Friday, March 30, 2012

People often tell my husband that he is an excellent listener. He's not. He has, however, learned to keep quiet so as to prevent any doubts about possible idiocy. See, Dennis is a super smart guy who has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth at every possible turn, like the time he saw a coworker packing up her stuff at the end of the day. "Did you get fired or something?” he joked as she put a picture frame into her briefcase. Yes. Yes, she had just been fired. Everyone in the room gasped in horror as Dennis tried to recover and continued, "I'm sure it was a mutual decision, right?" Um, no. This is the part where he shrugged and said, "I got nothin'," followed by a quick departure.

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." (Abraham Lincoln)
The thing is, I am on the receiving end of a lot of idiocy. Not from silent Dennis, of course, but from the general public, many of whom seem to think they are experts on all things diabetes. Sometimes, it really is best for people to keep their jackassery to themselves.

There could really be a hundred or a thousand of these little nuanced annoyances doled out by well-meaning people better served by total silence, but I've decided to highlight a mere handful for the sake of brevity and so as not to implode anyone's browser:

  1. Spare me the grizzly horror story of your uncle/grandpa/great aunt and their limb amputation/blindness/renal failure... Is there anything more uplifting than someone taking note of a medical ID bracelet, inquiring about your personal health history as if it were their business, and then following it up with a morbidly tragic horror story relating to your own illness and common disease comorbidities? And to think, we've only just met.

  2. Along those same lines, I am often greeted with the opposite reaction: "My father/mother/second cousin was diagnosed with diabetes, and they started walking/running/joined Jenny Craig, and is now cured." I’ve heard this ad nauseam over the years and it still hasn’t become any easier to continue the discourse civilly. For starters, it is factually, medically inaccurate. You cannot "cure" diabetes. You can often manage blood glucose levels in Type 2 diabetes without the addition of pharmaceuticals or insulin injections, but you are not functionally curing the condition. Moreover, though, the sentiment panders to the obnoxious stereotype that all people with some form of diabetes are slovenly gluttons shoving hoecakes and cheez doodles down their gullet while lining up for the "all you can eat buffet" at Furs Cafeteria. Really, if it were simply a matter of going for a damn walk, don't you think I would have done that by now?

  3. I can eat whatever I choose to eat without your nutritional counsel. Thanks for thinking of me, and by the way, you look like you could stand to lose some weight yourself. Just once, I would like to have a fit-looking person tell me how I should eat or what I should eat or deride me for looking crosswise at a piece of pie...but, for some pea pickin' reason I do not understand, I only get this brand of comment from the stereotypically obese guy holding a bag of chips and wiping his greasy hands down the front of his stained white t-shirt. I have no appropriate response when confronted with this obvious irony. Either way, I'm not sure why it would matter to anyone else in the first place and, for the record, I can eat normally. I choose not to. I eat better than the norm. But you know what? If I want a cookie every once in a while, I'll have my freakin' cookie. It’s not to be a dick, it’s because I want it in my bellah, stat. Move along.

  4. "I could never give myself a shot." Right you are. The other option - the one wherein you whither and die in agony - is a much better alternative. Good luck with that. Meanwhile, I'll be here, injecting my insulin so I don't go blind, lose my feet and slip into a coma.

  5. Insulin use is not a measure of your fitness. I have a friend with diabetes who iterates at every turn that he has been living with the disease for a decade, and has never required insulin. It bugs the crap out of me. Clearly, he has Type 2 and, thus, the circumstances are different from my own, but it still grates on my nerves. (See source irritation/blinding rage #4.) The perception that somehow being free of insulin makes you a better/healthier/more fit 'betic is downright annoying. It's along the lines of being asked if I have "the bad kind of diabetes." (What the hell does that mean? There's a good kind? A more or less serious kind? A super-craptacular-better-not-end-up-with-that-kind of diabetes? I digress....) Treatment is determined by type of diabetes, physiology and response to the given protocol. It has more to do with patient and doctor preference and the specifics of a person's biology than it has to do with management or mismanagement or progression of the disease. To hear another person with the disease stigmatize the use of insulin is, well, idiocy in its highest form.

