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Power of Peers: How a Network of Committed Athletes (Who also Happen to have Diabetes) Turn Lives Around

The following is an interview with Don Muchow: diabetic, committed athlete and leader of DFW Diabetes and Exercise. This is a great case study of how peer networking can support individual to pursue a healthy lifestyle, even when up again challenging personal situations. There are practical ideas here for those wishing to participate in such a group as well as for those who want to help set up this type of network for others.

Q: What is the name of your group and its mission?

A: The group’s name is DFW Diabetes and Exercise. Our mission is to assist other people with diabetes who have already made a commitment to become active, by participating in athletic activities and sharing what we learn about how to manage diabetes and exercise together.

Q: How did you become dedicated to an active lifestyle?

A: In 2003, I weighed 210 pounds and was essentially inactive.  In addition to being type 1, I was also insulin resistant and prone to wild fluctuations in my blood glucose that I couldn’t seem to manage.  I noticed one day going up a flight of stairs that I felt winded at the top.  Since I was only forty at the time, I had an epiphany that if nothing changed, I would “grow up to be my dad.”  My wife and I decided about the same time to become more active, and we both started slow, walking and working out on the elliptical trainer, watching our diets, and consuming fewer processed foods.  In 2005, after losing close to 40 pounds, I entered my first 5K fun run.  I didn’t do well, but I finished.  I was so proud of what I accomplished that I couldn’t bear to look back at my old lifestyle.  Since then, I’ve tried methodically to see just what I’m capable of.  Now, at age 50, I’ve run 5 half marathons and actually placed second in my age group in a recent 5K.  I plan to run my first full marathon this December, and am currently training for a duathlon and a half-century-plus cycling event.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you faced over the years with becoming active and managing diabetes?

A: Getting started.  After that, it’s easy.

Q: How does a community of similar people with diabetes (such as your group DFW Diabetes and Exercise) help eachother out to stay active?

A: To be honest, I don’t know the “magic way.”  Our group tries to lead by example.  We also don’t judge others for what they can and can’t currently do.  Our advice is based on our own experience, and we share openly what worked and didn’t for each type of exercise we try.  We are supportive and positive – to a point.  But if you come to our group just to complain about your endocrinologist or expect us to MAKE you want to become active, well, that’s your job.

Q: How do your group members communicate with eachother?

A: We use a facebook page.  If you log onto facebook, just search for "DFW Diabetes and Exercise" and it will pop up.  It's a pretty active site with a lot of tips and tricks that our members have picked up trying different sports.

Q: What is a specific example of the kind of advice that you share with one another?

A: A sample question that came up recently was from a veteran half marathoner who was used to getting a runner’s gel about every 3 miles or 30 minutes.  She wanted to know how that translated to miles or minutes when riding a bike for 30 miles at approximately 15 mph.  Several of our members chimed in on the question, and very quickly it became clear that most of the members took running gels about every 45 minutes of bike riding.  While we all say YDMV (your diabetes may vary), knowing that other diabetic athletes follow a general practice is a good place to start finding out what works for you.

Q: What advice do you have for people with diabetes (either Type 1 or 2) who aren't currently living an active lifestyle?

A: Chances are pretty good you are eventually going to die with diabetes.  But if you do nothing, you will die FROM diabetes.  That’s not a pretty picture, and it’s completely avoidable.  Yeah, it’s hard to have to manage diabetes AND exercise.  But think about diabetes as a warning sign about the consequences of unhealthy living that you are lucky enough to get.  Take the warning seriously, make the commitment to an active lifestyle, stop blaming others and stop complaining.  Just TRYING to be active puts you ahead of 90% of the US population, diabetic or otherwise.  Don’t go it alone.  Reach out to folks like us wherever you find them. Show others you can not only manage, but do all these things with one hand tied behind your back!

Q: Anything else?

A: I would only add that when I joined our group, even though I had committed to being active, I still had mental blocks about trying things I hadn’t done.  It was one person in particular, who, when I said that one day I wanted to run a half marathon, asked me point blank when that day was and what was my plan?  Every excuse I brought up for not starting now met with another question that I ultimately had to answer, or admit that I really didn’t want to run a half marathon.  Approximately a year later, after training on 5Ks, 10Ks, then 8 miles, then 12 miles, then doing half marathon length training runs, I ran my first half marathon.  Another member of our group, Carol Ezell, has done triathlons, and again, asks me when I will do my first, and how I am training.  I cannot say enough how helpful it is to have other diabetic athletes to look up to, who are real people and not some cartoon one-of-a-kind overachiever.  These are people who have highs, lows, good runs, bad runs, and get up early to go stand at the starting line.  To me, THAT is what makes you an athlete: when you have plenty of reasons not to work out, but you do anyway.

 Rebecca Dubowy, Chief Medical Officer


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