Running in Rio

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Sue Hickey
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Dietitian joining Team Diabetes

Tell someone you're going to Rio de Janeiro, and people think about the parties, the nightlife, the glamourous life, the international playground for celebrities.

But for diabetes educator Deidre Barker, a dietitian with Central Health's diabetes clinic, those items won't be part of her agenda when she heads off to the Brazilian city in six weeks.

Diabetes educator and dietitian Deidre Barker, based at central Health's diabetes clinic, is participating in a major fundraiser at the end of June. She will be joining others in a marathon organized by groups around the world to run for the cure in Rio d

Tell someone you're going to Rio de Janeiro, and people think about the parties, the nightlife, the glamourous life, the international playground for celebrities.

But for diabetes educator Deidre Barker, a dietitian with Central Health's diabetes clinic, those items won't be part of her agenda when she heads off to the Brazilian city in six weeks.

Instead, she will be running a marathon. Unlike entrants who compete in events like the Boston Marathon, she's joining other Canadian members of Team Diabetes who aren't out to win blue ribbons or trophies.

For Barker and other Team Diabetes participants, the only prize for these activists, ultimately, would be the goal of a cure for diabetes. More than two million Canadians have one of the three types of the autoimmune disease: Type I, which requires daily injections to regulate blood sugars and the body cannot make the insulin needed to do the job; Type 2, which can develop later in life and again, the body does not make enough insulin or doesn't use it effectively, and gestational diabetes, a temporary condition that occurs sometimes in pregnancy.

In this province, and especially the central region, the statistics are eerie.

"If people don't have diabetes, chances are they know someone who does," Barker said.

The symptoms are relatively easy to pinpoint: frequent thirst and urination, especially during the night if someone has to get up and go to the bathroom, a dry mouth are among some of the signs.

Diabetes in all of its types is currently non-curable, but with diligence it can be managed. However, if left untreated or improperly managed, diabetes can result in several complications, including heart and kidney disease, eye disease, erectile dysfunction and nerve damage. There's no shortage of stories about people with diabetes who not manage it properly, not watching signs such as poor circulation and numbness. As a result, if a person ends up with infections stemming from injuries to feet, he or she may have to face the prospect of amputating gangrenous limbs.

There's no real limit, young or old, for those who find out they or their young children have the condition.

"Right now at our hospital we have five children under the age of five with diabetes," said Barker.

The prospects of a young child having to manage diabetes through diet and injection for the rest of their lives is jarring enough, but here's a statistic even more disturbing: central Newfoundland has the highest rate of diabetes, all types, in North America. And the third highest in the world.

It's a statistic that has researchers looking to the central region for the cause of the high rates - and possibly a cure.

Is it because Newfoundland is notorious for a diet that doesn't always mean healthy eating, or does genetics play a role in writing possibly deadly sentences for those who live in this province?

"It's not just what you did, that eating a particular food is going to cause you to have Type 2 diabetes, though being inactive, irregular mealtimes and your genetic background can contribute."

There are risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes - being age 40 or older, being a member of a high-risk ethnic group such as aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian/Southeast Asian or African descent, being overweight (especially if the weight is around the middle), having high blood pressure or having given birth to a baby who weighed more than nine pounds are some of the items on the list.

Because diabetes is so common, many people with connections to the disease want to raise money and awareness to help find a cure, to support those who have it, educate people who have it on how to manage it and spread the news that diabetes doesn't have to come out on top.

Part of raising that awareness are the Team Diabetes marathons organized by different branches of Diabetes Societies around the world.

Barker has been training for months to take part in the Rio de Janeiro event; there are different marathon lengths people can participate in. At Rio, there's the option of doing the five-kilometre run, the 21 or the 42-k run. Barker is doing the 21 kilometres.

"If I can pass that, I will be very happy," she said.

As part of training, she has her treadmill set up next to her wood stove. She gets the full blast of heat, but the intent is to prepared for the sultry temperatures of Rio.

She says she is the only participant from Newfoundland running in Rio and her motivation, ultimately, is the children who have diabetes, very young kids who have to learn as toddlers they can't enjoy the same kind of treats as their non-diabetic friends; who have to test for and manage their blood sugars, yet who don't complain about their condition.

For more information on the diabetes run, visit

www.teamdiabetes.ca

.

Organizations: Type 2, Boston Marathon, Diabetes Societies

Geographic location: Rio de Janeiro, Newfoundland, North America

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