  6. Of course, the Type 2's get their own share of stigma. I mean, if you have Type 2 diabetes, you must be eating fried cheesecakes and Ding-Dongs a la Paula Deen, right? Because 20% of people with Type 2 have a normal BMI. They are not, and never have been, overweight or obese. In addition, if lifestyle alone were enough to cause diabetes, every fat person in America (all two-thirds of the population of the US) would be diabetic. Only 8% actually have the disease. Obviously, then, there other, unknown mechanisms at work.
Truly, mama had it right: "If you can't say anything nice..."

Dennis has a good plan: Silence is golden. Or better yet, how about suspending judgment altogether? You can, simply, choose not to render any determination about the person, their life or their health.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Life is more challenging for bicyclists in the winter.

And winter happens here in CO. It is possible to cycle in the snow (ask my buddy Mike Carter, who does it every day)...but it's a pain in the ass and, honestly, not great training. For serious workouts, one is going to be relegated to a stationary item. The trouble is, riding a stationary bike is the second most boring exercise ever invented.  To keep pedaling while waiting for the weather to improve, I spend the winter riding on rollers. If it doesn't kill you, riding with rollers will improve your cycling skills. It teaches you how to adopt a nice smooth cadence, and it requires a good measure of balance and core strength. And it's not boring. You're too busy trying not to fall over or careen into your kitchen wall to be bored.

With that in mind, any opportunity to ride outside is a welcome one - and especially at this point in the season.  You don’t have to worry about creating a lake of sweat underneath you when you’re moving along an actual bike route, and your place won’t smell like wet feet. You can sense my joy at the notion of a weekend in AZ. In three days, I managed to put a little under 200 miles on the bike, thanks to a trip to Phoenix to ride in the ADA Tour de Cure with my Team Type 1 & 2 teammates.

My flight landed early, and teammate Mark Thul was already on the ground. The rest of the crew came in later that evening which, in my mind, meant Mark and I were about to get in a whole lot of riding, lucky us, while the rest of the guys were slothing about an airport. We made our way to the hotel, schlepping bikes and luggage. The woman at the front desk asked our names to retrieve the reservation...and then could not locate any information. We tossed out a myriad of possibilities: names of team directors, Team Type 1, other teammates... No dice. No reservation.
Insert little known fact about Phoenix in spring: There are NO HOTEL ROOMS available during the months of March and April. It's spring training time for pro baseball, which means every place of repute is fully booked. Frantic phone calls ensue. I had firmly staked my claim on the backseat of the rental car, which meant Mark was looking at a cozy night on a park bench. His wife came to the rescue with reservations across town.

Re-pack rental Suburban, and head to Tempe.

Finally in a room, we set to work on the bikes. There is always a breathless moment when I open my hard case after a flight...a second where I expect to find a broken fork or cassette. Luckily, all seemed in good order. Assembly commenced.

A five o'clock start is a bummer. Only so many hours of daylight. The good news? Perfect weather, nice stretches of pavement, and bike lanes everywhere. The bad news? An incessant grinding sound emanating from my derailleur, and the sudden inability to brake. Mark, at this point, suggests we pack it in, throw the bike in the Suburban, and find a bike shop. Undeterred, I decide to just ride the mile and a half to Tempe Bikes sans brakes so as to make certain we get our time in the saddle. Best news? Quick fix. A little adjustment to the rear cassette, and I was on my way.

Mark and I got in a quick - albeit beautiful - 20 miles on the bikes. We grabbed a quick dinner and made a plan for the morning, which is to say that I cajoled him into a ride the next day. We had a 2pm scheduled training ride. I sold Mark on the notion that this would be an easy cadence, a nice social pace... After all, who is going to go "holy balls" with 80 on the docket for the next day, right?


