100 Miles for Diabetes
A Pittsburgh veteran and retired mail carrier leads an annual fund-raising trek
The first thing that supporters waiting outside the McKnight Post Office in Pittsburgh saw that Sunday afternoon last October was a color guard: more than a dozen World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans in dress uniforms, carrying rifles and an American flag. The fanfare lightened the steps of eight men completing an exhausting three-day, 100-mile journey from Erie, Pa., to Pittsburgh. As the men triumphantly marched to their finishing point, they truly had something to cheer about: In the 32 years that Bob Mandera, 64, had been coordinating this annual walk, it had raised more than $1.5 million for diabetes research.
Mandera, a retired mail carrier and U.S. Army veteran who repaired helicopters with the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam, organized the first walk in 1978 to support his daughter, Pamela, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 5. In the years since, he has walked with other mail carriers and fellow members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a major sponsor of the event. In his role as state diabetes chairman for the Pennsylvania VFW, Mandera works to get members involved in fund-raising for diabetes. Even though only a small group of men walks the 100 miles each year, the event brings in tens of thousands of dollars for the American Diabetes Association. Last year, with the help of a matching sponsorship from Liberty Medical, the walkers raised $71,000.
The supporters at the finish line included friends, family, ADA staff and volunteers, and even strangers who had seen reports about the event on TV. They all came to congratulate these eight "regular guys"—most of whom were in their 50s and 60s—on their success. Steven Shivak, executive director for ADA in western Pennsylvania, calls the walkers a great example of "how everybody, if they set their mind to something, can make a monumental difference."
To find out more about events in your area, please contact 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) or visit diabetes.org. To get involved in ADA's Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes and Tour de Cure events, visit diabetes.org/stepout and diabetes.org/tour.
Today, Pamela is a 39-year-old mother of three, and her father's team has grown in size and sponsorship, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars every year. So why keep organizing 100-mile walks? Mandera says that before he retired from the Postal Service in 2000, he had always delivered mail on foot in Coraopolis, Pa., a small town on the Ohio River west of Pittsburgh. He thought 100 miles would get people's attention. "When you walk for a living, it seems natural," he adds.
Over the years, Mandera and his fellow walkers have become local celebrities. Mandera wears his "Diabetes Walk" T-shirt frequently to promote the event, and strangers stop him to say, "I know you; I saw your walk on TV." When the men drive out to Erie each year, local news crews await them. As the walkers make their way down U.S. 19 to Pittsburgh, drivers and passersby honk and shout in approval. "One year a station wagon pulled over ahead of us, and a little girl got out and came back to us and said, 'Thanks for walking for me. I have diabetes,' and she gave us $5," Mandera says. "That's what it's all about."
Mandera points out that anyone can make a contribution like his. "I didn't have any special education for this: My daughter had diabetes, and we wanted her cured," he says. "You can't do everything. But pick something and get involved."
Shivak hopes that Mandera's accomplishment will inspire other people in the community to find their own ways to get involved in the fight to stop diabetes. He says that while numerous sponsors and participants are involved in the success of Mandera's 100-mile walk each year, it takes one person to keep the momentum rolling: "They're still doing all this to raise money. Why? Because Bob, over the past 30 years, has asked them to."