Cross-country riders raise awareness about living with Type 1 diabetes

[Post originally published by The Times Independent in Moab, Utah,  available HERE.]

by Molly Marcello

Matt Swain (left), Tom Dillon and Jesse Lavine relax during a “Bike Beyond” potluck in Moab. Photo by Molly Marcello 

In an effort to show that having Type 1 diabetes doesn’t mean opting out of adventure, 19 individuals with the chronic autoimmune condition are biking across America from Brooklyn, New York to San Francisco, California. Their ride, called “Bike Beyond Type 1,” landed them in Moab July 24, where they met with community members and other diabetics to share stories about the condition and their great journey.

“Sometimes people are told when they’re diagnosed ‘you’ve got to stop varsity sports,’” said rider Elliot Gatt. “No you don’t. You’ve got to get it under control, but you could bike across America.”

Bike Beyond is the first cross-country journey of Beyond Type 1, a global nonprofit organization focused on education, advocacy and a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

When local Moab resident Tom Dillon was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 42 years ago, doctors told him he could lead a “relatively normal life” for another 20 or 30 years.

“That was the ‘70s,” he said.

Although the diagnosis was more dire back then, Dillon said he quickly got over the “why me” feeling and began taking “adversity as a challenge.”

“It’s about saying, ‘I can handle this, I can overcome this, I can get beyond this. I can go beyond the limitations I’ve been given,’” Dillon said.

Calling them “diabaddasses,” Dillon said he is amazed by the riders on the Bike Beyond journey.

“If it were a bunch of road riders going across the country, I’d still be amazed. But this makes it even more amazing,” he said.

According to Beyond Type 1, living with Type 1 diabetes is a “full-time balancing act” requiring careful attention to life-threatening low blood sugar levels. Those levels must be monitored by regular blood draws using finger pricks or a glucose monitor, and insulin doses must be carefully administered and calculated based on a variety of factors including activity, stress, food intake and illness.

One of the riders, Jesse Lavine, is creating a fun, friendly diabetes education app that could help those living with the autoimmune condition to more easily monitor their blood sugar levels.

“It teaches people how to dose your insulin in a non-threatening environment,” Lavine said.

Gatt recently launched a new company called “Good Glucos,” which provides low-cost test strips and glucometers. For every 12 subscriptions the company receives, they donate one subscription to someone who cannot afford the test strips.

“People are choosing — do I pay for test strips or groceries? That should never be,” Gatt said.

The issues that Type 1 diabetics face are often complex, and the riders say it can be exhausting explaining the condition to others. But everyone in the Bike Beyond group understands what others are going through, said rider Richard Biven.

“It’s nice to do [the ride] with diabetics,” Biven said. “If you have a low blood sugar, you can tell the group and everyone stops.”

Biven said the cross-country trek has also shown others across America the vast capabilities of Type 1 diabetics.

“We’ve stopped in cities where there are 26 people or so and only one of them is a diabetic,” Biven said. “So it’s cool to spend time with that kid who’s never seen a diabetic before.”

Gatt added that the journey has been “epic” for many reasons, including the opportunity to meet people in a wide variety of communities.

“Going to all these communities where we don’t know anyone and they have meals for us — it’s a heartwarming thing to experience,” he said.

The group plans to arrive in San Francisco on Aug. 12, where they will celebrate with friends and family.