With Marty Bassett's arrival, there were three of us. We were ready to roll Saturday morning. Marty was recovering from a host of pre-season injuries, not the least of which were minor. Still, he was game for 30 before the two o'clock meet up, and we all set out. We made our way up some scenic roads, through Scottsdale and back through Phoenix.

No one had a watchful eye on the time, and we still had to check out of the hotel in Tempe and head to a different hotel in Phoenix. When we dismounted the bikes, we had a little under two hours to pack, eat and get to the training ride. Did not happen. With the time crunch looming, and an accidental detour down the wrong stretch of highway, we made a meal of Shot Blocks and Clif Bars, a few apples and a banquet of chocolate chip cookies set out by the front desk staff at the hotel as a treat for guests. I rolled my hard case into a maid's cart, nearly knocking it over, at which point Mark wisely advised I check my sugar. Low. I returned to the front desk, positioned myself next to the cookie jar and feasted. (If you’re a serious athlete, you eat to train. I am not a serious athlete, so I reverse that mantra.)

Mark and I doubled-checked our blood sugar before the start of the ride, given that we'd not had a satiating meal all day. We were both hovering in the 180s. I was actually relieved. Our guide affirmed that this would be a nice, leisure ride up some gently rolling hills. We spun out of the Phoenix Tap Haus parking lot.
About a half mile in to the ride, it became clear that "leisure pace" means different things to different people. My leisure pace? About 16mph. Our guide's leisure pace? About 21mph. And so it was. Being somewhat egotistical and coming from 6000ft., I feel a certain obligation to take hills with dignity. I rolled up on some of the other participants and made conversation but, at the end of the day, I was not about to be shown-up on a 20 mile training ride. Marty, on the other hand, was beginning to feel the pangs of his respective injuries...and managed to ride two full miles on an under-inflated tire without realizing it was flat.

Back at the Tap Haus, we were ready to eat.  I just wanted something other than Powerbar Perform and gels in my stomach, for crying out loud... But I was greeted with a decidedly un-vegan feast. Mark urged me to eat the chicken, telling me it wouldn't hurt me. "That's what they want you to believe," I replied.

We got up, made a speech or two about living well with diabetes (although I live better on a full stomach), and decided that it might be time for dinner #2. This ain’t my first dog and pony show–I’m gonna order a crapton of food, eat it all, feel miserably full and loathe myself, put 80 on the bike the next day, and then feel better when I step on the scale and see that everything’s evened out. It’s a typical cycle, so  I am prepared for multiple dinners.

We met up with women's team member Brittany Willock and her mom, and grabbed some real food. I also managed a few more cookies on the way to bed, requiring me to break my pre-ride insulin regimen, and sending me a midnight hypo.

With all the insanity of the day prior, I was hesitant about pounding out 80 miles on the bike the next day. Brittany convinced me. Mark decided to do a metric century, and Marty wisely decided to give his ailing body a bit of a break, and ride the 30-miler.

I checked to see where my blood sugar was hovering. 101. A good number most of the time, but I like to start a long ride quite a bit higher. A little banana, PB and English muffin sandwich, and I figured I was covered for the next 20. The pace is always furious at the start. People were averaging about 25-27 for the first ten miles. I hung back, knowing most of those would drop around the 20 mile mark...and they did. Brittany hung back a bit further, and I slid in a nice paceline with a group from Oklahoma.

I felt pretty good, so I picked up the pace. I make it a point to chat with other cyclists as I pass them so, as I pushed forward, I would ride up alongside another person on the route, chat for a few, and move ahead. As the courses converged, I rejoined Marty for a short leg, and then made a left up a long canyon road.

I'm always waiting for the moment of misery in any ride : The point when you are only moving forward to return to your car, and the pain in your ass is such that you are really just over it all. I had about four miles like that, but found myself on a nice descent where the ride became fun yet again. At the end of it all, my blood glucose had stayed beautifully stable (thanks to about 4000 Shot Blocks and packages of Chocolate 9), and I had earned an 18.8mph average over 80 miles. Not too bad.

