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Red Riders

February

02

2007

An Invitation to Ride Print
Written by Mari Ruddy   

EDITOR's NOTE:  Mari wrote her "Invitation to Ride" back in 2007, when the Red Riders were just a brilliant idea.  With the help of Marcey Robinson and Sandria Barrett, Mari saw the Red Riders truly come into existence.  Now, this program is part of the Tour de Cure nationally - and has even segued to the American Diabetes Association's Step Out event!  We are tremendously proud of Mari and the Colorado Tour de Cure for making this a reality!  As Mari would say, "If you have diabetes, you are a Red Rider!  YOU are why we ride."

2008redridersYou are officially and cordially invited to join me. "To what?" you ask. I could say things grand and broad such as: to embrace life, to enhance humanity, to make a difference. In the end, my hope is that by accepting this invitation to do one relatively small thing, you will end up doing those grand things. This invitation is to ride your bike. No matter who you are, or your abilities, as long as you can ride, you can do this. You can ride as fast or slow as you'd like. I invite you to ride with me on Saturday, August 23, 2008.  It's the Colorado Tour de Cure and there are routes of 12 miles, 31 miles, 62 miles or 100 miles. You pick the perfect distance for you. Be on my team, the Red Riders, or start your own team with your family and friends. Just choose to ride. Here's why I invite you.

I don't consider myself weak or a whiner or a wuss, but when I tell people about the physical health challenges I live with, I think it's easy for others, and for me inside me, to think that I am. To counter that impression, I feel compelled to tell you that last summer I did a sprint distance triathlon 30 minutes faster than I did the summer before last. And that two summers ago I did 7 different century bike rides, and that I'm in training to do an Olympic distance triathlon this coming summer. I want to tell you that I do a minimum of 6 hours of aerobic exercise a week and on high training weeks I'll do 10 or more hours. Did I mention that in my free time I'm a high school principal? But telling you these accomplishments doesn't tell you why I want you to ride your bike in August.

I have Type 1 diabetes. I have lived with this challenging disease since I was 16 years old. That's over 25 years of blood testing, shots, insulin pumping, carb counting, and meal planning. If that wasn't enough, two years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of living with diabetes, I thought I understood illness. However, chemo, radiation, and surgery all knocked me down harder than I ever imagined possible. But my lot in life is to get back up no matter the punch. And with the support and love of my family and friends, excellent medical care, and the good fortune of life, I'm officially NED (no evidence of disease). At least no evidence of cancer, as I still have diabetes. That was a rude awakening, if only chemo could cure diabetes.

To look at me, you would not know that I have survived these illnesses. People tell me "You're so fit." "You have so much energy." "You look great." And I suppose what they say is true. Maybe it's because I don't define myself as a sick person. I have always seen the glass as half full. But the thing is, I have survived and continue to survive with these challenges. That's why I want you to ride with me.

In one of the first resource guides I received when I was diagnosed with cancer, I was told it was up to me to determine what to do with my membership into the cancer sisterhood that I had not wanted to join. Within months, it was clear that these women were serious, I had access to a network of amazing women and I was recognized in every athletic event as courageous and brave. Being a cancer surviving athlete is to be admired. Lance Armstrong, the incredible organizing power of the Livestrong campaign, and the dominate force of the breast cancer community, have made it admirable to survive cancer and be an athlete.

This has not been the case with being a diabetic athlete. In my 25 years of living with diabetes, I have walked, run and cycled for the cure for diabetes, but never once at any of these events was I asked to declare myself as a diabetes-surviving person. I was never given a special t-shirt or water bottle. There has never been a special finish line acknowledging the courage, perseverance, and sheer determination it takes to live with diabetes and be out on that course riding, running or walking. I want this to change. I want you to help me change this. I want to work to find the cure AND to celebrate the people who are courageously living with diabetes.

Being a diabetic athlete means a dedication to trial and error. Every diabetic athlete I have ever met or read about is a meticulous record-keeper and is in his or her own way a scientist, continuously experimenting on his or her body to find the best combination of insulin, food, stress, exercise. The crazy thing is that the combination keeps changing and it is highly personalized, so there has to be a willingness to continuously revamp, re-evaluate, re-organize. Having diabetes and being committed to performance requires a degree of mental flexibility that deserves recognition and celebration. It is symbolic of what all of us as humans have to do to perform at high levels.

One could think I just want special recognition, and maybe I do. Why? Because receiving the recognition on race day gives me and my fellow diabetics the motivation to continue seeing the glass half full on the days when our blood sugar soars to 400 for no explainable reason, or when we have no desire to eat but we must or risk passing out if we don't. Cancer is dramatic. Diabetes is a grind. Both drop people at the door of death, just in different styles.

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