I never used to understand fundraising walks. “Why don’t people just ask their friends to donate to a charity?” I’d say. “Group walking doesn’t cure a disease or feed hungry people. Why don’t they spend their time doing something more constructive?”
But when I learned about Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, the walk made perfect sense. You see, I have Type 2 diabetes, and walking is one of the ways I control my disease.
When I was diagnosed, my doctor started me on medication. But he told me that if I lost enough weight and exercised, I might be able to “cure” my diabetes. I was skeptical until one day I checked my blood glucose before lunch, and it was 130. That’s a lot better than the 300 I registered on the morning I was diagnosed, but certainly not optimal before a meal. So instead of eating right away, I took a brisk walk. I checked my sugar again when I got back, and it was 86. That made me a believer. So walking became a big part of my life. Walking helped me lose more than fifty pounds and keep most of it off. I’m still diabetic, but I don’t take medication anymore, and my A1c tests are normal.
Not all Type 2 diabetics can accomplish what I did, but many could and don’t bother to try. “If I walk and blog about it, maybe I can reach some of those people,” I thought.
So I signed up for Step Out: Cincinnati. I registered as a Red Strider–a person who walks with diabetes. I had a choice between a one-mile walk and a timed 5K run/walk. I regularly walk two miles, so the 5K (3.1 miles) seemed like just enough of a stretch. My friends (thanks!) sponsored me and helped me to raise more than $500 and earn a nifty Red Strider T-shirt.
A week earlier it was seventy and beautiful, but Saturday, the day of the event, dawned gray, windy, and in the mid-thirties. “It’s @#$%^ snowing!” I shrieked as I went out to get the newspaper. I had planned to wear my Red Strider T-shirt over a thermal shirt, but now I added a second thermal and topped it all with a lined Green Bay Packers shell. I ended up wearing a lot of Packers stuff: shell, thermal top, hat, mittens, socks, and fanny pack. Packers gear is practically guaranteed to keep people warm–after all, it’s designed to be worn at Lambeau Field, in the stands above the legendary frozen tundra.
A few wet flakes were still falling when I reached Great American Ball Park, where the event was held. I looked around at my fellow walkers and runners. Most were dressed in layers as I was. Some wore the event T-shirts over their warm clothes. I winced as I saw a young girl, maybe ten or twelve, wearing a Red Strider shirt like mine. I feel bad for the children with Type 1 diabetes. What’s a blip on my timeline is a major upheaval on theirs. I may have to decline a dessert or make time for a workout, but the kids endure endless needle sticks and can’t share in some of the fun things their friends do.
(Simplistic explanation: Type 1 diabetes is generally diagnosed in childhood. Patients do not produce the hormone insulin. Without insulin, cells cannot absorb glucose—sugar—which they need to produce energy. So patients must inject insulin into their bodies. Type 2 patients do make insulin, but their bodies don’t utilize it properly. Type 1 can’t be prevented, but Type 2 is often associated with being overweight and can be modified or prevented by a healthy lifestyle.)
I exchanged high-fives with a couple and a family of four who, like me, were dressed in Packers garb. We didn’t outnumber the Bengals fans, but we represented. “This is the only day of the year when I admire Jay Cutler,” I half-joked. Cutler, the Chicago Bears quarterback, has Type 1, so he’s a great role model for kids with the disease.
I saw some people with shirts and stickers reading, “I walk for my brother,” “I walk for my best friend,” etc. I thought of my BFF Pam, who’s had Type 2 longer than I have, but has never been able to control it completely. Her sugars are higher on medication than mine are without it. “Maybe the dollars I raised will help fund research,” I considered. “It would be wonderful if someone came up with a better option for Pam.”
By the time the opening ceremonies started, the snow had stopped. The words of welcome were warm, but my legs felt cold and stiff as I stood on the pavement. I essayed a few hamstring curls and knee lifts, not caring how ridiculous I looked, until representatives of the Bengals cheerleaders and the Northern Kentucky University dance team led us all in a warmup routine.
We lined up at the exit to begin the race. I hung back a bit to let the runners get out first. Finally the starting gun sounded. I paced out as quickly as I could, trying to establish a rhythm. Suddenly the clasp on my fanny pack, which had been buckled around my waist for two hours without incident, gave way and the pack dropped to my feet. The inexpensive water bottle that I’d clipped to the pack broke, splashing me as I picked it up. I skittered out of the crowd and found a trash can where I discarded the bottle. “Great start!” I thought. “But I’m not worried about my time. I’ll be happy if I finish in less than an hour. Heck, I’ll be happy if I finish!”
Left, right, one, two. Now I had my rhythm. Down by the Ohio River with the wind in my face, I was thankful for every stitch I had on. The runners were far ahead now, but there were plenty of walkers both ahead and behind me. Eight-year-olds scampered past me like puppies and then held up to wait for slower family members. I was passed by what looked like a beagle mix, trotting alongside its owner. But I kept in stride. Volunteers waved us around each turn, cheering us on and making sure we stayed on the course. I felt sorry for them out there in the chilly weather. We were moving briskly, but they had to stay in their places.
One, two. Near the halfway mark, it seemed that one of my worst fears—common to women my age—was about to be realized. Would I have to leave the race to look for a bathroom? “Next time I skip the opening remarks and go right before they send us off,” I told myself. There were Port-o-Lets near the route, but I wasn’t sure they were meant for us, and I didn’t want to compromise my time. My mouth was getting dry, but I thought it prudent to pass up the stand where volunteers were offering water.
Left, right. We made a turn, and the wind was at our backs. That helped. We passed Paul Brown Stadium and the Freedom Center, and GABP was just ahead. I was going to make it. There was the clock at the finish line. I crossed before it clicked over to 52:00. Then I accelerated as I headed for my true goal—the door marked WOMEN.
Later I learned on line that my official time was 51:17, for a per-mile average of about sixteen and a half minutes. I also found out that I was the oldest woman in the 5K–but not the last to finish.
A poster at the ballpark asked, “Why do you walk?” I’d thought about walking to raise awareness among Type 2s, walking for the children, and walking for Pam. But I realized that I was walking for myself. I walked to celebrate my body, the changes I’ve been able to make in it, the medical community that advised me, and the active lifestyle that I didn’t have before I was diagnosed. I’m a Red Strider. I strode.
And I can’t wait to do it all again next year.