Marty grabbed a quick post ride massage from the ex girlfriend of a former TT1 cyclist (go figure...small world), and we made our way back to the hotel. Showered and packed, we were ready for a final meal. There was but one problem: I could not unscrew my pedals to get my bike back in the hard case. For the second time in three days, we were back at a bike shop thanks to me. With the right tool, I was shoving my bike in its case in the parking lot of a strip mall, ready to head to the airport.

In a shameful display of of gluttony, Marty and I managed to eat everything at the airport Chili's that had not been nailed to the floor. The problem with this, of course, is that I always run high on the plane. And so it was. By the time the flight attendant had demonstrated the proper manner by which to inflate my life vest in the event that the Boeing Airbus became and Italian Cruise Ship, I had earned a blood glucose in the mid 200s. As my seat partner watched me pump myself full of insulin, I knew things were going to be ugly. High then low...a delay on the tarmac with BGs in the was a catastrophe. By the time I was off the plane, I was ready to be at home.

In all, it was a great weekend with good friends, and awesome time on the bike and a chance to do what we do best...ride hard, share our stories, and talk with others who have walked a mile with diabetes. Thanks to the folks in Phoenix for a great ride!

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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

PHX Tour de Cure

Packing the bike for AZ! Should be a busy weekend...but any time on the bike is good time. I look forward to riding up next to a few red jerseys, and hearing some stories from other riders with diabetes.  The Phoenix group did a nice job of planning events around the team, too, so we will get plenty of opportunities to connect with other cyclists and persons impacted by D. And, of course, always fun to see the guys.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Let me preface this, saying that I had pretty much decided to bail on my morning workout. I flew in from Dallas (more on that to come) after a nightmare of delays and fatigue, got home late at night, and had to be back in the office at eight to see patients. Given all that, it seemed prudent to skip a day of training and catch some extra sleep...but I am totally "Type A," and found myself up at four to get in my AM sufferfest.

Holy hotness! Not you; the gym. I just got back from running in freaking DALLAS. I figured the ambient temp of my gym this morning would be a welcome break from the sixth layer of hell that is TX heat and humidity. No dice. It was about 85 degrees on the indoor track. Awesome.

 My gym is pretty ghetto to begin with: the locker room floor tiles are jagged and broken, and the space itself looks somewhat less than hygienic despite the heavily advertised 60 minute daily cleaning it receives (wow, a whole hour! Too bad that's insufficient time to allow the complete removal of the body hair tumbleweed that is clogging up the shower drain). Let us not discuss the current state of the steam room. But I put up with it because it’s a couple blocks from where I live, and at four in the morning, I am not about to schlep any farther than required.

Dangers of inhaling toxic mold aside, I finished my run in the sauna and decided to round-out a good 45 minutes on the spinner. I've been trying to avoid the spin area lately because there is this older, recreational cyclist who actually wears his full kit to the gym - complete with matching purple socks - and keeps instructing me on how important it is that I do this stupid "training ride" up Rabbit Mountain which, for my non-local friends, is a small hill that old peddlers like to blow out of proportion. Every week, this giant purple asshole in unflattering spandex badgers me for twenty minutes about doing this frigging six mile ride with he and his group of friends from the Senior Recreation Department of his assisted living facility. Okay, I get it. I'm not the fastest cyclist in the peloton...and yes, I am aging (rapidly)...but really? Come on!

I figure the key is to avoid making eye contact with anyone. I shuffle over, toss on my shoes, and head to the bike. My legs were feeling a bit tight, and I was honestly over it. I should have just called it...but again, I am compulsive. No sooner do I start my intervals than do I find the purple people eater seated next to me. He actually scooted his spinner closer to my own. Head down. Don't make eye contact. Think: "Rabid Dog."

Does not work.

"You try Rabbit Mountain this week? You gotta come out with us, it's such a good climb!"

Fueled by rage, I managed to get in a pretty good cycling workout despite the disruption though, I confess, I cut it about fifteen minutes short. Mostly because I thought I might die. The only way to avoid conversing with this closet case is to work so hard that I can neither talk nor breath, and might be bleeding out my ears.

