What could a 17-mile long, leg-pounding, tear-inducing, soul-crushing and then soul-soaring hilly cycling climb (that happens to be right smack in the middle of a century ride) have to do with the how to move past the sadness, heartbreak, isolation and sheer grief that a diabetes diagnosis (for you or your child or anyone you care about) can bring?
Ummmm . . . how about everything? Let me explain.
This past weekend I took part in the JDRF Lacrosse Ride to Cure Diabetes century ride. Doing the ride (this was my second. Death Valley last year was my first) means a huge commitment. Months of training; tons of fundraising. It’s a big project and not for the faint of heart.
The funny thing was: I was not afraid of the training; nor was I afraid of the fundraising (I came in at #4 out of 275 riders. [To which I say: Vandersteen!!! Insider ride joke …join us and you’ll get them!) I felt pretty ready to take on most of the route. I learned from my mistakes in my first ride and this time took the nutrition and hydration stuff seriously.
But that hill. I probably looked at it on the course elevation a million times; dragging my cursor over it and watching it climb up and up. It’s a big hill. Scratch that, it’s an intense, grueling, nearly 17-mile series of hills. (Side note: Who knew they had huge hills in Iowa?)
And I hate hills. Let me say that again. I. Hate. Hills. It’s not my legs so much as my head. They freak me out. They scare me. They make me panic. They make me doubt myself. I. Hate. Hills.
So I was not sure until I got to the bottom of the hill loop if I was even going to do it. It’s about 40 miles out to where the hill loop begins, and in my head I was thinking “well I can always turn around there, head back and double up a section of the ride to make up for the 17 miles. There’s nothing wrong with that. A century is a century. Heck – getting out there and trying is getting out there and trying.
But when I got to the bottom I saw my friend Bunny. Bunny has T1D and so do two of her grandchildren. I told her I was thinking I was not capable of that hill series ahead. She is not the type to pull punches. So she looked at me and said – without at lot of “warm fuzzies,” “Really Moira? Because are you thinking Lauren’s 16 years with diabetes are easy? Are you thinking she can just ‘skip a part because it’s hard’?” This made me mad for some reason. I kind of wanted to punch her. But I did not because 1) I adore her and 2) darn it, she’s usually right.
But it also made me head out on the loop. I was alone at first – a few riders ahead of me and a few who passed me. (I am very slow on hills. Very slllloowwwwww). The first hill is a little over a mile long and a crazy challenging climb (at least for me. And just about anyone). I sputtered along and then … started to doubt myself. Then, as if out of nowhere, my dear friend and JDRF Ride Coach Matt appeared. (I asked him later in the ride if he had a Bat Phone and got a call like “Moira’s up on a hill and in trouble! To the bat bike!” He lied and said he does not have such a thing. I am pretty sure he does though. But I digress). Matt talked me along, chatting about our lives and catching up on things. He helped me calm down and breath. He helped me ease my fear. And he reminded me – without saying it – that I am not alone in this diabetes world.
We took on the second hill and a man came up behind us and saw my name on my ride bib. “Hey – are you the woman who writes that blog?” he asked. I said yes. He went on – as we huffed and puffed our way up the hill (okay – as I huffed and puffed my way up the hill and as he chit chatted like it was nothing at all) he went on to say that his five-year-old daughter Norah (shout out to Norah here!) was diagnosed three years prior. And that finding and reading my blog had given his family hope and assurance that their daughter would go on to life a full and exciting life despite diabetes. Wow. What a gift (that I’d not have gotten hand Bunny not schooled me and had I not taken on the hill).
Evennnnnnutalllllly we got to the top. And there, waiting and cheering, was Bunny. I got off my bike (which her husband so kindly took from me) and said this to her:
But then I hugged her. Because of course, I was joking. She helped me do something I had no idea I could do. She helped me with my biggest victory of the day. She made me look at a moment when I just wanted to curl up and pull a blanket over my head and not face what might be hard but would surely be richly rewarding – and do it.
Which brings me to what this has to do with the newer families to T1D. Because I hear from a lot of you. I see you on Facebook and meet you in person. You’re scared. You’re sad. You’re grief stricken. You have a hard time seeing how and if your child is going to thrive. It all seems too … scary. It’s a giant hill.
To which I say – in the same stern but loving voice that Bunny used on me:
Get your grief up off the couch and do something. Anything. Step or walk or run or pedal forward.
Because that’s what I’ve done. And here is where I am going to own it. That night, at the post ride celebration, JDRF gave out their first ‘Rose Promise Jersey.” If you don’t cycle, special jerseys are a really big deal. It’s an honor and a privilege (and a responsibility) to be awarded one and then to wear one out on a course. I have a few friends who’ve earned them. Like my friend Karen and her green jersey for “top fundraiser.” And Katie, Mary, Cliff and a few others who have earned the amazing pink polka dot “Spirit jersey.” You see these folks on the course in their jerseys and you think “hero.” It’s inspirational.
Until Saturday night post ride, I would have never seen myself as someone worthy of a special jersey. So this jersey is a new one, named after an amazing D-Mom named Rose who lost her battle to cancer last year and asked the JDRF family to carry on her mission of working toward a cure for T1D (See her incredible last ride speech here. Tissues needed). As head coach Mike Clark talked about the jersey and it’s meaning, I was hushed into awe. Someone was going to have an amazing honor – and again – responsibility in wearing that jersey. Then they said the name of the person JDRF had selected.
Moira McCarthy Stanford.
I’m sorry. What? WHAT? My friend Karen (she of the green jersey) had to get me to stand up. She gave me a HUGE hug and pushed me toward the podium. I made my way through a loud standing ovation. I said something …. I can barely remember what. I was stunned.
Right after, I thanked Aly, who runs the JDRF Ride, and I said something like “I’m shocked. I’m not worthy.”
She got all Bunny on me too. She actually grabbed my shoulders and said something like this:
“Enough of that, Moira. Name one person out there who deserves this more than you. You work so hard, you write and share and help and raise funds and are so passionate. Please, Moira. For once: Own this.”
And so, I did. And I am. Because here is the thing: Long ago, when I was deep in that dark place of grief; when I was thinking my little tiny girl would never have a normal life and would never thrive, when I was thinking there was no one who got it and no one who understood …. I got the heck up off my grief and I got going.
It wasn’t easy. And I didn’t start out riding 100 miles in a day or raising a ton of money or even doing half of that. I started out one tiny step at a time. Finding my passion (which started as funding research for a cure but now also includes supporting others with T1D through this life until the cure), finding a place (JDRF and now, also Friends for Life and The Diabetes Scholars Foundation), raising my hand and just plain doing.
And here’s the thing: Just like the rewards I got on that climb up that huge hill, I’ve gotten so many, many rewards in this journey. Like friendships. And supporters. And laughs. And people I can cry with. And seeing my daughter thrive in life. And special jerseys that I’ll wear and OWN that I’m wearing.
So here is my challenge to you today. If you are hurting from a child’s diagnosis or your own (even if it was long ago), if you feel isolated, if you feel helpless, listen to me say this to you in a true Bunny Kasper voice:
Get up off your grief and move!!!!!
Because in the end, it really is more than just an early 2000’s pop hit.