A Red Wave
At Tour de Cure, a Spotlight on Riders Who Have Diabetes
When Bob Avritt first volunteered at the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure bicycling fund-raiser in Great Falls, Mont., in 1995, he did it for his grandmother, who had type 2 diabetes. Yet even as he cheered the participating cyclists zooming across the finish line, it never occurred to Avritt, an information technology and Web consultant, to get on a bike. Diagnosed with a knee condition in junior high, Avritt was told by his doctor that he wasn't allowed to participate in athletics. Combine that with his diet of starchy, Southern-style foods, and Avritt worked his way up to 340 pounds, his heaviest weight before being diagnosed with type 2 in 1998. His doctor put him on oral medications immediately, but Avritt knew he needed more than just drugs—he needed a life change.
So he returned to the Great Falls Tour de Cure in 2005, not as a volunteer but as a rider. After a move to Lakewood, Colo., the next year, he wanted to stay active with the Tour, so he joined a cycling team called the Red Riders, newly formed by Mari Ruddy. The result? Staying with his regular bicycling helped Avritt drop below 200 pounds. "Tour gave me a pathway to gaining control over diabetes through cycling," the 42-year-old Avritt says.
Ruddy, meanwhile, had come to Tour de Cure by a different route. After surviving a difficult battle with breast cancer in 2004, she realized that the support network she had found in other breast cancer survivors was essential to her recovery. As someone who had been living with type 1 diabetes for 25 years, she wanted to find a new way to provide this kind of support for people with diabetes, too. Her solution was to create the Red Riders, a program that recognizes Tour de Cure participants who have diabetes.
"Diabetes is really hard, a lot of work, and it takes a lot of courage and fortitude," says Ruddy, 43, an executive coach for educational and nonprofit leaders in Denver. "We had to learn how to describe diabetes in positive ways that showed diabetes is worthy of celebrating." The Red Rider bicycling team, which was introduced at the Longmont, Colo., 2007 Tour de Cure with 111 Red Riders, expanded to more than 500 Red Riders bicycling in 10 Tour events last year in different parts of the nation. This year, the team is open to participants in every Tour across the country.
All in the Family
Friends and family of Tour de Cure Red Riders can show support for their loved ones by participating in Team Red. Working in conjunction with the Red Riders, Team Red is national this year. You can learn more about Red Riders and find out about your local tour at diabetes.org/tour.
In 2008, more than 38,000 people rode in Tour de Cure events, raising over $16 million at 80 rides nationwide. This year, volunteers are aiming to meet ADA's goals of 44,000 riders raising more than $18 million. For Ruddy, seeing the Red Riders in their easy-to-spot red jerseys reminds her that she's not alone in fighting diabetes. "It's so amazing to be on the cycling course and know who has diabetes by [looking at their] jerseys," Ruddy says. While many Tour de Cure participants appreciate the inspiration the Red Riders provide—and their above-average fund-raising totals—what Ruddy takes pride in most is how the Red Rider program has changed participants' attitudes about their diabetes.
"Mari's idea was about showing people who [are living with] diabetes that they deserved recognition. You can never rest; you can never take a break," Avritt says. "Those of us who thrive despite diabetes should be recognized, and that happens at least once a year—at Tour de Cure."
A Tour Near You
To find a Tour de Cure event in your area, visit diabetes.org/tour. Here are the events being hosted around the country in May.
• May 2: Roseville (Sacramento), Calif.
• May 3: Yountville (Napa Valley), Calif.
• May 9: Cooksville, Md.; Chattanooga, Tenn.
• May 16: Huntsville, Ala.; Tulsa, Okla.; Redmond (Seattle), Wash.; Louisville, Ky.
• May 17: Tyrone (Atlanta), Ga.
• May 24: Chicago
• May 30: Brielle (Jersey Shore), N.J.; Springfield (Nashville), Tenn.; Boiling Springs (Harrisburg), Pa.; Union, Ky. (Cincinnati); St. Francisville, La.; El Dorado, Kan.; Rochester, Minn.; Madison, Wis.
• May 30-31: Jacksonville, Fla.; San Antonio; Austin, Texas
• May 31: Warrington (Philadelphia), Pa.; Bernalillo, N.M.; Springfield, Neb.; Gloucester (North Shore), Mass.; Long Beach, Calif.