I decided, instead, to head to Two Dog Diner and grab some hard-earned tofu scramble, bowl of fruit, banana and side of granola cakes...or two. This is where is sucks to be a diabetic. I whip out my meter, test, inject...and take account of the glare from the judgemental waiter as he notices the food I have ordered. Specifically, the VOLUME of food, and probably in relation to my having diabetes. Okay, Jack, I appreciate your concern for my welfare and, perhaps, your amazement at the amount of breakfast I can cram down my gullet. I can see how you would underestimate my ability to pack in the quantity, as I am of average height and a somewhat thinner, more athletic build as opposed to being some sort of morbidly obese chewbacca who rolled in on a Rascal scooter and prodded you with the fork I brought from home while wearing a food-stained bib from the Old Country Buffet. (A teammate this weekend informed me that I "look a lot like a Schleck brother, but maybe more muscular." Ummm, thanks?)

And yes, thank you, I am trying to lose weight. I happen to be a mediocre endurance athlete and, as such, I need a lot of calories to keep me from going bat-shit crazy when confronted with mornings like this one.

I cannot wait until it is both light enough and warm enough for me to get in outdoor workouts! At least I will be in the out of doors all weekend, as I travel to AZ with the team.

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.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Right now, at the McDonalds near our home, cash registers are bleeping away in honor of my son's elementary school and "McTeacher Night," wherein the school administrators and educators stand behind the counter to sling food at their young pupils so that a measly 10% of sales from the night might be gifted back to the academy. Don't mistake this for philanthropy on the part of McDonalds. This is just one more insidious way for junk food advertisers to infiltrate the schools and reinforce habits that harm kids.

Schools have become integral to the marketing plans of a vast array of corporations, and we have now ingrained the idea that public schools exist for private profit. Corporate motives are easy enough to discern. Not only do these marketers prefer to capture the youngest of consumers so as to instill brand loyalties, but this kind of "philanthropy" softens markets to the presence of industries demonized in the wake of an obesity epidemic amongst children. Parents, for their part, are happy to oblige by lining-up for the cheap eats. After all, Americans spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software or new cars. Every month more than 90 percent of American children eat at McDonald's, and the average American eats three hamburgers and four orders of french fries every week. The World Health Organization announced in the summer that a ban on junk food marketing aimed at kids would be a major point of discussion when the United Nations meets in September. The WHO estimates that 43 million preschoolers worldwide are overweight or obese.

When it comes to the state, Colorado has a long history of allowing corporate "sponsorships" to cover shortfalls in school districts' budgets: "Whether it's first graders learning to read or teenagers shopping for their first car, we can guarantee an introduction of your product and your company to these students in the traditional setting of the classroom," reads one chilling brochure for a Kids Power Marketing Conference. Fast-food companies are at the leading edge of this new marketing strategy, placing not just hallway ads and banners in schools but also targeted, branded educational materials in classrooms, produced with tax-deductible dollars. This is where the fundraising really comes into play, and with the support of the PTO and administrators alike.

The quick retort to this is the resonate claim that public schools need more money, and corporate sponsorships provide a necessary revenue source when public tax monies fall short. This, despite the fact that public schools are rolling in money. If you divide the U.S. Department of Education's figure for total spending on K-12 education by the department's count of K-12 students, it works out to about $10,000 per pupil. That's more than the funding allotted school systems in any other country, and yet the US lags far behind in academic performance. A study by two professors at the Hoover Institution a few years ago compared public and Catholic schools in three of New York City's five boroughs. Parochial education outperformed the nation's largest school system "in every instance," they found -- and it did it at less than half the cost per student.

All that aside, the question is not so much one of "do schools need more funds" but, rather, "is this an appropriate mechanism by which to finance the objective?" Are you willing to commercialize your kid, support a morally dubious industry and feed your child synthetic edibles designed to re-train their palate and make them fat so as to buy, say, a new load of textbooks or nicer football uniforms? Uh, no.

