Diabetes Forecast

The Healthy Living Magazine

Team Type 2 Goes the Distance

By Jeff Sistrunk , ,

Early in the afternoon of Saturday, June 20, the riders of Team Type 2 set out from Oceanside, Calif., on a 3,000-mile cross-country cycling journey, Race Across America (RAAM). Seven days, seven hours, and 24 minutes later, they crossed the finish line in Annapolis, Md., and made history as the first team composed entirely of athletes with type 2 diabetes to finish the event.

The team included riders John Anderson, Bob Avritt, Bill Arnold, Bob Chaisson, Larry Cleveland, Peter Cowley, Mark Thul, and Dennis Voorhees, along with 18 crew members.

Team Type 2 was formed this year by Joe Eldridge and Phil Southerland, who first founded Team Type 1 in 2004. On June 25, Team Type 1, whose riders have type 1 diabetes, set a new record for the fastest finish in RAAM's eight-rider team division, completing the race in five days, nine hours, and five minutes.

Diabetes Forecast caught up with Arnold at the finish line near the Chesapeake Bay. Excerpts of the conversation:

Diabetes Forecast: How did you get involved with Team Type 2?

Bill Arnold: I was researching whether or not a type 2 diabetic had ever completed the solo RAAM. That was something I was interested in possibly doing. During the course of my research, I discovered that [Team Type 1 founders Eldridge and Southerland] were putting together a group of type 2 diabetics to do the eight-man team RAAM. By the time I got in touch, they had already filled all their spots. They offered me a crew position, and I accepted—I still wanted to support their cause. Within a couple weeks, I got a call and found out they had a rider spot opening up. I was in!

What was the training process like?

We had a coach, Tim Henry. All of our coaching was done via the Internet. [Tim] uses Training Peaks software, which is a Web site coaches can use to build training plans from a remote location. He gave us good base training the first few months, to make sure we covered all the endurance-level stuff. Our training plans built in intensity closer to the event while shortening in duration. I started training [solo] last November and got the call [from Team Type 2] in February. Tim gave us a clear plan to follow from February to June. It was a great process.

When were you diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and how has it affected you?

I was diagnosed three years ago, in April 2006. It was probably the best day of my life in retrospect. At the time I weighed 277 pounds. I got short of breath going up one flight of stairs, and I was constantly stressed. My doctor basically said, "Here's what's going on—you can either die, or start losing limbs, or go blind, or you can do something about it." I started cycling immediately after diagnosis. I had done casual cycling for years but thought it was time to take it to the next level.

How did the riders manage to keep their blood glucose under control?

Typically, we would test before we rode, test after we rode, then adjust. That was our schedule. If you think about the fact that each one of us was taking a 5-mile pull [ride] each hour, at 20 mph, you figure each of us was on the road for 15 minutes per hour. Our shifts were typically nine hours, so doing a pull each hour [nine times, or 45 miles], we'd have to test our blood sugar 18 times a day. That explains the callus on this spot on my [index] finger! [Laughs] I even had to move to a second finger. When you have four guys in the van at a given time [testing] like that, you go through test strips like crazy! It's constant. Our motto, which [fellow rider] Bob Chaisson came up with, is "Ride or be ridden," meaning you can either control your diabetes or let it control you. And I think we all did a good job of keeping our diabetes under control.

What was the biggest challenge during the race?

When you're living your normal life, you have a pretty set food schedule. But when you're on the road doing something like [RAAM], testing your blood sugar 18 times over a nine-hour period, you have a very different schedule. What you find out is, the more you exercise, the less insulin-resistant your body becomes. That's not just over time, but in instances as well. So it's a challenge to alter your diet to fit each part of the race. Like, today, I did something I almost never do and drank a Dr. Pepper [before riding]. I usually like to have my blood sugar around 150 when I start to ride. When I started the pull, I tested and it was 139. When I ended the pull, it was 107. It was like, "Wow! I processed that!"

Are you planning on coming back and competing again in 2010?

We're discussing it. I think you'll see a Team Type 2 next year!

Do you have any advice for people with type 2 diabetes who may be struggling with their disease?

Just get out and do something new. Whatever you're doing [to manage your diabetes], do one thing more. It makes all the difference.


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