The Cyclist in “Stop Diabetes” Lycra

20140804_195638It was the perfect day for a bike ride for me, and it was an embarrassing one for my wife.

At 7 a.m. I clicked into the pedals on my dark blue Specialized Allez road bike and pushed off toward my friend Ed’s house. I looked up at the cloudless pastel blue sky with yellows and reds radiating from the east. Goosebumps appeared on my bare arms, not so much from the beauty of the morning, but from the surprisingly chilly 68 degrees for August 3.

We were riding in a Bike to Beat Cancer training ride (I’m training to ride 100 miles in September), but I was wearing my grey “Stop Diabetes” jersey, shorts, and socks. I ride to stop diabetes as someone who has lived with the disease for more than 42 years. I’m riding to beat cancer because my mom and many friends have been impacted by it. Our friend Carol just lost her long battle last month.

As Ed and I rode the 17 miles to the meetup, where we’d start the 30-mile training ride, we were happily amazed that we hit every green light for the first 15 miles. As we approached one red light, I joked that I had a preemption emitter (the device emergency vehicles use to change red lights to green) in my helmet. As soon as I said it, the light turned green.

We met up with 20 or so other cyclists and then rolled through the quiet small town at the beginning of the ride–the streets were ours this early Sunday morning. Then we spun along the Ohio River for miles. The pace was even, slow enough for cyclists to talk and point out views across the river and quick enough to feel the cool air in our faces. Just as the sun began to warm up the atmosphere, we glided into a park for a long but gentle climb, the overarching trees providing the shade needed to prolong the crispness of the air for a few more much-appreciated minutes.

At one brief stop I looked around and saw nothing but smiles. This ride didn’t feel much like training.

We picked up the pace on the ride back home as both the traffic and the temperature intensified. I registered a personal best on the steep climb from River Road to SR 42, and we were just 10 miles from home. I rolled down my driveway at 67.5 miles, feeling as if I had another 10-20 in me.

This is when I read the text from my wife telling me she had a story to tell me.

She had left the house shortly after I had that morning, driving my daughter to work. On her way back home, she saw a cyclist wearing grey “Stop Diabetes” jersey, shorts, and socks. So she rode behind the bike for a while and then pulled up alongside, yelling out the window, “Hey, Sexy!” The cyclist in grey Lycra looked over at her and said, “Excuse me?” The two pulled off the side of the road where my precious wife tried to explain to the stranger that she thought he was me.

Turns out the “other man” in the grey jersey is involved in the American Diabetes Association and the Tour de Cure in Louisville as well. And apparently … from the rear … he looks like me.

I’m not exactly sure how I am supposed to feel about my wife’s case of mistaken identity. I’m honored she thinks I’m sexy in Spandex. That is, if she had actually yelled it at me. To this point, no woman has ever pulled alongside me and said, “Hey, Sexy!” and now I’m wishing someone would. I’m also miffed that my wife hasn’t paid enough attention to differentiate me from some random cyclist. Afterall, his bike was red.

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Want to Read More of Mike’s Stories About Cycling?

Living Healthy with Diabetes Is Like Mountain Biking

How to Look Past the Obstacles: Use this mountain biking skill to live healthy with diabetes (or any life circumstance)

 

The Incident: A Not-So-Model Diabetes Patient (or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Wheelchair”)

marioandretticarIt all started innocently enough. The hospital nurses gave me a model car to put together, probably to keep me in my bed rather than romping through the hospital hallways with the other kids on the children’s floor. This was back in 1971, and hospitals were not yet in the practice of moving patients out as soon as possible.

I had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and admitted to Good Sam hospital (see my earlier post on my hospital adventure). I had made new friends with kids who had cancer and heart conditions, as well as those who had had numerous surgeries to correct birth defects, just to name a few of their conditions. One of my roommates, a young kid who had a serious heart condition, was taken to surgery one evening, and he never returned. One of my other roommates woke me and the kid next to me up with screams in the middle of the night and then cried inconsolably the rest of the night. He said he knew our friend had died. I thought he was crazy until the following day when a nurse told us that indeed he didn’t make it through the surgery. No one was there to console us or provide us with counseling.

Maybe that’s why my fellow children’s-floor friends and I were so out of control. I’m sure we simply didn’t know how to handle all we saw and were experiencing.

It all culminated when I ran over a little old lady in the hallway. One of the big kids (and by big, I mean he was maybe 13) was pushing me in a wheelchair through the halls. I was Mario Andretti, speeding around the Good Samaritan 500 Racetrack. The other race teams had already given up. We were the undisputed 4th-Floor Wheelchair Race Champions. What I didn’t realize was that at some point the kid pushing me had given me a big shove and then let go. An older woman stepped out of a room directly in my path, and I suddenly found I had a very unwilling passenger.

