Diabetes Forecast

Tour de Cure Cycling Event Turns 20

By Kelly Toves ,

Harry James Gillham (right) biked 55 miles in ADA's 2010 Tour de Cure in the Twin Cities with friend Janae Adams (left).

Harry James Gillham got serious about losing weight when his best friend yelled at him about it almost three years ago. He had to do something about his 360 pounds; Gillham's parents and grandparents had type 2 diabetes, and Gillham, 36, didn't want the disease to be a part of his or his daughter's future. He had just gone through a divorce and moved from Milwaukee to Bloomington, Minn., and was looking to make a fresh start.

And he did. Gillham, who works in information technology, has dropped 140 pounds since 2008. Diagnosed with prediabetes a year ago, he is working hard to keep type 2 at bay. He walks, rides a bike, lifts weights, and logs his calorie consumption with a smart-phone app. Plus, he's found a way to stay on track and on his mountain bike: by riding in the Twin Cities–area Tour de Cure, a cycling fund-raiser for the American Diabetes Association.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Tour de Cure, which has raised more than $150 million for ADA since it began in 1991 in Napa Valley, Calif., and Buffalo, N.Y. At the Twin Cities event on June 4, to celebrate 20 years of Tour, teams will ride in groups of 20 and encourage donations of $20 or more. Cyclists who have diabetes can register as Red Riders and receive red jerseys with the motto "I Ride With Diabetes!" Participants can choose one of four routes—7, 27, 45, or 62 miles long—that weave through St. Paul and Minneapolis. Last year, more than 1,100 Twin Cities–area riders braved a pouring rain to raise more than $340,000. "For those with diabetes, it's an awesome opportunity to use cycling as a means of [diabetes] management," says Janeece Oatman, ADA associate manager in Minnesota. "They come back to Tour de Cure every year, often noticeably [leaner] and with much healthier blood sugar levels because of their active lifestyle."

In Gillham's first Tour last year, he biked 55 miles. This year, he aims to do a metric century (100 kilometers, or 62 miles) in both the Rochester, Minn., and Twin Cities events. He says Tour has taught him that there are "really healthy people that have diabetes." With all the diabetes in his family, Gillham says he wants to set a healthy example for his 5-year-old daughter, Nora. He bought her a bike, and they go for rides whenever she comes to visit.

Another Twin Cities rider, Kim Martinez, 55, is a former professional dancer who says she had grown sedentary as old dance injuries limited her exercise. In 2008, she hopped on a bike for the first time in decades, and the next day she rode 10 miles in her first Tour. Martinez, a research director with the local CWTV station, started biking regularly to stay active and lose weight. In the 2009 Tour, she upped the ante to 25 miles, and last year she rode 45 miles. Since her first Tour, she has lost more than 80 pounds, and she is enjoying being able to dance again—doing tap, ballet, and modern at the nonprofit Out on a Limb Dance Company, where she is president and artistic director.

Martinez doesn't have diabetes, but she worries about her children, saying their risk for diabetes is higher because their father has the disease. She knew it was up to her to take charge of her health and set an example for her family. Now her 30-year-old daughter, her sister, and her brother-in-law have biked in the Twin Cities Tour. Last summer, in thanks, they gave Martinez a brand-new baby blue Vida Sport bicycle, which she plans on riding in this year's Tour.

For both Martinez and Gillham, biking and taking part in Tour offer benefits beyond just staying active. Martinez looks at cycling as a sort of meditation, and she has started riding in other events. Gillham credits biking with giving him a new sense of freedom. He says he used to stay home and avoided restaurants because the booths were too small for him. "Now that I've lost the weight, I go out and explore more," he says. "[Tour] made me remember how much I love biking and being outdoors."



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