Red Striders Find Inspiration at Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes
Malika Bey's life is a juggling act involving being a mom to four children, holding down three jobs, and managing her diabetes. And if that weren't enough, last fall she put another ball in the air—joining ADA's annual Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes fund-raiser in Philadelphia as a team captain and a Red Strider, a walker who has diabetes.
Bey, 45, was first diagnosed with gestational diabetes when she was 23 years old and pregnant with her third child. She had gestational diabetes again in her fourth pregnancy and needed to take insulin. Then, in 1995, two years after her son was born, Bey was diagnosed with type 2.
She works by day at Burlington Coat Factory and at night as an officer with the Philadelphia Family Court, but it was Bey's third job that led to her involvement with ADA. In her free time, she runs a nonprofit group called Succor Family Services, which assists children who have behavioral problems and their families, as well as former inmates moving back into society. Succor holds an annual conference, "Raising Good Children in Bad Times," and Bey invited ADA's Philadelphia office to offer diabetes information at the meeting, figuring that some people she served might either not be managing their diabetes well or be at risk for diabetes and not know it. "A lot of people are struggling with diabetes and aren't getting care because they're so bogged down with day-to-day [concerns]," Bey says. "A lot of these people don't have health care, and a lot of them eat really terribly."
That experience with ADA in October 2008 led to her forming a Step Out team last year on behalf of Succor Family Services. "Seeing what ADA does and how they work with people . . . really helped me make the decision that I wanted to be a part of this walk," Bey says. Step Out, which is in its third year in Philadelphia, drew 402 teams to last October's event and raised about $562,000. Nationally, some 180 Step Out events raised a total of $18.3 million in 2009 to support diabetes research, advocacy, and awareness. At Step Out in Philadelphia, Bey wore a red cap indicating that she was a Red Strider. She enjoyed meeting others who have diabetes at the walk. "No one in my family has diabetes except for me," she says. "I wanted to come out and participate with some other people who have experienced what I have."
They are people like Helen Debus, another Red Strider and a Step Out team cocaptain in Philadelphia. Debus, 43, an executive assistant at GSI Commerce, an e-commerce and marketing company, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old. She says her father's death at 66 from complications of type 2 diabetes is what motivates her to manage her diabetes with care and to walk in Step Out. Her mother and two brothers also have type 2. Debus says that Step Out brings people of different backgrounds together to fight diabetes, and that all the Red Strider caps in the crowd remind her of just how prevalent the disease is.
"As a diabetic, sometimes you feel like you're the only one," she says. "But then [at Step Out] you realize, wow, look at everybody. It's nice to know you're part of something bigger than you feel."
Bey says she too was inspired by Step Out: "Hearing other people's stories—that there are people who have lost loved ones [because of diabetes]—it gives you this feeling of, 'This thing is serious,' " she says. "I think when you live with it every day, you take it less seriously . . . because it's damaging you from the inside out. You don't feel the effects until it's too late." Bey says Step Out is a reminder to take her diabetes seriously throughout the year and to make healthy choices every day.
Bottom photo: Malika Bey with Philadelphia Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver at Step Out.