She could have just enjoyed the ride, but instead she had to make a big deal out of the incident. (Incident was the word the nurses and hospital administrators kept using.)

So suddenly I had a model Lotus racecar to put together, which was kind of fun for a short while. But the tires had a piece of rubber that needed to be cut away in order to attach them to the rims. I asked a nurse for scissors, and she complied, probably to keep me busy and out of trouble. As I poked out the stubborn rubber section of a tire, however, I plunged the scissors between my index and middle fingers (I still have the 42-year-old scar). Seven stitches and I was good to go, sans the scissors.

Several days later I was in isolation, away from all my fun friends, with a serious case of Staphylococcus. It was the worst. No more races, no more friends to play with; they didn’t even let me finish building my model car. Finally, the doctor let me go home, where I carefully finished assembling the Lotus.

Several weeks later, my doctor removed six stitches from between my fingers. One of the stitches somehow fell down into my hand. He wanted to send me back to the hospital to let them find and remove that lost stitch, but the hospital said no, ostensibly because he could take care of that in his office.

That was fine with me. The kids back in my neighborhood and I had sled races to run and a new model car to pommel with a BB gun.

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MORE STORIES ABOUT BEING A KID WITH DIABETES

Living Healthy with Diabetes and Proving the Doctors Wrong

How NOT to Teach an 11-Year-Old Boy to Give Himself a Shot

Camp Hamwi and THE Shot

The Year I Was Banned from the Olympic Games

The Diabetic Dad and the Delayed Delivery

Jordan baby picMy wife and I were in the delivery room about to give birth to our first child. Now, before I get too far into this story, I need to explain that my wife, Heidi, is from New Jersey. If that fact means nothing to you, go to Netflix and watch a couple episodes of “Jersey Shore.” Or don’t and be thankful.

Anyway, Heidi was something like 27 centimeters dilated–I’m not really sure; I’m a guy–and the nurses were calling for the doctor. Unfortunately it was dinner time, and because I live with type-1 diabetes, I needed to eat. So I hurried down to the cafeteria to get some food. Fortunately, Heidi did a good job of clenching for 15 minutes till I returned.

By now my blood glucose had dropped really low, so I sat in a hospital lounge chair and began to eat. I wanted to be sure I had the energy I needed to remind Heidi how to breathe properly and anything else she ordered me to do.

Heidi, with all the compassion a Jersey girl after 32 hours of labor can possibly have, told the nurses that if I passed out from my insulin reaction to just shove me in a corner out of the way and take care of her. The nurses laughed but Heidi was very serious.

Just then the doctor walked into the room, just as I began eating my strawberry cheesecake. He quickly assessed the situation and said, “It’s time to have this baby!” He looked over at me eating dinner and inquired to no one in particular what was going on. When a nurse informed him that I had diabetes and needed to eat, he tapped his fingers on the side of the bed and said, “OK, so we’ll wait for dad to finish eating.”

Heidi did not agree with his prognosis. But you have to understand: she wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. I’ve never seen her so mad or heard her scream so loudly.

So I left the last few bites of cheesecake on the tray. Twenty minutes later we welcomed Jordan Michael Mack into the world. I got to cut the umbilical cord, which I did with a steady hand thanks to that cafeteria run.

The whole thing was incredible. Mom and baby were healthy and did well, and dad was able to finish those last two bites of cheesecake.

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MORE DIABETES-STORY HUMOR

How NOT to Teach an 11-Year-Old Boy to Give Himself a Shot

Camp Hamwi and THE Shot

The Year I Was Banned from the Olympic Games

Diabetics in Love

 

Diabetics in Love

Kim was my first real girlfriend, and by “real girlfriend,” I mean we made out in the front seat of my 1967 green Rambler, a car we called the Rolling Rock. Like me, Kim had type-1 diabetes. In fact, that’s what brought us together, besides the fact that she was really cute, and I had a car.

When we first met nearly 35 years ago, we were somewhat normal teenagers, except we carried syringes, went to the bathroom constantly, and sometimes exhibited erratic behavior. Kim thought it was funny that I carried sugar cubes in my pocket. The correct remedy, according to her, was hard candy.

Chamberlain Park SignI liked having Kim around me. Most of the time, we hung out at Chamberlain Park, tossing Frisbee, swinging on the swings, kissing under the picnic shelter or on the park bench by the old cannon. We were teenage sweethearts.

I thought it was cool that we had this condition in common. We understood each other. She laughed when I asked her in public if she was high … the first seventeen times.