The good news is that my kids know Real Food from McCrap. My daughter would be appalled if I so much as insinuated that we ought to participate in McTeacher night because she has been subject to the kind of nutrition education and food lifestyle that differentiates not just "healthy" and "unhealthy," but "quality" versus "garbage." Her school tends a lovely organic garden, and feeds children fresh foods that exceed Whole Foods Market criteria for quality and sustainability. At home, we don't eat food wrapped in trash, slung at us in seconds and treated with ammonia-based pellets to remove the danger of e.coli poisoning. Our food comes from a guy named Mark, who operates a CSA north of town, and has a degree in water engineering from the University of Colorado. We've met his wife, Nuvia, and my daughter is in love with his sweet red-headed child, Coral. We pick up our shipment and unpack it with care, sampling fresh, whole food and deciding what next to cook. It's a process. An event. It's about community and breaking bread and nourishing body and spirit.

The school will have to sell someone else's kid, I guess. And really, that's the point. The point, of course, is that you cannot remove from the sphere of influence this sort of commercialization and food choice. Parents have to be willing to set the bar higher than the status quo. Parents have to decide that their child will not be among the 90% eating fast food this month...this year. The schools will be just fine.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Not to seem like an ingrate, but some gifts suck. I get that it's the "thought that counts" and that the purpose of giving has nothing to do with gift itself and all that nonsense...but, you know, if you are going to be doling-out your hard earned cash for something, it might as well be something that is not super crappy.

Please never buy any of the following for someone you actually care about (now that my mother is deceased, I feel I can post this without impugning her wrath):
  •  Northwoods-printed flannel Bolero jacket or a t-shirt with wolves
  • Wooden bear toilet seat cozy
  • This:
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "What the hell is that thing?" It is a medicine dropper for kids. Cute, right? You shove the trunk down your daughter's throat and make her swallow...oh...wait...

  •  Tree frog.
That's right. One year, Henry was the proud recipient of a tree frog. Of course, Henry isn't old enough to drive his ass to PetsMart and buy two dozen crickets every week. He's not old enough to pluck out tiny bits of frog poo from the bottom of the cage. He's certainly not old enough regularly check the humidity level of the terrarium so that Hoppy doesn't shrivel into a pile of frog-like dust.

Henry is, however, old enough to awaken at two in the morning, and elect to heap every last ounce of dirt out of the cage and on to his vehicle in an imaginary mid-morning trucking calamity that was, in fact, an authentic mid-morning calamity for mom:

Kind of makes you wonder what happened to Sea Monkeys.

About six months ago, Hoppy disappeared. I came in to Henry's room to find the terrarium door slightly ajar, and no frog in sight. There was no evidence of dirt or plants askew...

I blamed Dennis. Seems like the sort of thing he might do. It was all the more suspect given his recent musings about driving Hoppy to the Arizona border and letting him go free:

"We're going to kill him, honey. We forget to feed him...the kids mess with him. He's going to die, anyway. Wouldn't he rather die a free frog than one locked in a tiny glass prison? I mean, what kind of death is that?"

Dennis was adamant he'd done nothing wrong, and chided me for not allowing him to give Hoppy to someone more deserving.

I'm sorry to report that I found Hoppy today. Not hopping. Not even close. I was looking for a missing pair of Steve Madden booties (which, Dennis, had better not have gone off to the Salvation Army or, mark my words, you'll rue the day you made that choice) only to find shriveled frog remains. Not cool.

I called Dennis to tell him that the mystery has been solved...sort of:

Me: How the hell did he hop all the way in to our room, and end up in the back of the closet? Do you think a mouse got to him?

Dennis: Like, the mouse went in to Henry's room, broke into the cage by opening the little latch, then dragged Hoppy out and raped him in the closet and left him for dead? Jesus Christ, I hope not. That's awful, honey. Truly awful. Why would you even suggest that?

Crappiest. Gift. Ever.