I was taking ballet classes, avoiding math textbooks and spending countless hours in the public library. I wasn’t out to change the world or make a difference in the public’s opinion about a disease… but I didn’t have diabetes when I was nine.
But here’s one nine year old who IS making a difference since his diagnosis with type 1 diabetes three years ago. Noah, better known as The Diabetes Dude, has a unique way of raising awareness – which is better explained in his own words. So here’s a chat I had with The Diabetes Dude and his dad, Tim.
First off, I’ve got to ask – do people actually call you “dude”?
The Diabetes Dude: Yes, yes they do.
So tell me about what you do to raise awareness about diabetes
Dude: I “flock” people with blue flamingos!
Whoa – okay. Why a blue flamingo?
Dude: Well, you can put them on lawns and people notice them. We want people to ask questions and a blue flamingo certainly gets people to start talking!
How did this get started?
The Dude’s Dad: It started as a fundraiser for our family’s team for Step Out – we’d go to friend’s house when they weren’t home and leave a blue flamingo on their lawn with a note around its neck saying “You’ve been flocked!” The note had information about diabetes and making donations for the Step Out walk – and a number to call if you wished to have the flamingo removed.
And how successful as this been? I saw you more than doubled your fundraising goal.
Dude’s Dad: Yes, it’s been so successful that the blue flamingos turned into a national awareness campaign that has even started to grow internationally! Now we have about 200 blue flamingos and 110 on the waiting list. They’ve been in 39 states and 5 countries. Since we can’t go put them on everyone’s lawn, we’ve started sending them to people and requesting photos – we even have a map to track everywhere they’ve been!
That’s great! What was the most memorable place you “flocked”?
Dude: There have been a lot. One was the headquarters of my insulin pump manufacturer in Bedford, MA. We left 20 or 30 on their front lawn and guess what? They’re still there! Another was at a Red Sox game where we talked to Wally the Green Monster (the team’s mascot).
Dude’s Dad: Yeah, because of security we weren’t able to bring the flamingo’s metal legs in, so we had to hand Wally a legless blue flamingo. When we explained why, we actually heard Wally laugh!
Dude: And we also flocked Bret Michaels. That was cool because we had told them about the campaign and that we were coming to the concert, so all of the security guards and crew members kept saying. “Hey, you’re The Diabetes Dude!”
Was he surprised to see you?
Dude’s Dad: Well, we aren’t sure that would happen if they didn’t know we were coming and suddenly a kid comes running up to a celebrity with a blue flamingo – it’s a little weird – so we try to let them know in advance.
Dude: Yes! This is the second Step Out I’ve done. I was a Red Strider last year, too, which was fun because there were a LOT of red hats. I liked seeing them because it showed me how many people with diabetes were there. And every person with diabetes is my friend.
That’s a great thing to say. I noticed that you raise awareness about both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which can be a little tricky sometimes. Why is that?
Dude: Because it’s not just “diabetes” out there – type 1 and type 2 diabetes are totally different, but while talking about one, you raise awareness about the other by distinguishing it. That’s still raising awareness, so I talk about both type 1 and type 2.
Dude’s Dad: He doesn’t get mad at the dumb questions he sometimes gets. If someone asks him if he ate too much sugar, the curtain goes up and the lights flash on and he goes into education mode.
Dude: Right, like when one of the 4th graders was teasing me about my insulin pump and a 3rd grader corrected her. The 3rd grader knows two other kids in her class who have diabetes, so getting people to talk about diabetes also builds connections. Like the blue flamingo.
Dude’s Dad: Everywhere we go, a blue flamingo goes, too. Diabetes event or not – we pack the kids in the car, pack a glucose meter, and pack a blue flamingo.
Dude: Dannon is our “home bird.” We think he got injured because there was a staple hole in him, so we keep him with us.
I see. And do you name each of these blue flamingos?
Dude: Yes! Every blue flamingo has a name that starts with a D – and sometimes we’re afraid we might run out of names. But we just learned that we can name a female flamingo “Dayle” with a y so that might be the next one. We write the names on the bottom of each blue flamingo and tag it with a link to send pictures.
If you could tell the world one thing about diabetes, what would it be?
Dude: That I have diabetes, it doesn’t have me.
It’s a great closing line for a great story. I had a huge grin plastered to my face the rest of the day wondering if there really would be a blue flamingo named after me. That would be a first.
The Diabetes Dude is one of the thousands of people who has shared why he wants to Stop Diabetes. You can read his story on stopdiabetes.com or tell us what you are doing to Stop Diabetes by clicking here.
You can also learn more about The Diabetes Dude on his website: www.thediabetesdude.com