After the first day or two of our romance, however, we almost forgot about the diabetes connection. It became a teenage love connection. We walked hand in hand in the rain, drove around in my car, sat in the park late at night staring at the stars, and kissed—we kissed a lot. She cheered for me as I played baseball. We sat on the steps of her front porch across from the firehouse and I listened to her stories about her family. There was our song: “I’m in You,” by Peter Frampton. We’d talk on the phone for hours about nothing.

Diabetes was the furthest thing from our minds. But I was glad it brought us together … for those three glorious weeks. Then Greg came along and took Kim away. I saw them at the park one day, walking along the railroad tracks together. That was it.

Yes, people with broken pancreases have some unique highs and lows in life, but mostly we experience life like everyone else does, including romance and broken hearts.

People come and go in our lives and many of them make an impact on us. Chamberlain Park still holds special memories, and to this day, I prefer hard candy to sugar cubes.

Tribute to a Diabetes Hero

Many of my heroes as a teenager were athletes; Their Sports Illustrated covers plastered the walls of my room. Heroes like Pete Rose, David Thompson, and, well, Christie Brinkley. Oh, and Ron Santo, a Chicago Cub who, like me, lived and played baseball with Type-1 diabetes. And did I mention  Christie Brinkley, who, as far as I know, didn’t have Type-1 diabetes, but she always looked so happy playing whatever sport it was she played?

I took those magazine covers down from my walls a long time ago, and some of those heroes have fallen on their own. I’m not a huge fan of elevating other humans to superhero status, because not one of them (or us) is perfect (although Christie was pretty close). Every single one of them (and us) needs second chances. And, to tell the truth, not one of them truly impacted my life. But one hero has influenced my entire life.

My mom and me in Idaho, about one year before she left earth

Her name was Betty. She’s been gone for more than twelve years now, but my mom’s impact on my life, especially my life with diabetes, lives on. My mom is the person who gave me the courage to live a normal life, regardless of the highs and lows that would come along with diabetes–or any other circumstances of life. She gave me lots of grace and second chances, more than I deserved! And she taught me about God, the ultimate Giver of Second Chances.

I think my mom understood how to live with (or despite) the circumstances that life threw her way. She grew up during the Great Depression with an alcoholic and abusive father. Her own mother died when she was a young teen. My mom often went to the store and got a soup bone, took it home and boiled it with any vegetables or scraps she could find (if they were lucky), and that was dinner. Mom was a strong and yet very loving woman who loved life and never complained about her circumstances but made the best of every situation.

I wrote a tribute for my mom and read it to her at her birthday party a couple years before she died. Here’s part of it:

Mom, you were my hero when I was diagnosed with diabetes at age 11 and I spent three weeks in the hospital. You encouraged me as I made adjustments. You were my strength through it all. You gave me my shots when I couldn’t do it myself. You taught me how to care for my health. You made sure I went to a diabetes camp so I could see I wasn’t alone. Years later, when I went to a special diabetes seminar, I learned how well-adjusted I was. There was only one reason for that: my mom.

Maybe, like me, a parent was or is your hero, your support and encourager along the way. Or maybe it has been another relative, a teacher, or a friend.

Or perhaps you are that parent who is caring for a kid like me with diabetes. Thank you!

Who is your biggest hero when it comes to living with diabetes? Share your story about them in my comments section! I and others would love to hear about them. Better yet, tell them yourself in your own tribute. And then share your tribute here and tell us how it went!

 

The Year I Was Banned from the Olympic Games

Image1972 was a big year for me–the year of the Olympic Games, and I was participating.

I was 12 years old and won 27 gold medals. At least I should have.

The other competitors, Tim Ward, age 11, and Jeff Ward, age 10, competed too. The events all took place in my backyard, garage, basement, and around our neighborhood on Matson Avenue. I designed and crafted each of the gold, silver, and bronze medals by cutting pieces of cardboard into circles, coloring them with the appropriate crayons, punching small holes in the tops, and looping pieces of string through the holes. I draped all the medals on one of my dad’s ladders that hung in our garage. As each event concluded, the top three athletes met in the garage and stood atop boxes at different levels to receive our cardboard medals. I played the National Anthem on my cassette player.

It’s true. I had a decided advantage over Tim and Jeff because of my superior athletic skills. The fact that I planned all the events helped too.

There were the usual events, such as weight lifting, 100-yard dash, marathon (once around the block), cycling (I was the only one with a 10-speed), high jump (using all of the pillows and cushions in the house as a landing mat), and discus throw (amazingly, we broke only one of mom’s plates). Then we had some “unconventional” events. These were sports I was particularly good at or ones I knew Tim and Jeff couldn’t do well. Like chess. Air hockey. Bumper pool. (I had an air hockey and bumper pool table in my bedroom). Algebra (the Ward brothers hadn’t gotten that far in math yet). Against Tim’s protests, we didn’t have the football or baseball throw. Tim was a pitcher and could throw a ball a mile. I did give in to the one-on-one basketball tournament and because of it I got my one silver medal.

