An Uphill Battle
When my brother was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 12 years ago, I was in a sporting goods store. I was 15 years old, and my dad and I were shopping for a lacrosse stick that I would give away a year later, so fleeting was my interest in the sport. My mom called to tell us that Martin, my youngest brother, had just been admitted to the hospital with a blood glucose level of around 560, and that we should come right away.
When I looked at my chubby 9-year-old brother lying in that hospital bed, I couldn't have guessed at the struggles he would soon face. Martin wanted to be an athlete, and he especially loved football. So in ninth grade, he signed up for our high school's freshman team. He had a tough time—not because he lacked motivation, as I did with sports, but because he lacked control of his diabetes. His blood sugar levels were erratic and unpredictable, forcing him to sit out practices and games, until, frustrated and devastated, he ended up quitting the freshman team. He tried again his sophomore and junior years, but always the result was the same.
Around the time Martin turned 16, he decided to channel his athletic energy elsewhere and started working out at the local gym. It became an almost religious practice that has continued into his adult life. My dad, who has always been athletic himself, wanted to support my brother, so he started cycling in the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure in 2006. This year, he got me a bike and persuaded me to join him. I was apprehensive at best. Not one training ride went smoothly. I walked up hills, I fell over when we were at a standstill, and I screamed at my dad for "making" me do this. I began to see my bike not as something I was working with, but as something I was battling, just as my brother had fought his diabetes on the football field. I wondered if my bike was like the lacrosse stick: a horrible sporting-equipment mistake.
At the San Diego Tour de Cure this April, I looked at the 30-mile course ahead of me and thought about my brother. I remembered what he has achieved since those frustrating teen years on the football field. His hard work in the gym paid off, and he has earned a personal training certificate. He is now working as an emergency medical technician, finishing up college, and looking forward to a career as a firefighter and paramedic. With an A1C of 5.8, he has outgrown the chubby kid with the fluctuating blood sugars. His success made me realize I needed to move on, too. So I embarked on my own uphill battle that morning, and rode all 30 of those miles through hilly neighborhood backstreets and against coastal winds. I passed a few people walking their bikes, but I did not join them. I did not fall. I did not cry. And there at the finish line, my brother was waiting for me. Martin, Dad, and I went home to celebrate, all of us champions.
Marie Marandola lives in San Diego and volunteers at ADA Diabetes Camp Wana Kura.