Team WILD ActNow: Encouraging women with diabetes to push themselves athletically
"The minute I crossed that finish line, I knew that I am an athlete who lives with diabetes and I can do anything." -Mari Ruddy
by Kathy Magnuson
"Dang. Where are the women with diabetes? And how come they are not organized? Well, I guess I better organize them."
Those are the words of Mari Ruddy, a woman who saw a need and stepped up to fill it.
Ruddy has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 30 years. That's 30 years of blood testing, shots, insulin pumping, carb counting and meal planning, starting when she was a 16-year-old girl in St. Paul.
"When people have a chronic health condition, our bodies have failed us, let us down. Despair almost emerges and for women it can be strong," Ruddy explained.
Many people with diabetes are encouraged not to be active physically. Ruddy did not see herself as an athlete until she was 35, when she came to believe that, in spite of her disease, she could be active, too.
Ruddy began walking, running and biking in events to raise funds for a cure for diabetes. She noticed that in these events there was no recognition of the athletes with diabetes. To change that, she began the Red Rider program to "celebrate people with diabetes who take charge of their condition and are no longer a victim of their condition," she said. The Red Rider program is now national in its scope.
Ruddy noticed, as the program grew, that the women were not showing up for the rides. Eighty percent of Red Rider participants were men. She took charge again, starting Team WILD-Women Inspiring Life with Diabetes, a program to coach women with diabetes in how to exercise safely and have fun, too. Team WILD provides coaching, diabetes education and peer support from other women. There are programs for women participating in distance bike rides and triathlons as well as those at an entry level for exercise.
"We get courage. We get inspiration, a kick in the pants. It's weirdly competitive in a funny way," Ruddy said. "Most people [with diabetes] give up on exercise. I don't want people to give up."
"It helped me to be in a group where people understand how difficult this is to do every day," said Christina Roy, a Team WILD participant. "They get it and they understand and support you when you fall down-because you will fall down. Repeatedly. And the thing is, are you going to get back up again?"
Roy, who was a self-proclaimed couch potato for years, reflected on her first Team WILD event. "I got nervous and then I felt empowered. I started out with all the ladies ... We took pictures, we gave hugs and we went out there roaring like lions."
"When I crossed that finish line I knew that we had arrived. And I knew that I had arrived," Ruddy said of the first Team WILD event. "The minute I crossed that finish line, I knew that I am an athlete who lives with diabetes and I can do anything. And if I can do anything then that means that any woman can do anything that she sets her mind to."
The 2011 Twin Cities Tour de Cure fund raising bike ride is Saturday, June 4, with routes from 7 to 62 miles. Riders with diabetes can choose to be recognized as Red Riders and receive VIP treatment.