About a week into the competition, I couldn’t be caught in the medal race. Tim had a bunch of silver medals and Jeff had a ton of bronze. This is when “the scandal” began. Jeff said I had to submit to drug testing. He claimed he had incontrovertible evidence that I had been shooting up.

He was right. I took insulin shots twice a day. I had been diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes a year earlier. Jeff said he and Tim had all the evidence necessary to prove I had an unfair advantage because of the “performance-enhancing drugs” I was taking. They had seen me taking shots, they had found broken syringes in our garbage can, and noticed my markedly improved performance after eating what looked like sugar cubes.

The urine samples I was forced to provide were unnecessary. My diabetes was no secret–I had told them about it so they could understand why I sometimes had to stop playing to eat some sugar. I tried as hard as I could to convince the Ward brothers that insulin wasn’t a drug and that it gave me no advantage in our competitions. I showed them the pamphlets I had received from the hospital. I had my mom testify on my behalf. I provided an official statement from my doctor. The Ward brothers weren’t convinced. It was put to a vote; I lost two to one. I was suspended for life from the Matson Avenue Olympic Games and stripped of all my medals.

I was devastated. For about two days, when baseball season started and my Little League team allowed me to play. In my first at bat, I hit a line drive up the middle, knocking Tim to the ground. I laughed when I reached first base, where I promptly ate a sugar cube and stole second base.

Camp Hamwi and THE Shot

Relying on your mom to give you your insulin injections has its disadvantages, especially when she’s mad at you and hasn’t taken (what she called) her “nerve pills.” Like the time when I was 13 and I got mud on her freshly cleaned kitchen floor, and later when she gave me my shot, she wiggled and twisted the needle around in my arm before pushing in the insulin. She swore her hands were slippery from floor wax, but I knew better.

As I indicated in my last post, it took me a while before I learned to give myself my own insulin injection. I really wanted to do it myself, but I couldn’t pull the trigger, so to speak. You see, the nurses in the hospital taught me to JAB the needle into my skin. It was like throwing a dart, except you don’t let go. I tried over and over: 1 … 2 … 3 … and every time my JAB would stop just short of my skin. So Mom would graciously give me my shot … again, and I’d try again next time.

This went on for a couple years, until I went to Camp Hamwi.

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Postcard home from Camp Hamwi, Central Ohio, circa early 1970s

Camp Hamwi was the diabetes camp I attended for three years. It was a typical summer camp with cabins, a swimming pool, and a creepy camp counselor named Al. The camp was for juvenile diabetics but it included pretty normal camp activities: kayaking in the lake, hikes in the woods, and late-night spin-the-bottle games. Of course, I and my other 13- and 14-year-old cabin mates got to sleep by singing the classic camp song, “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” The camp counselors taught us about testing regularly, eating right, and getting enough exercise each day. They must have forgotten the warning about how bad it is for juvenile diabetics to drink that much beer.

Each day, I saw all my fellow campers giving themselves their shots, which gave me motivation, but it was HOW they were putting the needle in that helped me most. They didn’t JAB; they simply put the end of the needle against the skin and gave it a little push. So I tried it and … success!

I was so excited I wrote a letter home to my family:

Dear Mom & Dad,

Finally for the FIRST time ever, I gave my self my own shot and nobody helped me! I just stuck it in. Having a GREEEEAAAAAT time here and learning a lot.

Have to be saying bye till Saturday unless you decide not to pick me up. Maybe that’s better, but I HOPE not!

Bye! Mike

(NOTE: Thirty years later: After my mom passed away in 2001, my siblings and I were going through her keepsakes, and I found the letter. Mom had kept it all those years.)

The camp counselors rewarded me for giving my own shot by putting me in charge of the bonfire that night. They rebuilt the camp the following year, but Al has never been seen since that night.

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NOTE: The events of this post are based on true events, although some minor details have been fictionalized. Camp Hamwi was a great place with no creepy counselors or underaged drinking, so go ahead and send your kids there. I’m sure they’ll love it. By the way, I now wear a pod but when I do give myself a shot I still do it as I learned at camp. Also, I still enjoy bonfires and playing spin the bottle, but I now do the latter only with my wife.

Support me in my ride to beat diabetes in the 2015 TdC here!

Support me in my ride to beat diabetes in the 2015 TdC here!