knows quite like another diabetic that feeling of being too low or too high, that sense of terror in the moment of diagnosis, the humor at being able to rattle off the carb count of any food on the face of the planet, the irony of a Red Rider bottle filled with emergency Cadbury Eggs in the event of a low.

Mike Carter knows how to keep a person spinning.

The best thing about diabetes is the people you meet along your journey with the illness...those you inspire and those who inspire you.

So, despite missing perfect weather and a perfect spring ride, I had a perfect day with some wonderful people. I sometimes get aggravated walking around wellness Expos like this, where you see Milky Way bars handed out in droves to pull passerbys into a booth, where they dole out gluten free muffins with a gagillion carbs under the guise of "processed health foods," where you find a lot of messages that have nothing to do with health and everything to do with gimmicks... But then, I am reminded that sugar free syrup samples aside, we are all in this together. It's not about marketing stuff, it's about meeting people with a shared experience and understanding, and moving one another forward as we travel this road in health and with courage. It's about Zyler and his family, and sharing stories of riding and insulin with former TT2 member Bob Avritt, and talking with Dave Munoz from the CO Tour de Cure about eliminating the stigma of the disease so that everyone can take control.

Happy Spring.

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