When Terri Myers brought her 6-year-old son, Eric, to the doctor in 2004, she had no idea how much her life was about to change. Eric, who had lost some weight and complained of fatigue, was diagnosed with Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes.
Terri and her husband, Jim, found themselves struggling with the daunting task of monitoring and managing Eric’s blood sugar levels, which could vary wildly and dangerously depending on diet, activity level, growth, hormones, illness and stress.
For Eric to live a long and full life, his blood sugar levels have to be stabilized through diet and insulin injections. The Myers began learning everything they could about the condition, but found it isn’t easy. “You think you have it under control,” Terri says, “and then there is a growth spurt or his activity level changes. We get numbers all over the place; you never know where it is going to go.”
The Myers were overwhelmed until they discovered the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF,) an organization initiated by parents of kids with Type 1 Diabetes. Devoted to the education and support of families facing this diagnosis and to finding a cure for the disorder, JDRF spends more than 80 percent of what it raises on research and research-related education. The Myers soon began fundraising for the organization through the “Walk to Cure Diabetes.”
Then, in 2007, the JDRF approached Terri, who is both a group fitness instructor and marathoner, and asked her to become involved in a new way.
Terri was invited to coach a local chapter of cyclists participating in one of JDRF’s five annual “Ride to Cure Diabetes” fundraising bicycle events across the United States. She leaped into action and began helping her fifteen member team prepare for a one-day, approximately 100-mile ride as well as encouraging them toward their fundraising goal of $2,000 each.
Terri quickly found out that while coaching requires dedication and effort, she gets a lot back in return. “I’ve learned other people’s stories,” she says. On the Death Valley ride last year the riders rode one mile in silence in memory of two 13-year-olds who had died within a month of each other from complications of juvenile diabetes. Terri, whose son Eric was then thirteen, was deeply moved. “Now my goal for every ride is to find that mile of silence.”
This month Terri and Jim, on their fifth year in a row with “Ride to Cure Diabetes,” will be riding the La Crosse, WI event with her MinnDakota team of about 40 riders from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Two of the newbies on this ride will be their children, Heather, 20; Justine, 17; and Eric, 14. “It is going to be hard training up and riding,” Eric says, “but I am going to work as hard as I can. I have seen people my age doing it and I think I can too. Diabetes can be painful and annoying. You can’t take a day off from it, but the exercise actually keeps the diabetes a bit more in control, so I can use less insulin.”
For Terri, this is what it is all about. “[On these rides,] I am in the saddle 11 and a half hours, which is not a joy, but I love every minute of it,” she says. “It feels like I am actually doing something for Eric. I can’t do research, I’m not a doctor—I can’t fix it. But, if I can go out there and educate people about Type 1 diabetes and support other people that are raising money that goes to research, then I’ll do anything. I hope I am making a difference.”
To join the movement to cure Juvenile Diabetes, visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund website.