When I was growing up, in an effort to relate to my new found insulin-requiring predicament, there were three people everyone told me about who had diabetes. The first was the ubiquitous Mary Tyler Moore. I watched a lot of old sitcoms growing up. Back in the very early days of cable, when lots of people didn’t have it, including my great-grandma and my Nan, when I stayed with them during school vacations, old sitcoms and game shows were the mainstay. Because I watched a lot of old sitcoms, it’s likely that I would have watched the Dick VanDyke Show regardless of Mary Tyler Moore, but because she was one of the three diabetics, I watched it with particular interest.
The second person was Bobby Clarke, hockey player for the Philadelphia Flyers. At the time, I lived in Houston, hadn’t ever been to the Northeast, and never really imagined myself going there, let alone living there. I knew nothing of hockey except the absolute basics – played on ice, there was a stick, and some little thinger pushed around with a stick. We’re talking rudimentary. To be fair though, I didn’t have any great interest in sports, and if I had to pick a sport, it would have been baseball as both my mom and my dad were Astros fans. Still, people told me about this Bobby Clarke fellow, which didn’t have a lot of meaning to me, but it was cool that this famous guy had the same disease I had, and people clearly had a positive association to him.
The third person with diabetes I heard about was everyone’s grandmother/grandfather/aunt/elderly neighbor who was blind/amputated/dead. Uh, thanks. That’s a frikkin awesome thing to tell anyone with diabetes, especially a little kid, you moron. ‘Nuff said.
So, the famous people who were living large with T1 diabetes were Mary Tyler Moore and Bobby Clarke, and they were my only evidence that I wasn’t a complete freak of nature, destined to become my own version of that third elderly, disabled person about which people were constantly telling me. Those two names I would hold tightly in my hand, ready to throw at anyone who hassled me about having a disease. Not that too many people got the opportunity once I learned it better to hold onto the diabetes secret even more tightly. Regardless of the fact that not everyone knew who they were, regardless of the fact that my own knowledge about them was relatively limited, that these people who others recognized and admired had the same disease as me was a little something good when all I could see was a whole lot of bad.
I moved to Philly when I was 12 years old, but never took an interest in ice hockey even though people in Philly are pretty fond of their hockey. Jason, on the other hand, used to be a huge hockey fan. He’s not as into it anymore, but he still enjoys it. We’ve been to a couple of Flyers games when Jason has gotten some tickets from people he knows, and he’s patiently explained the game when we’ve gone to games so I know a little more about it than those aforementioned rudimentary basics – you know, ice, a stick and a puck. I do have a problem with the fighting that occurs because phsyical violence bothers me, but that aside, going to games is a lot of fun.
I mentioned yesterday how Jason and I have been to my local JDRF’s annual ice hockey fundraiser. One year that we went with our parents, there was a raffle for which my mom bought a bunch of tickets. She actually won a hockey jersey signed by Bobby Clarke that she gave to Jason. At the moment, it’s just hanging in a closet, but someday, if we have a bigger house with a rec room, Jason wants to display it. So between Jason being a Flyers fan, Bobby Clarke being a former Flyers player, and the way I identify with just about anyone who’s lived a life of urine testing, BG testing and insulin injections, my initial sole connection to hockey in the form of having the same disease as a former player has expanded a bit over the years.
Yesterday, I also told you about the two Animas reps with whom I chatted at JDRF’s Outreach meeting this past Monday night. One of them, Bill King, a long distance runner who in addition to his position with Animas, does a lot of speaking engagements and is affiliated with the Diabetes Exercise and Sports Association, has had T1 for about 25 years. As it turned out, he happened to be the guest speaker at my local diabetic teen support group to which I went Wednesday morning. This was the second time I’ve been this fall because I’m scheduled to be the guest speaker in April, so I’ve been hanging around so the kids get used to seeing me. Plus, it’s offered some good networking opportunities as I work to get the word out about the art therapy groups. The December meeting of the support group was held at a local ice skating rink. They have rooms for things like kids’ birthday parties, so the first part of the meeting was in one of these rooms, with Bill speaking, breakfast wraps (bacon!!) kindly marked as being 45g carbs per wrap, and a raffle for 2 pairs of tickets to Flyers games, followed by time to ice skate. Bill talked about the importance of exercising and the like, until the group facilitator rushed out to do something. I had no idea what was happening, but suddenly there was an older man standing in front of the kids alongside Bill.
I suspected I knew who it was based on the way they were acting, but finally Bill introduced Bobby Clarke! I was just giddy! No matter that I’m less than well-versed in hockey, I was surprised at how emotional I felt being in this little party room at a community ice skating rink with a room of maybe 16 teenagers, a handful of other adults, and Bobby Clarke, the famous diabetic professional hockey player.
He talked about playing hockey in the days of urine testing and a single daily injection, having to go by the way he felt to treat lows. He talked about having had a severe low and ending up in the hospital in his late teens, and how that scared him. He talked about treating lows during hockey games with Coke, and how no one noticed or cared because all the other players were drinking Cokes too. He talked about having been a T1 for almost 50 years now, and how he hasn’t had any complications, something he attributes to exercising and staying active. I don’t know how many times I have to hear about the importance of exercise before I actually do something about it, but I can’t think of too many people from whom I’d rather get that message.
Once he was done talking, some group pictures with the kids were taken. Autographed pictures were distributed, and I made sure to grab one. Then as he was leaving, I rushed over to shake his hand and thank him for being such an inspiration. It seems kind of silly, and I never would have imagined myself having such a strong response, but it was unspeakably cool to shake hands with the man who was nothing but a name to me when I was 5 years old, but it was the name of someone just like me who was doing exceptional things despite having T1 diabetes, someone who didn’t allow everyone’s tales of disabled and prematurely dead older relatives stop him from doing everything he wanted and so much more than he likely imagined. It probably doesn’t seem like such a big deal now because people do all kinds of things with T1 now – run marathons, climb mountains, play every professional sport imaginable – but it wasn’t like that when I was a kid, so meeting Bob was an exceptionally cool experience.